Cuban second baseman Hector Olivera has been declared a free agent by Major League Baseball, according to Jesse Sanchez of MLB.com. Olivera is now free to sign with any team he chooses.
Until recently, Olivera was expected to command a contract of $50 million or more, but questions about the health of his elbow may dash his hopes for a massive payday. Jeff Passan of Yahoo Sports reported on March 5 that “serious concern exists that Cuban infielder Hector Olivera has a damaged ulnar collateral ligament in his throwing arm,” an injury that could require Tommy John surgery. If these rumors are true, Olivera’s value on the open market would likely take a major hit.
According to Baseball America’s Ben Badler Olivera and his representatives are denying the reports of UCL damage.
Hector Olivera’s camp vehemently denied a report that there is anything wrong with his elbow. “It’s absolutely not true.”
— Ben Badler (@BenBadler) March 6, 2015
Olivera camp said he has taken four physicals and passed them all. Said he has been training and throwing as normal with no pain. — Ben Badler (@BenBadler) March 6, 2015
Olivera’s free agency comes on the heels of Yoan Moncada’s signing with the Boston Red Sox, but their situations are significantly different. Olivera, who turns 30 in April, is roughly a decade older than Moncada (20 in May). Olivera’s age works in his favor in that he is a more polished, MLB-ready talent, but it works against him as his ceiling is lower than Moncada’s.
Perhaps the strongest factors working in Olivera’s favor are his age and experience. His combination of age and international playing experience leave him exempt from the international bonus pools that bind all teams. Whereas Moncada’s $31.5 million contract with Boston actually cost them $63 million and the opportunity to sign other young international players for the next two years, Olivera is a true free agent with no such strings attached. Moncada’s contract was also required to be a minor league contract, so the entire $31.5 million is a signing bonus. The Red Sox can spread the bonus over a few years, but the 100 percent overage tax is due in a couple months. Olivera can sign a Major League deal, with his salaries split across the life of the contract.
Olivera played 10 seasons in Cuba, with an impressive career slash line of .323/.407/.505 and about 50 percent more walks than strikeouts. The Dodgers, Padres, Giants, Braves, A’s, and Yankees are rumored to be interested in a healthy Olivera; it will be interesting to see what happens to that interest if he’s not healthy.
UPDATE: Jesse Sanchez is reporting that Olivera could sign with a team as early as this weekend, which suggests that concerns about his elbow may have been overstated.