The 2017 Boston Red Sox have a glaring hole in their lineup, one that was filled on a near-daily basis last season to much success. Watching games, it’s nearly impossible not to notice, day-in and day-out, the absence of a major contributor from last season’s American League East Division champion.
It’s not David Ortiz, though. Brock Holt is the man they’re missing right now.
The jack-of-all-trades utility-man has appeared in just six games this season while battling recurring vertigo symptoms; he hasn’t appeared in a major league game since April 20, and various rehab stints have been cut short by lingering symptoms ever since.
Holt is no Ortiz, but he’s been wildly valuable over the years to the Red Sox. Even in 2016, a relative down year, he slashed .255/.322/.383 while playing left and right field, second and third base and shortstop. The previous year, in a career-high 129 games, he was named an All-Star and posted a career-best .727 OPS. Despite never being a full-time starter and moving all around the diamond, he was worth 5.9 bWAR from 2014-16, filling in wherever and whenever he was needed.
This season, he’s been needed perhaps more than ever.
Holt is arguably the best third baseman on the team, even with the emergence of Deven Marrero and Tzu-Wei Lin over the past few weeks as capable stopgaps. But beyond those two, the 2017 third base hodgepodge of Pablo Sandoval, Josh Rutledge and Marco Hernandez has been injured, ineffective or both all season.
It goes beyond Holt’s primary fill-in position of third base, too. At second base, Dustin Pedroia has spent time on the shelf battling various injuries.
At shortstop, Xander Bogaerts hasn’t been injured but has been forced to play in 82 of Boston’s 89 games, including a stretch where he played in every game from April 12 to July 1. In center field, All-Star Mookie Betts has played in all but three of Boston’s games; he hasn’t had a day off since missing three straight games in early April and has appeared in every game since April 9.
Rookie Andrew Benintendi, in his first full MLB season, has played in 82 games as well. Ditto for first baseman Mitch Moreland, whom Hanley Ramirez has been unable to spell due to his own lingering injuries (along with general ineffectiveness at the position).
This overworking of Boston’s most important players hasn’t hurt them — yet. The Red Sox are in first place in the AL East with a 50-39 record, 3½ games ahead of the New York Yankees. But it’s a long season, and the miles add up, especially for players like Benintendi who aren’t necessarily used to the long grind of a full MLB season.
Holt wouldn’t have provided the same production as the players he would replace on a day-to-day basis, but as history has shown, he’s a more-than-capable player when he is in there. Rotating throughout the infield and outfield, giving the big guns the occasional rest they need to stay fresh for a playoff push and beyond, is more than a luxury; it’s a necessity, and right now it’s one the Red Sox don’t have.
It’s easy to see how the Sox have missed Ortiz this year, but a look below the surface shows the member of the 2016 squad whose absence has been felt the hardest is actually the diminutive utility-man extraordinaire. The Red Sox need Holt back — and soon.