So, the CBA is in place and we no longer have that back cloud hanging over our heads. However you feel about the new agreement (it’s not great, imo), this is supposed to kickstart the offseason. Teams were waiting to see what the landscape of the league would look like in the near future, and now that they know we should start to see some action. Except, for the Red Sox, there’s still not that much to do. There are a couple of holes to fix at DH and in the bullpen, but that’s really it. Trades are the most fun potential event of any hot stove, and with Dave Dombrowski at the helm in Boston most assume it’ll happen here at some point. On the other hand, those are holes that can be easily filled in free agency. My point here is that I don’t really see a blockbuster in the team’s future, at least not before the summer of 2017. There is, however, a smaller kind of deal that I’ve been thinking about for a couple weeks.
Obviously, based on the headline and picture you know I’m talking about Brock Holt. I want to be clear that, even as I am writing this sentence, I’m not sure I think the Red Sox should trade Holt. That’s not only because he’s become a fan favorite — as well as a personal favorite — in his time here, though I don’t think that should be tossed aside either. He’s also become a fairly important piece on this roster, giving Boston competent versatility that gives them a backup at just about every position on the diamond. In an era that is being marked by larger bullpens and smaller benches, that matters. With all of that being said, though, I think there is a case to be made that Dombrowski and company should at least gauge Holt’s value around the league.
The obvious place to start is with his performance this past year. Whichever way you slice it, 2016 was a down year for Holt. He stepped to the plate 324 times in 94 games, slashing .255/.322/.383 for an 86 wRC+. In the last two seasons, he finished with wRC+’s of 98 and 99, making him essentially a league-average bat heading into 2016. So, on the one hand, trading Holt after this kind of season would be selling low. Even those of us with little knowledge in the world of maximizing value know that this is often foolish. Of course, it’s not always that simple. If you think he’s going to continue this downward trend, it’s not selling low. It’s selling while you still can.
So, the next task in answering this question is determining if there were any worrisome trends or if this is just a blip on the radar. As is usually the case when players suffer a dip in performance like this, Holt was hurt by a cratering batting average on balls in play. The difference here, though, is that he went from well-above average rates around .350 to a more average BABIP of .294 in 2016. If he really is an elite BABIP player, than this can be swept away by bad luck. If, however, 2014 and 2015 were the outliers, this could be what to expect out of Holt. It is worth noting, too, that his batted ball profile dropped along with the BABIP. He hit more ground balls, more infield fly balls, while making less hard contact and more soft contact, per Fangraphs. Even if he settled in at a .315-ish rate, we’d be looking at a below-average hitter.
Now, Holt has never been all about the bat. As I said before, it’s about his value in a league with smaller benches. If the Red Sox were to trade him, they’d need a plan to replace his role on the roster. There are some options, though. The immediate consequence would be opening up a roster spot for Marco Hernandez, who likely would’ve been pushed back to Triple-A whenever the new DH was brought in. He proved to be a capable hitter in his rookie year, and can play all over the infield. The downside, of course, is that he has no outfield experience. They could certainly start working him out there in winter ball and in spring training, but they’d probably have to bring in a body that can play outfield, preferably on a minor-league deal. There are plenty of those guys out there, though my preference would be Daniel Nava for purely personal reasons.
Beyond Hernandez, the Red Sox also have Mauricio Dubon waiting in the wings. A top ten prospect in the organization, he split last year between High-A and Double-A and is expected to start 2017 in Pawtucket. He’s done nothing but hit since his first full season as a professional, and has experience playing well at both middle infield spots. Even better, he started playing outfield in the Arizona Fall League. There weren’t any concrete reports of his performance there, but one would expect him to continue working there, and I am confident he at least has the athleticism to make that transition work. He won’t be ready right away, but he could realistically be a full-blown Holt replacement by the middle of next season.
With all of that being said, though, the Red Sox clearly don’t have to go out of their way to trade Holt. Rather, they should just gauge how interested other teams are in the super-utility man who will turn 29 next June. If those talks can help them fill that late-inning bullpen hole, that could be worth it. This is particularly helpful with the prices for relievers going up in free agency (Brett Cecil got four years, and one can only imagine what someone like Kenley Jansen will get), and the new CBA more harshly punishing teams that go over the luxury tax. If talks progress and nothing interesting comes about, you can go into next season with Holt on the roster and be happy about. Given his possibly declining skills at the plate and the possible replacements coming up through the organization, though, it’s at least something to think about.