Boston Red Sox misjudged Brock Holt’s free-agent market

Red Sox utility man Brock Holt. (Photo by Billie Weiss/Boston Red Sox/Getty Images)
Red Sox utility man Brock Holt. (Photo by Billie Weiss/Boston Red Sox/Getty Images) /

The Boston Red Sox rushed to sign utility infielder Jose Peraza only to find out later they could have kept Brock Holt for nearly the same price.

The writing was on the wall that Brock Holt‘s days in Boston were numbered when the Red Sox signed Jose Peraza in early December. As it turns out, they may have jumped the gun on replacing a valuable member of this team.

Boston was shopping in the bargain bin when they scooped up Peraza on a 1-year, $3 million deal. The former Cincinnati Red is coming off a miserable year in which he hit .239 with a .631 OPS and six home runs. After swiping over 20 bases in three consecutive years, Peraza stole only seven last year while getting caught six times.

Last year was probably an outlier considering Peraza hit .284/.320/.382 over the previous three seasons. Buying low on a 25-year-old who has flashed some upside in the past is typically a wise strategy, particularly for a club that was operating under a tight budget at the time.

In retrospect, the Red Sox would have been better off being patient enough to see how Holt’s market developed. Boston’s brass must have assumed that Holt’s career-year that saw him hit .297 with a .771 OPS had priced him out of their budget. That’s not the case even if they hadn’t cleared plenty of payroll space with their salary-dump deal with the Dodgers.

Despite coming off a strong season, Holt was left waiting on the free-agent market until the very end of the offseason. The call he anticipated from the Red Sox never came so he settled for an offer from the Milwaukee Brewers. According to Ken Rosenthal of the Athletic, it’s a one-year, $3.25 million deal.

There’s a $5 million club option for 2021 with a buyout that brings the guaranteed total to $4 million. There are also some incentives built in that could increase Holt’s earnings for this season if he meets certain benchmarks for plate appearances. Holt can max out on those incentives and still be considered a bargain who wouldn’t have cost much more than Peraza.

Spending slightly more would have allowed the Red Sox to retain the superior player. Holt doesn’t bring the speed element that Peraza provides but he’s much better at getting on base. Holt owns a respectable .340 OBP for his career and set a career high with a .369 OBP last season. Even in his best seasons, Peraza hasn’t come close to reaching base at that clip because he rarely walks.

Holt has produced an above-average OPS+ in each of the last two seasons and has a 98 OPS+ for his career. Peraza has been well below-average in three of his five seasons and sits at a meager 80 OPS+ for his career.

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The career-high 2.3 WAR that Peraza produced two years ago is only slightly behind Holt’s peak (2.6 WAR) from his All-Star campaign in 2015. Neither has replicated that value since but Holt has provided at least 1.0 WAR in three of the last four seasons while Peraza has produced negative value in two of the last three. He was one of the worst position players in baseball last year with -0.9 WAR.

Holt also has the edge in versatility. While Peraza is a solid second baseman who provides passable defense at shortstop and has some experience in the outfield, Holt is a swiss-army knife who can adequately fill in at any position outside of catcher and pitcher (don’t put it past him to try those positions if he had to).

Most importantly, Holt is a fan-favorite who was beloved by this city and by his teammates. We saw his budding bromance with Andrew Benintendi during their Flow Bro days. The enthusiastic hugs in the dugout that followed every J.D. Martinez home run. He’s a positive influence in the clubhouse that an organization recovering from an offseason of turmoil could have used to stabilize the team chemistry.

The heartfelt messages shared by some of his former teammates in the wake of his departure shows how much he meant to this team. The Red Sox also meant a lot to Holt. He never wanted to leave.

"“I honestly never expected to wear any other uniform but a Red Sox uniform,” Holt said upon his arrival to Brewers camp. “I loved it there.”"

The feeling is mutual. Nobody wanted the Brockstar to leave but the Red Sox let him slip away because they had already given his roster spot to Peraza. MLB’s implementation of a 26th man on the active roster wasn’t enough to convince the Red Sox that they needed another utility player.

The new rule allowing teams to carry an extra player this season might explain why Holt found a frigid free-agent market. There’s less need for his versatility when you have an extra bat on the bench.

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Chaim Bloom misread the market when he rushed to ink Peraza to a deal when he could have had Holt for a similar price. Perhaps Bloom was hesitant to retain a 31-year-old with a lengthy injury history, in which case he underestimated how much Holt meant to this team. Red Sox fans are still reeling from the trade that shipped Mookie Betts out of town and bringing Holt back into the fold would have been a small consolation to salvage a difficult winter.