Cuban infielder Hector Olivera is now free to sign with a Major League Baseball team after being declared a free agent by the league on Friday. MLB.com’s Jesse Sanchez was the first to report the news.
Olivera, 29, is expected to draw interest from several teams and could sign fairly quickly after holding multiple private workouts and three open showcases in recent weeks. The Atlanta Braves, Oakland A’s, Los Angeles Dodgers, San Francisco Giants, Seattle Mariners and New York Yankees are believed to be among the teams most interested, though it’s noted all 30 teams have seen or evaluated him.
With spring training in full force, it would behoove Olivera to sign quickly so he can get in the necessary work to prepare for the challenge that lies ahead. That’s assuming he’s healthy, of course. As Yahoo Sports’ Jeff Passan reported on Thursday, there is some concern that Olivera has a damaged UCL is his right elbow, which is often the precursor to Tommy John surgery. It’s not the same level of concern that would be attached to a pitcher, but if true it would definitely hurt his short term outlook and his overall market.
For what it’s worth, sources close to Olivera and his representatives have denied that report. Baseball America’s Ben Badler adds that Olivera has taken and passed four physicals since defecting from Cuba.
Looking at things we know for sure, Olivera is an excellent hitter who has flashed power during his workouts. In 273 plate appearances between 2013-2014, Olivera hit .312/.412/.474 with seven home runs, 38 walks and only 25 strikeouts. Prior to that, he missed significant time due a blood clot in his left biceps, which is his non-throwing arm. So even if his right elbow proves healthy, there’s still physical history that could be viewed as troubling.
All of these factors plus concerns about Olivera’s defense at second and third base and his age — he’ll be 30 on April 5 — make his market impossible to predict. Jeff Todd of MLB Trade Rumors says his guarantee could range anywhere from $30 million to $70 million, which speaks to the uncertainty. Because he’s older than 23 and has played more than five seasons in Cuba, Olivera will be exempt from international bonus pools, so at least keeps every team involved in the bidding process. But it will be most interesting to see which team steps to the forefront in an attempt to fortify their lineup.
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