While the Mookie Betts trade was in flux and we were in that weird period where the deal was on hold, one of the narratives that was developing was that the team was trying to kill or change the trade because they were shook by the backlash from fans. We’ll never know the real reasons, I suspect, but I will say that it would be absurd to me if that was actually the case. To assume they were taken aback by the backlash would sort of suggest they are idiots, which I don’t think they are. Anyone with a brain knew there was going to be a tremendous amount of backlash, and one has to imagine that was part of their calculus. Whether or not they cared enough about it is a different discussion — one we’re not having in this space — entirely.
In what has been a brutal winter for the organization, they found themselves with more backlash Monday evening and Tuesday morning when Red Sox fans learned that Brock Holt was signing elsewhere as well. Monday night it was reported that he agreed to terms with the Brewers. In this case, I think it might be more fair to say the Red Sox may have been surprised by the backlash. Again, I don’t think they expected no backlash — approximately half of the replies to any given tweet from the official team Twitter account was some variation of “bring back Brock” — but the outcry has been loud. Along those same lines, while the team may have underestimated the degree to which fans loved Holt, I think fans might be overestimating the impact Holt may have had on the field.
Now, this is all sort of reading into tweets and comments and conversations, which is far from an exact science. I will also start by saying that, unless Holt gets an unexpectedly large deal (as of this writing, the terms of his contract are unknown), I think the team absolutely should have brought him back and this roster is better with him than without him. Full stop. He is good at the baseball, proving to be at least an average hitter over his career and performing better than that over the last couple of years while also playing all over the diamond.
On the other hand, he has also proven that he generally gets worse if he has to play on an everyday basis, and he’s really peaked as a two-win player. The point here is that some of the backlash has felt equivalent to the backlash of losing Mookie Betts and David Price, when it sort of goes without saying that the latter duo has a much bigger impact on this team’s success on the field.
Like I said, Holt is an upgrade over the likes of José Peraza, Jonathan Arauz, Tzu-Wei Lin, Marco Hernández and whoever else may be battling for a bench spot. But he is not so much of an upgrade that it is likely to make a difference for a playoff spot. Throw in the others’ youth, control and price relative to that talent difference, and you can build the baseball argument. And, it should also be mentioned that we don’t know what kind of contract he was looking for when the Red Sox decided to move in a different direction. It’s entirely possible that his market has fallen off since then, which would still be a miscalculation by Boston, but sometimes there is value in just making a move early and not having to worry about it in mid-February.
I say all of this not to shame fans who are probably miscalculating the value on the field provided by Brock Holt. Instead, I say all of it to highlight the ways in which the Red Sox miscalculated Brock Holt in every other regard. The reason so many are probably overrating Holt on the field is because they love him so much in every other regard. As a fan, it’s hard not to be enthralled by his style of play, which involves balls in play and all of the buzz words like grit, hustle and effort. It’s hard not to love the way he interacts with teammates like with his friendship with Andrew Benintendi and his hugs with J.D. Martinez. It’s hard not to love his personality and humor in interviews. It’s hard not to love the way he, more than maybe anyone with this team I can remember, seemed to genuinely like pregame and in-game interactions with fans. It’s hard not to love the way he, more than anyone with this team I can remember, interacted with the Boston community at large and specifically with kids from the Jimmy Fund.
It’s hard not to see that he was among the easiest players to root for that I can ever remember in a Red Sox uniform, and there’s an argument he’s number one on that list in my lifetime, going from unknown trade throw-in to versatile unicorn with good hair to unexpected All-Star to playoff hero, with every step enthralling. It’s hard not to see how a player like that may be overrated by fans, and how a team may not be dumb to play into that when making their decision.
Like I said, there are baseball reasons to have not signed Brock Holt. I think after this offseason it’s easy to point to this being a case of ownership tugging the purse strings — it’s no secret I’ve made some comments about their willingness to spend what’s necessary for a contender this year — but that’s not what’s happening here. This was a baseball decision, and ultimately while I still believe Holt makes the team better, I don’t think this is the difference between a playoff berth and October golf. That said, I think the absence of Holt will make a difference between many fans (myself included) enjoying themselves in a random blowout in June. Oftentimes, it makes sense for front offices to make their decisions independent of how fans feel. I’m not sure that’s true in this case. This time around, particularly given everything else that happened this offseason, it could have been a time where you give in to the fans and make a marginal move that you may not feel is the correct baseball move.