Report: Angels Showing Interest in Hector Olivera

By Brian Helberg
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Jeff Fletcher of the Orange County Register tweeted on Thursday that the Halos are showing in Cuban second baseman Hector Olivera. It is unclear the level of the Angels’ interest, but the 29-year-old would be an intriguing addition to the lackluster competition at second base this spring in Tempe. According to Jesse Sanchez of MLB.com, Olivera has petitioned Major League Baseball to become a free agent but they have yet to approve his request.

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Halo Hangout’s own Mike Greyshock floated this idea last week, and it appears Jerry Dipoto is finally starting to listen to our advice. Hector Olivera held his final showcase on Wednesday in the Dominican Republic with hundreds of scouts in attendance. The Oakland Athletics and San Francisco Giants were out in full force to watch Olivera strut his stuff. The Angels did not have a big presence at the showcase, but as Greyshock pointed out, the majority of Dipoto’s moves this offseason have come together quickly.

Hector Olivera is said to have impressed during his showcase, but he remains a mystery to baseball experts — including scouts and General Managers. He does have a strong track record producing offensively in the Cuban National Series, but at 29-years-old one has to wonder whether a long term contract is wise. He boasts a career .323 batting average, with 96 home runs, 433 RBI’s and 55 stolen bases across 642 career games. His career .323/.407/.505 slash line is very impressive despite the lower level of competition.

Scouts rave about Hector Olivera’s hit toolYasiel Puig, Yoenis Cespedes, and Jose Abreu have all defected from Cuba in recent years, and they have all become stars in the big leagues. Many scouts believe Olivera may be the most well rounded hitter of the bunch. His approach at the plate is a mature one, and his swing is smooth. While he never hit 20 home runs in a single season, he appears to be capable of making an immediate impact wherever he signs in 2015. However, the veteran middle infielder did regress in his final season with Santiago de Cuba in 2013. He failed to reach double digits in home runs for the first time since 2006, and his .474 slugging percentage was his lowest output since ’06. Olivera’s .316 batting average and his .412 on base percentage were his lowest marks since ’06.

Hector Olivera has spent the majority of his ten seasons in Cuba at second base. Reportedly, some Major League clubs believe he is best suited to man the hot corner in the Majors, but as a member of the Angels, he would likely stay at second base. While he has never been referred to as a gifted fielder, he holds his own up the middle. Scouts like Olivera’s range and arm strength, but no one tool stands out defensively. His .981 career fielding percentage at second base falls just short of .984 league average in 2014. To Olivera’s credit, his 6.05 range factor blew away the league average of 4.60 from a season ago in the Major Leagues.

Hector Olivera does have some durability questions to answer before signing his mega-deal. Due in part to the structure of the Cuban league, he has never played more than 89 games in a season at second base. He functioned as the designated hitter in 69 of his 73 games during the 2013 season, and he has not seen any time at second base since 2011. It is worth noting that Olivera only played third base during his final showcase this week. If the Angels are planning to employ Olivera as their primary second baseman in 2015, Dipoto and his staff need to be sure he is still capable of playing 162 games at second base.

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Hector Olivera is believed to be seeking a five or six year deal in the $70 million dollar range. 27-year-old outfielder Rusney Castillo set the record for a Cuban free agent in 2014 when he signed a six-year $72 million dollar contract with the Boston Red Sox. 24-year-old Yasmany Tomas fell just short of the record this winter when he signed a six-year 68.5 million dollar deal with the Arizona Diamondbacks. $70 million is a steep price to pay for a 29-year-old second baseman who has never set foot in a big league clubhouse. The Angels could conceivable afford this type of financial commitment, but it would put them in danger of surpassing the salary cap threshold.

Based on his performance in 2013 and his age, it is fair to wonder if Hector Olivera’s best days are in the rear view mirror. While Olivera would present the Halos with an obvious upgrade at second base, I believe the Angels should pass. In my opinion, the Halos are not desperate enough for middle infield help to throw $65-70 million at an aging second baseman. Personally, I am comfortable with Grant Green and Josh Rutledge squaring off this spring in Tempe for the starting second base job. Scoring runs should not be a problem for the Halos in 2015, and Rutledge or Green will fit in nicely at the bottom of the lineup.

Next: What will Chris Iannetta bring to the Angels in 2015?

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