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The problem with Brock Holt's trade value

Brock Holt is the Red Sox's most valuable trade asset, but there's little chance that he will be dealt before the deadline.

Tommy Gilligan-USA TODAY Sports

Brock Holt is like Lando Calrissian; he is incredibly versatile, works hard at his job and has great hair. While Holt was the perennial underdog as an unheralded prospect out of college and the minor leagues, he's proven his value as an everyday major leaguer this season, ranking third among position players on the Red Sox in WAR and continuing to serve as the team's Swiss Army Knife while moving all around the field.

The national surprise around Holt's selection to the All-Star game was not found in Boston, where we have seen the 27-year-old blossom into a valuable player over the last two years. Holt's ability to produce at the plate and provide solid fielding at a wide number of positions is only surpassed by Ben Zobrist of the Athletics, who was dealt to the Royals for prospects Sean Manaea and Aaron Brooks. Given the strong return for Zobrist, Holt's contemporary at the undefined position, some wondered if Holt could bring back a similar at the trade deadline.

Holt represents the Red Sox's most valuable trade asset in the "non-Mookie-Betts-or-Xander-Bogaerts-or-Eduardo-Rodriguez" division. He's a young player who is under team control through 2020, is consistently productive and can basically play any position on the field. But like Calrissian, others are skeptical of Holt. Holt does not yet have the track record of a player like Zobrist.

The value of a super utility player was not readily recognized (or readily utilized for that matter) until the emergence of Zobrist in Tampa Bay. Only after Zobrist flourished with the Rays did the idea of developing a player in such a role emerge (remember, some thought that Mookie Betts could serve as a super utility player in the majors prior to taking hold of the centerfield position).

As a result, there is not much precedent to look at (beyond the recent Zobrist trades) for market value on super utility type players. In a way, Holt is a trailblazer as a young player still under team control playing in the big leagues as an everyday utility player. Teams, simply put, are gonna have trouble concretely quantifying Holt's value as a player until there is a longer resume on the table, more so than with other players and prospects.

Right now, Holt's potential value to the Red Sox is much higher than what most teams would perceive his present value to be. A deal for Holt right now would likely garner some sort of mid-to-back rotation pitching prospect although Holt's potential ceiling likely calls for more. The functionality (and the unknown path) of a young super-utility player is still not quite fleshed out, and teams will not be likely to offer packages based on Holt's potential worth as an asset because of the lack of history both for the player and the position. The concept of a starting-quality player without an actual starting position just isn't an easy sell.

When it comes down to it, the Red Sox probably aren't expecting any team to pay the full price for potential, either. Players with limited track records carry significant risk, after all. But at this point it even seems unlikely that any team will pay the in-between on Holt's likely value as a player today and his potential ceiling down the road because of the road-less-traveled nature of his position. Good news, perhaps, for Holt, who says that for the first time in his career, he feels comfortable where he's at.

"I had a tough time my first time over here adjusting to new coaches, new teammates, stuff like that," Holt told the Boston Herald. "It’s tough when you’re not in a comfortable environment. It takes a little while to start feeling comfortable around guys. But if it’s something you have to do you, you have to do it. Obviously I want to stay here in Boston."

There is little comparison between Holt and Zobrist at this point in their respective careers: Zobrist is significantly older and a significantly better hitter. Holt has six career home runs in 236 games at the major league level while Zobrist has seven straight seasons of double-digit home run totals. In just 67 games this year, Zobrist has matched Holt's career home run total.

A look at the 162 game averages for both Holt and Zobrist tell the grand differences in offensive production between the two players. In his career, Holt averages .277/.337/.373 with four home runs, 45 RBI, 30 doubles, seven triples and 12 stolen bases. Zobrist, on the other hand, averages .264/.354/.430 with 17 home runs, 78 RBI, 15 stolen bases, 36 doubles and five triples.

Really, the offensive production from Zobrist easily trumps what Holt brings to the plate. The comparisons between Zobrist and Holt should stop at the fact that they both play a lot of positions. Beyond that, there really isn't a doubt who the better player is. But a poor man's Ben Zobrist is still a rich man's baseball player, and if Holt can maintain his 2015 levels, he might just shed the poor man designation before too long.

The only problem with Holt is that drop of doubt that a lot of people still have. Not just around Holt, but the very concept of a player who has no position to call his own. Baseball simply doesn't know how to handle or value players like Holt. Unless someone wants to blow away the Red Sox with a trade package, Holt will continue to be more valuable to Boston playing every day than he would be as a trade chip for teams that are hesitant to buy high.