Just last week we discussed 29-year-old Cuban infielder Hector Olivera again, noting some of the positives and negatives involved in the Padres’ pursuit of his services. Then, just yesterday, the Dodgers finally put an end to the months-long Olivera saga, signing him to a six-year, $62.5 million deal that includes a $28 million signing bonus.
The Dodgers adding Olivera shouldn’t be a surprise to anyone for the simple reason that, along with the Yankees, they have the most money. Olivera doesn’t necessarily fit LA’s list of immediate needs, a team that already has Juan Uribe, Howie Kendrick, and fellow Cuban Alex Guerrero slotted at second and third base for 2015. Then again, both Uribe and Kendrick are free agents after this season, Guerrero looks like a potential flop, and the Dodgers’ infield depth (they also have Justin Turner and another Cuban Erisbel Arruebarrena) and position on the win curve allows them to be patient with Olivera, perhaps for the betterment of his development and right arm. Further, while the Dodgers have resisted the temptation of opening the vault for international amateurs this signing period, likely readying to load up come July 2nd, they’ve been extremely active in the Cuban market in general in recent years, including an under-the-radar $8 million signing of Pablo Millan Fernandez last week.
For A.J. Preller and the Padres, missing out on Olivera caps off a fascinating offseason, one that saw the Padres both completely reshape the roster and lose out on just about every free agent they apparently courted. Besides the big-ticket signing of James Shields and a few minor deals, Preller’s roster shuffling has centered primarily around trades. Perhaps more surprisingly, noting his background in foreign territory, none of Preller’s moves have involved international players, despite heavily-rumored flirtations with Yasmany Tomas, Yoan Moncada, Hector Olivera, and Yoan Lopez. Three of those players ended up signing with NL West teams (Tomas and Lopez in Arizona and Olivera in LA) while Moncada landed east in Boston.
While it’s fair to question Preller’s success rate in free agent negotiations early in his tenure as general manager — or, more broadly, ownership’s willingness to spend going forward — there’s a decent shot he simply shied away from various players when the price ended up too high. After all, if we trust in Preller’s international experience and scouting ability, we should probably trust in his ability to know when to strike on a player and when to lay off when the price isn’t right. And it’s almost impossibly hard for us, as outsiders, to put a reasonable price point on someone like Hector Olivera.
That isn’t to say the Padres won’t regret not having Tomas, Moncada, Olivera, or Lopez under contract, but none of the four were slam dunk, must-sign types: Tomas and Olivera both have significant question marks, Moncada’s deal involved heavy penalties that even the Yankees weren’t willing to incur, and Lopez is a 21-year-old pitcher (whose signing also incurred penalties). As we discussed last week, from a team’s perspective, now might not be the best time to enter the high-end of the Cuban market, coming off a stretch where most big-name Cubans have greatly exceeded major league expectations.
As we’ve also discussed, laying off Moncada (and Lopez) allows the Padres, like the Dodgers, to load up on international amateur players this coming signing period or next, so long as they’re willing to pay the overage tax for breaking their international budget. And most of Preller’s past experience with the Texas Rangers involved signing international amateurs from the likes of the Dominican Republic and Venezuela, not high-priced professionals from Cuba. In short, the Preller-led Padres are still likely to be a force in the foreign scene in the near future, even though Preller’s first offseason as GM yielded a surprising international O-for.
Unlike the Padres, the Dodgers are better suited to gamble on Olivera’s health and production — heck, even if he misses all of 2015 with Tommy John surgery, they have enough infield depth on the 40-man roster to wait until he’s ready in 2016. They also have the financial muscle to take a six-year, $62.5 million loss on the chin, if Olivera’s performance doesn’t translate or if his health and durability remains a long-term issue. The Padres can’t absorb that kind of hit, at least not without somewhat significant ramifications on future payrolls, and ultimately they decided the inherent risk associated with a player like Olivera wasn’t worth the potential reward.