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Learning the HARD way...
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The "post" is called a Compression Post. You guessed right in that it provides support for the deck, against the mast and standing rigging which places the mast, deck, and this post in compression. The stainless plates bolted to/through the plywood panels, which are in fact bulkheads, are chain plates.

The deck-stepped mast has got to be removed before you start mucking with any of it.

My advice is not to scarf new pieces of plywood in with the old. Use the old as a template, and replace the whole panel with marine grade plywood. From the pic, these don't look too bad, but you know better than us.
 
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