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.
There’s been a lot written about 29-year-old Cuban infielder Hector Olivera around the internet over the past few months. Heck, there’s been a lot written about Olivera right here at Padres Public, including this article by yours truly and another (more recent) one by Nate.
Despite all of the bandwidth dedicated to the Olivera beat, not much has really changed. He still possesses an interesting track record that contains both stellar Cuban professional league and international play as well as high praise from scouts. His track record also contains a sort of mysterious blood disorder, a missed season, and a most recent season in Cuba in which the second baseman spent most of his time at designated hitter.
Olivera has had mixed performances at recent showcases in preparation for a major league deal, displaying the sort of offensives skills scouts used to drool over while also showing more fatigue than you’d like to see out of a player with past health concerns. Then, things got even more weird — Jeff Passan of Yahoo Sports reported that Olivera may have UCL damage in his right elbow. That report, naturally, was vehemently denied by Olivera’s camp. Then, Olivera’s camp changed, as he replaced his trainer-agent Rudy Santin with Greg Genske of the Legacy Agency, a move that apparently triggered interest in Olivera from a number of additional MLB clubs.
Despite a recently rumored price tag as high as $70-plus million, with the Dodgers as main players, the Padres have remained one of Olivera’s most likely landing spots through months of speculation. So, with the offseason picture essentially complete, does adding Olivera still make sense? Here are some things to consider.
AJ Preller likes Hector Olivera. Not only did he watch on the field in showcases and private workouts in the Dominican Republic, he went to his house for some QT and things have even gotten physical. Now the question becomes how much does AJ like Hector? Does he really like him? Does he really really like him? Does he really really really really really like him, Carly Rae Jepsen style?
Not surprisingly, when 29-year-old Cuban second basemen Hector Olivera held a showcase last week in the Dominican Republic, only one general manager joined the hundreds of scouts and other front office personnel in attendance. That GM — naturally — just so happened to be the Padres AJ Preller.
Preller is like the cop who gets the promotion to the cushy office job after 20 years on the beat, yet can’t resist the temptation to return to the streets. You’ve seen the movie before. And Preller apparently wasn’t there just because somewhere buried in his contract it says that he has to scout every player. According to Baseball America’s Ben Badler, the Padres are the favorites to sign Olivera once he becomes available (more on that later), flanked by the Giants, A’s, and Braves as other leading potential landing spots.
Back in August, Badler and Baseball America ranked Olivera as the sixth-best player left in Cuba, a nation that seems to grow baseball stars at the same rate it loses them. The infielder was a perennial star in Cuba toward the end of the previous decade, impressing scouts on the international stage (like the 2009 World Baseball Classic) and tearing up Cuba’s Serie Nacional with loud contact and a solid approach. In the 2011-2012 Cuban season, his best offensive output, Olivera hit .341/.468/.626 with 17 home runs and a two-to-one walk-to-strikeout ratio in 258 plate appearances. He wasn’t a one hit wonder either, as Olivera posted a .900-plus OPS in each of the four seasons that preceded his 2011-’12 campaign.