With Papi, the hard decisions are still to come

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Jayson Stark has a column up over at ESPN
gong in depth with Terry Francona and Charlie Manuel about how they’re
dealing with struggling veterans David Ortiz and Jamie Moyer. There’s
an extended bit lauding Francona for his diplomacy and tenderness and
whatever when it came to dropping Papi in the order:

So what does a manager do when he wakes up on Memorial Day and finds
a guy like that who ranks 86th (out of 88) among AL qualifiers in
batting average (.195), has a lower slugging percentage (.299) than
Endy Chavez and has fewer homers (one) than Yovani Gallardo? Well,
Terry Francona already knew what he was going to do. He’d known for
days, he said. But he also knew there was a respectful time and place
to drop Big Papi out of the No. 3 hole, and a weekend series against
the Mets wasn’t it . . .

. . . So Francona felt it was important to do more than just send
Ortiz to “the penalty box.” In the case of a player of this stature,
the manager felt it was almost mandatory to keep him involved in the
thought process involved in such a momentous decision. “When times are
getting tough, you’ve got to make decisions,” Francona said. “And
everybody understands that. But there needs to be some loyalty there.
There needs to be communicating — how it gets back to everyone else,
how you say it. I don’t want him to think he’s going through this by
himself. Just because he’s not hitting 50 homers, that doesn’t mean we
don’t care about him.”

That’s sweet and all, but I can’t for the life of me understand why the
decision to drop Ortiz in the order has gotten as much coverage as it
has in the last week, let alone Stark and Francona’s treatment of it as
some emotionally cathartic event. The exact order of the lineup really
ain’t that important folks, and if everyone thinks that Ortiz would
have a hissy fit over where’s he hitting in it, well, they haven’t been
paying much attention to David Ortiz’s career. I can’t recall him ever
having tantrums over perceived slights, and he’s almost always been a
pro about this stuff. What’s more, he’s been way more out front about
how he stinks this year than just about anyone.

No, the tough decision — to which Stark only briefly alludes — is
how Francona would deal with actually benching Ortiz for an extended
period or, even worse, how the club as a whole will deal with him if
and when it becomes necessary to trade him or designate him for
assignment. Which could definitely happen. This is the team that cuts
bait in bad waters quicker than most, and it would not shock me in the
least to see them do something drastic with Papi if he doesn’t turn it
around in the coming weeks.

Blue Jays sign Danny Espinosa to minors deal

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Free agent middle infielder Danny Espinosa signed a minor-league deal with the Blue Jays, the team announced Saturday. The deal includes an invite to spring training, where Espinosa is scheduled for his first split-squad game against the Orioles this afternoon.

Espinosa, 30, was inked to another minor-league deal with the Yankees in January. The veteran infielder was competing for an infield job until the team picked up second baseman Neil Walker on a one-year, $4 million deal last Monday. Prior to his release, he slashed .160/.276/.320 with one home run through his first 12 games with the Yankees this spring. He didn’t fare much better in the majors last year, either, batting a cumulative .173/.245/.278 with six home runs and a .523 OPS in 295 PA for the Mariners and Rays.

Blue Jays starting shortstop Troy Tulowitzki is still dealing with a bone spur in his heel and has officially been ruled out for Opening Day, which could clear a path for Espinosa to claim a starting role in Toronto. Of course, he won’t be the only candidate under consideration — Yangervis Solarte and Aledmys Diaz are still in the mix as well, though no final decision appears to be made just yet.