The return of Brock Holt has given the Red Sox a big boost this week. Since being reinstated from the concussion list, the versatile scrapper has collected a hit in each game and has provided a jolt of energy to his club. However, I cannot help but feel that Holt is better deployed as a super utility player rather than a starting left fielder, and that’s something the Red Sox could look to address before the trade deadline.
In decades gone by, there was a stigma attached to utility players. They were usually guys who could do one thing well, usually with the glove, but whose overall play didn’t warrant regular at bats. Yet now, every team prizes flexibility, to the point where players are almost expected to succeed at multiple positions.
Joe Maddon was an early pioneer of the super utility position in Tampa, with Ben Zobrist filling the role. He has carried that over to the Cubs, where stars like Kris Bryant and Javy Baez are asked to change positions on a daily basis. Such a situation allows a manager to manage rest more easily, keeping his players fresh throughout a marathon season, while also taking advantage of platoon splits.
Brock Holt, The Ultimate Super Utility Guy
Brock Holt built a strong reputation as a super utility guy early in his Red Sox career. Last season, for instance, he played every position except pitcher and catcher. Despite his overarching status as a bench player, Holt still saw action in 129 games. He produced a very impressive batting average of .280 while getting on base at a .349 clip. That distinguished him as a very good player, but the ability to play almost any position really well while still hitting strongly made Brock Holt a phenomenal asset to the Red Sox.
The front office was so enamored with his performance that Dave Dombrowski gave Holt a regular job this season. When Hanley Ramirez transitioned to first base, Brock became the everyday left fielder. He still plays occasionally at other spots, but the bulk of his playing time has come in front of the Green Monster in 2016.
Why The Bench Needs More Versatility
Holt was performing slightly below his usual pace through the first few weeks, only for a head injury to keep him out of action for more than a month. During that period, the Red Sox missed his energy and leadership, but his presence as a regular-position player has also diminished the Boston bench.
Unheralded players like Mike Miller, Ryan LaMarre and Deven Marrero have been pressed into action, which is less than ideal for Boston. Chris Young has slowly turned around his season, and improvement has also been made by Josh Rutledge and Marco Hernandez, but the Sox still lack a certain amount of flexibility with Brock Holt anchored to left field.
If he could return to a utility role, filling in anywhere that rest is needed for veterans, Holt’s value would be increased, not diminished. Although his effort deserves a starting gig, Holt could still play almost every day, but at different spots on the diamond. Although Hanley Ramirez is having a good season, the Sox could always use some additional power to protect David Ortiz in the lineup, and left field could also be a spot to add that.
Of course, the Red Sox aren’t going to make major moves to bolster an offense that has scored more runs than any other in baseball. If Dombrowski makes a big trade this month, it’s likely to be for pitching. That’s the major need of this ballclub. However, a good front office always tries to find incremental ways to eke more value from its major league roster, and a more dynamic utilization of Brock Holt is certainly one change Boston could explore in this regard.