While he hasn't carried the same name value as fellow Cuban free-agent-to-be Yoan Moncada, Hector Olivera is likely to provide more impact in the immediate future in Major League Baseball. The 29-year-old second baseman has an intriguing blend of tools, substantial issues, and a shroud of mystery.
While Olivera was once one of the best players in Cuba, he missed the 2012-13 season because of a blood disorder. Since then, he has not participated in any international tournaments or played with the Cuban national team. He did play in Serie Nacional this most reason season, but it's been some time since scouts have had a good look at him.
Here is what we do know:
Olivera stands 6'2, 220 pounds. He's a right-handed hitter, with good pop for his position and the potential to even improve in that regard, as other Cuban players have done since they've arrived stateside. He was a plus runner at his peak, though at 29 years old, it's possible that's on the decline. He batted .316/.412/.474 with seven home runs and more walks than strikeouts in the 2013-14 season, though he only played the field in 29 out of 90 games. He can play second or third base, depending on the team that acquires him, though there's likely to be a question of how many games he can handle physically, given his recent health concerns.
As mentioned above, his power and speed stand out, as far as we know. The scouting reports are obviously dated, and he's yet to conduct a personal workout while awaiting OFAC approval. Ben Badler of Baseball America asserts that he's a better all around player than Yasmany Tomas, who received a six-year, $68.5 million deal from Arizona this offseason. That's not to say that Olivera will earn such a deal, because he'll be 30 by the time next season starts, but on skills alone, he's the better player at present.
He should be able to begin in the major leagues immediately, unlike Jorge Soler, Yasiel Puig, and fellow-free-agent Moncada. That's an advantage for teams looking to plug holes at the major league level, in addition to compiling talent. He's known for being quick to the ball, with good hands and a relatively disciplined approach.
Missing a whole season with a blood condition makes his signing a bit more complicated than your standard Cuban defector. The Cuban press reported the issue as thrombosis in his left biceps, but prospective team's fears should be assuaged by his performance in 2013-14, even if most of that playing time came as a DH.
This is a big unknown. Tomas' deal, combined with Rusney Castillo's, would seemingly set the market, but Olivera is older than both of them, and far closer to decline. Pair that with his health concerns and it's fair to wonder if he'll cost something closer to the four-year, $28 million that Alex Guerrero received from the Dodgers.
When will he sign?
Without being cleared by the Office of Foreign Assets Control, it's really hard to say. He's yet to obtain residency papers from Haiti, which will be required before being cleared by OFAC, so there could be some distance between now and when he signs.
Who is interested?
Per Badler, teams that are looking to plug holes at second and third base make the most sense. He lists the Yankees, Padres, Athletics and Nationals as options, but it's worth noting that the Yankees' signing of Stephen Drew might have given them the depth they desire. The Nationals make sense, as Asdrubal Cabrera has departed for Tampa Bay, and their current starter would be Danny Espinosa, who is coming off a disastrous season. They've also shown a comfortability with medical red flags, signing Jayson Werth, Anthony Rendon, and Lucas Giolito in recent years, despite known health issues.
The Padres don't make as much sense, as the previous administration signed Jedd Gyorko to a long term deal, and with Will Middlebrooks in tow, the keystone is the only spot left for him. That said, it was the previous administration's work, and new GM A.J. Preller might not feel encumbered by their decision making.
The A's are a possibility, though it's worth noting that they traded Brandon Moss for a second base prospect (Joe Wendle) who is already 25 years old. The A's aren't in a total rebuild, but are doing something in between, and it's possible they could move Olivera to third base, if or when Wendle is ready. That could entail flipping the recently acquired Brett Lawrie or letting him walk in free agency two years from now. There are a lot of moving pieces here, but unless the A's want to aggressively promote Wendle or live with Eric Sogard again, Olivera could make some sense.
Overall, it's unlikely Olivera is going to be the impact player that Yoenis Cespedes and Yasiel Puig have been, but he could have a solid first few years before age and health completely catch up to him. He has tools to excel, but comes with as many unknowns as we've seen for a Cuban import.