Hector Olivera Reportedly Dealing with UCL Tear; Dodgers Protected

The fact that the Dodgers were able to spend $62.5 million for a 30-year old Cuban infielder with a probable torn UCL shows just how flush with cash the organization is. There have been various reports — all denied — that recent Dodgers signee Hector Olivera’s elbow is a ticking time bomb. Jeff Passan of Yahoo Sports reported way back on March 5 that there was serious concern regarding the health of Olivera’s elbow. More recently, Jesse Sanchez of MLB.com reported that an MRI showed a small tear in the UCL of Olivera’s elbow.

That seventh season at $1 million will be triggered if and when Olivera goes under the knife for Tommy John surgery. Even at the age of 37, an extra season at $1 million will represent a huge bargain for the Dodgers if Olivera can live up to his Cuban league statistics. The Dodgers reportedly did their homework before finalizing the contract, with four physical examinations of the infielder. The physicals left the Dodgers confident that Olivera did not have a torn UCL, but this is a rumor that just will not go away. The inclusion of the $1 million option leaves me wondering if there might be some truth to the injury rumors. At the very least, the Dodgers felt enough concern that Olivera’s elbow would pose a significant problem at some point in his career.

Should Olivera undergo Tommy John surgery, he could be back on the field in as little as eight months. Orioles catcher Matt Wieters underwent the procedure last June, and has already returned, although his availability for Opening Day is in jeopardy after a flareup of elbow soreness. Shin Soo Choo, Kyle Blanks, and Carl Crawford headline the list of recent position players who have recovered from Tommy John surgery in less than a year.

Olivera is still waiting for his visa to clear. When that happens, he will undergo a complete physical with the Dodgers and there will be greater clarity surrounding the health of his elbow. The Dodgers are not hurting at any of the infield positions right now, with Howie Kendrick at second, Jimmy Rollins at shortstop, and Juan Uribe at third. Uribe is 37 and will be a free agent next season. Third is the most logical position for Olivera at this point.

Clearly, Uribe is not in the Dodgers long term plans, and the free agent market next offseason is very thin at third base. Names like Casey McGehee and David Freese highlight the list. The Dodgers do not have great third base prospect depth, so the signing of Olivera simply shows them getting an early jump on next winter. Olivera will likely be waiting on his visa until the midpoint of the season. Even if fully healthy, the Dodgers could only expect a half season of production from Olivera in 2015.

This contract was not signed to see an immediate return on investment in the 2015 season, but rather a long term speculative play. Olivera has looked fine throwing the ball in all of his showcase workouts, but the question of his elbow health still looms. If in fact he does have a torn ligament, the best course of action would be to undergo Tommy John immediately. The Dodgers should not worry about rushing Olivera along or taking preventative measures like the Yankees are with Masahiro Tanaka. Any production they could have gotten this season from Olivera should have been viewed as an added bonus. Tommy John surgery will guarantee a full season out of Olivera down the road at a fraction of the cost of his fair value.

It seems ridiculous to sink over $90 million into a soon-to-be 30-year old import, but the Dodgers do not operate in the same financial universe as the rest of the league. All things considered, this looks like a good deal for the Dodgers, especially with the Tommy John clause. There is plenty of speculation involved in signing a Cuban player, but if Hector Olivera can live up to his career .323 batting average, the valuation the Dodgers have placed on him will represent a huge bargain.

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