Now that Yoan Moncada is officially off the market and in camp with the Boston Red Sox, the baseball world has turned their collective heads towards Hector Olivera. Olivera, like Moncada, is a Cuban second baseman, but he has the ability to play third and the corner outfield positions. Unlike Moncada though, he is a true free agent because he’s 29 years old. This means he’s free from international signing restrictions.
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While it might seem pretty late for a free agent signing now, it’s because he only became a free agent less than two weeks ago. With the changing relations between Cuba and the U.S., the MLB took they’re time declaring both Moncada and Olivera free agents to avoid any missteps in the process. This delay coupled with the fact that Olivera recently switched his sports agent.
Olivera, the player, is considered a power hitter and a good fielder at second and third base, with an above average arm. The talent is clearly evident, but the issue is his age.
According to Jesse Sanchez of MLB.com, he is receiving offers between four and six years and Olivera is turning 30 on April 5th next month. This means that whoever signs Olivera might only have him for his declining years. With his deal speculated to be in the $50 million range, that might not be the most intelligent investment. Also, with him coming from Cuba, there is no way to be certain Olivera’s age is actually 29 years old. It could be another Fausto Carmona or Leo Nunez situation, but by the time that information would come out it’d be too late.
Age isn’t the only concern either, health could play a factor as well.
According to Jeff Passan of Yahoo Sports, Olivera may have a damaged UCL. If that’s true, then that would mean that he’d likely need Tommy John surgery. The Dodgers have asked Olivera’s camp for a second MRI on his elbow, but they declined according to CBS Sports‘ Jon Heyman.
This casts an even larger shadow over an already questionable situation, and it’s not even all of the health concerns. Fangraphs Kiley McDaniels had this to say on Olivera’s health:
"“Olivera has a worrisome medical track record. The somewhat known aspect of this is the thrombosis in his left biceps, which is believed to be hereditary and knocked him out of the 2012-13 season in Cuba’s top pro league, then limited him to mostly playing as a DH in 2013-14, with no international appearances (read: scout-able games for MLB teams) in that span. I say the thrombosis is somewhat known because, like age verification info, teams don’t have access to Olivera’s medical information (this info comes via Cuban media reports and scout chatter) and won’t get it until a physical, which will only happen for the team that agrees to terms with him, keeping the other 29 clubs in the dark.”"
That doesn’t paint a pretty picture. It amazes me that he’s found a way to drive his price to upwards of $50 million. Teams in need of talent will sometimes extend themselves to great lengths to acquire it. Keep in mind, the Padres are the ones who traded for an outfielder with arthritic hips. They also gave up two top prospects for a player with one year remaining on his contract and a corner outfielder who posted a WAR of 0.1 last year with designs on making him their center fielder. A.J. Preller might be scared off by a little risk, but in these instances, the reward was far greater than a the risk.
With all this uncertainty you might wonder why anyone would want Olivera? It’s partly because of Jose Abreu. Abreu essentially came out of nowhere last season and became one of the top pure power hitters in the game. He led the league in slugging percentage and was among the leaders in home runs. While Olivera isn’t projected to be quite the hitter that Abreu was coming out of Cuba, there has been a recent insurgence of Cubans coming to the MLB and contributing right away.
Abreu, Yoenis Cespedes and Yasiel Puig have all shown that they were ready to compete at the major league level right away (although Puig did spend a short time in the minors). Adding a healthy Olivera would immediately solve the Padres problem at third base and make their lineup in 2015 even better.
At the moment it appears that the bidding will come down to either the Padres, Dodgers or Braves. The Dodgers were initially reported to have offered Olivera a deal worth $77 million, but there is a lot of skepticism of the legitimacy of that offer. It is now believed that the Padres and Dodgers will be the top bidders with offers close to or upwards of $50 million and the Braves not too far behind according to Heyman. Heyman also reports that there is speculation manager Fredi Gonzalez, will give the Braves an advantage, but will that advantage outweigh the monetary difference?
Stay tuned to Friars On Base for all updates on Hector Olivera and the Padres.
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