Bidding war likely to ensue for Hector Olivera
There's just under a week until Cuban superprospect Yoan Moncada's self-imposed intended signing date. The Dodgers and Yankees continue to be viewed as the favorites to lock up the switch-hitting 19-year-old, with the Padres lying low as a potential wild card choice. The reported signing bonus that it will take to lock up Moncada has been a topic of wide-ranging opinion. Ken Rosenthal of Fox Sports writes that various team executives have given expected signing bonuses ranging from $20 million to $50 million, and that’s all before the 100 percent tax that must be paid on top of the bonus for exceeding international bonus pools.
At the end of the day, we’ll have to wait and see if the total expenditure used to acquire Moncada eclipses the Cuban-record $72.5 million the Red Sox dished out to bring Rusney Castillo to Boston last August. However, Moncada is not the only soon-to-be-signed Cuban prospect that could eclipse Castillo’s mark.
On Tuesday afternoon, Peter Gammons of ESPN reported that five teams are willing to go over $70 million to sign 29-year-old Hector Olivera. Jesse Sanchez of MLB.com had previously reported that the infielder was seeking a five- or six-year deal that rivaled the contracts of Castillo and Arizona’s Yasmany Tomas (six years, $68.5 million), but it was unclear whether the market would meet Olivera’s expectations given that teams would be paying for his decline years. There are also concerns regarding his health. The commissioner’s office has yet to even officially clear Olivera to sign with an MLB club, but once that happens, we can expect a bidding war for the Cuban infielder to ensue, if Gammons’ sources are correct.
Sanchez writes that the Yankees, Dodgers, Braves, Marlins and Padres are the teams interested in signing Olivera (this doesn’t necessarily mean they’re the same five teams Gammons reported are willing to go over $70 million), while Rosenthal and Jon Paul Morosi report that the Dodgers have indeed shown strong interest in obtaining Olivera’s services. Given the financial resources at the disposal of Andrew Friedman and Farhan Zaidi, it’s not too surprising that the Dodgers are among the favorites for Olivera, especially with Howie Kendrick, Jimmy Rollins and Juan Uribe all about to hit free agency. As for this upcoming season, Olivera would likely displace Juan Uribe at third base, either making the 35-year-old a trade chit or the league’s best utility infielder.
Uribe is coming off a pair of near-4 WARP seasons in which all of the main advanced defensive metrics have pegged him as an above-average defender at the hot corner. Defensive metrics have seen Uribe in a favorable light since he moved off of shortstop back in 2011, as he’s been able to rely more on his sure hands, strong arm and instincts at the position rather than the declining quickness responsible for his deteriorating range at the six-hole.
Uribe’s stick has also played well above average at third, as he posted a .279 True Average in 426 plate appearances in 2013 and a .280 mark in 404 trips to the plate last season. It is worth noting that Uribe has benefited from some extremely good fortune on balls in play over that span, given his rather average batted ball profile and an extremely high pop-up rate, so there might be even more regression built into what you’d normally expect from a guy entering his age-36 season.
With that being said, Uribe is owed just $6.5 million next season and even if he were to take a step back this season (PECOTA projects him for a .250 True Average and 2.3 WARP), the Dodgers would still be getting a fine deal on their investment.
Finding a replacement for Uribe in 2015 might be a bit curious considering his team-friendly contract and recent success, but the interest in signing Olivera likely has less to do with the Dodgers lack of confidence in Uribe and more to do with a free agent infield class next offseason that gets shaky quickly after the top options.
Heading the class next offseason is Ian Desmond, but the Nationals shortstop is likely to command a long-term deal north of $120 million, seeing as how he’s already shot down a $107 million extension. Ben Zobrist will also be available and Friedman would be thrilled at the thought of reuniting with his breakout star from his Tampa Bay days. However, an available Ben Zobrist is likely to draw many interested suitors, and it’ll take just one overaggressive team to push the length of a deal further than the Dodgers are willing to bid. Beyond that, the best bets set to hit the market are the Dodgers’ own impending free agents. After that you’re looking at the likes of Daniel Murphy, Asdrubal Cabreara, David Freese and Aramis Ramirez.
If all goes right, Corey Seager will be penciled into a spot in the infield at the start of 2016. But after that, the Dodgers still have two infield spots they’ll likely want to upgrade before the start of 2016. Hence, why they’re also looking bringing in Moncado. But after Desmond, Zobrist and Kendrick, you can make the case that Olivera is the next best major-league ready infield option that will hit the free agent market before then. If the Dodgers feel this is the case, it’s not too hard to understand why they would be willing to make a strong push for the Cuban free agent even without an immediate need in the infield.
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