Pros and cons of pursuing Cuban free agent Hector Olivera


The Miami Marlins have been linked to Cuban middle infield prospect Hector Olivera, according to reports by the Miami Herald’s Clark Spencer. Spencer reports that the 29 year-old Cuban is asking for a deal in the $50-70 million dollar range.

It’s hard to believe that the Marlins would be able to compete with other more motivated and financially capable teams given that kind of expense. Regardless, it is useful to sum up the pros and cons of the Marlins, or any other clubs, pursuing Olivera.

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Baseball America’s Ben Badler wrote a quick scouting report after Olivera’s showcase in front of scouts at the Giant’s academy in the Dominican Republic. Badler cites a 60 yard dash in the high 6s, which is slightly above average. Olivera was “not flashy at second base” but scouts said he looked “like a steady defender.” They also remarked that he had a “plus arm” but was not displaying it at the showcase.

Scouts also liked Olivera’s bat speed and he “showed a tick above average power.” The Cuban was able to hit the ball hard to all fields and has a good history of making good contact in games. Scouts also “lauded his hitting approach and strike zone” management.

This seems to congruent with the stats he has put up in the Cuban National Series. One of the most notable things about the CNS is how hitter friendly of a league it is. Many other Cubans have left the island and excelled in the Majors in recent years from Aroldis Chapman to Jose Abreu and there is no question that Olivera could join that cohort of players.

Olivera has slashed .323/.407/.505 in 10 seasons in Cuba, flashing a .182 ISO with nearly 18 home runs per 600 plate appearances. Certain other statistics are hardly as reliable because his 11.2% walk rate and 7.6% strikeout rate would be considered pedestrian in the major leagues.

At face value it seems like Olivera best comparisons would be Chase Headley or Martin Prado with more power. I don’t doubt that his bat will play in the majors; maybe not at the level of an Abreu but certainly a tick above league average at second base and close to league average at third.


Kelly McDaniel over at Fangraphs gave a quick run-down of what’s concering about Olivera straight out of the gate. He cites a “worrisome medical track record” which includes a case of thrombosis in his left biceps which knocked him out for the 2012-13 Serie Nacional season and limited him to primarily DHing in 2013-14. Sources have characterized the thrombosis as “very serious” and some have called it “life threatening.” Although this could be a strategy to drive the Cuban’s price down.

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  • Finally, there are two joint concerns regarding Olivera: his fitness and conditioning as well as his age. Teams would be signing a player that seemingly was fatigued during his workout and hasn’t consistently played the field for two full Serie Nacional seasons. It is a much more intriguing question whether the entire package is as sound as advertised. No Major League team would spend the kind of money to get a primary DH with good middle infield power and average power at third base.

    These concerns about Olivera’s fitness go along with the dilemma inherent in signing a player already 29 years-old and in the decline phase of his career, to a long term deal. Logic dictates that this would not be smart, as his best days are behind him, but if the market will bear it I don’t see why Olivera won’t sign a long term deal that takes him into his 30s.


    The recent success of Cuban free agents in Major League Baseball has created an unlikely international market of which Hector Olivera is one of the most interesting cases. He is an older player with some confounding health issues with a solid skill set that will probably translate well to the major leagues: a solid glove and a bat with good pop and a solid approach at the plate, albeit against marginal pitchers in a hitter friendly league.

    The Marlins seem to be set at both second and third base at the time but for other teams the risk in signing Olivera could ultimately be worth the reward. I must ask, is he really worth as much as baseball people say he is?

    I say no.

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