The Los Angeles Dodgers have opened their wallets once again, this time for Cuban infielder Hector Olivera. How does he fit in their already-stocked roster?
Camps will be breaking across Spring Training complexes in both Arizona and Florida next week, but that hasn’t stopped the Los Angeles Dodgers from adding another piece to the roster puzzle.
Word came down on Tuesday that Cuban free agent Hector Olivera has agreed to a six-year deal with the club, which industry insiders say is a $62.5 million deal and includes a $28 million signing bonus. The Dodgers beat out other reported suitors which included the Yankees, Marlins, Giants, and Padres. After not pursuing any Caribbean players for years, the Dodgers reversed course and landed Yasiel Puig 2 1/2 years ago, and now President Andrew Friedman and the rest of the Dodgers staff is hoping that the signing of Olivera will translate to similar success.
According to Baseball Reference, Olivera has played 10 seasons for Santiago de Cuba, where he compiled a .323 batting average with 96 home runs, 433 RBI and 619 runs score in 3,269 plate appearances and an unknown amount of games played. He also made appearances in both the 2008 Summer Olympics, helping Cuba win the Silver Medal, and the 2009 World Baseball Classic.
How does he fit in?
According to Jesse Sanchez of MLB.com, Olivera put on a show during a private workout in the Dominican Republic last month, and while he doesn’t have the same caliber of power that fellow Cuban sluggers Puig or Yoenis Cespedes have, if healthy, he could still hit 15-20 home runs and drive in about 75 runs from the middle of the lineup. He could also play third base, which made him even more valuable to some teams who were interested in his services.
That ability to play more than one infield position will be especially valuable to the Dodgers, who have a crowded infield that features the likes of Howie Kendrick, Jimmy Rollins and Juan Uribe, who are all due up for free agency at the end of the season. Darwin Barney and Justin Turner are listed as backups to Kendrick on the Dodgers depth chart at second base, while Turner, Barney and Enrique Hernandez, who has played 42 Major League games in his career, are listed as backups to Uribe at third base.
But Olivera doesn’t come without some concern; his reported age is 30, and according to Sanchez, some scouts expressed concern in offering him a long-term deal because of his age.
Some also preface the projections of his numbers by saying “when healthy,” because he’s overcome a blood disorder that saw him miss playing time and Yahoo! Sports claims that there is some concern about a damaged ulnar collateral ligament in his throwing arm. Olivera’s representatives have refuted the report, saying that their client passed physical examinations by four teams.
Despite the upside that Olivera brings to the table, don’t expect to see him in a uniform at Spring Training, or even on the Opening Day roster because of visa issues. And even when he does arrive in the US, the Dodgers have vowed to slowly transition him to the big league roster, saying that he receive some playing time down in the minors before any debut with the Dodgers.
For his first season in the National League, it would be reasonable to expect single digit home run numbers and about 40 RBI for a season that will see him take a slow and steady transition into the Major Leagues, while still being able to eat away at some of Uribe’s playing time at third base (and maybe even some of Kendrick’s playing time at second base).
The Cuban Factor
While it looks like Olivera can be a productive middle of the lineup infielder in Dodger blue, there’s always that question mark that lingers over players from Cuba because of the unknown. Scouts, for the most part, still lack access to Cuba and there’s still a lack of comprehensive knowledge about the professional league there and the opposing pitching.
It will greatly help Olivera to have fellow Cuban Puig in the clubhouse to help him get acclimated to the rigors of a 162-game Major League schedule and American culture.
To some small degree, signing a Cuban player is a roll of the dice, but even with the concerns over his health this looks to be a gamble that should work out in the Dodgers’ favor.