The Braves and Cuban second baseman Hector Olivera are having ongoing discussions, tweets Jon Morosi of FOX Sports. Ben Badler of Baseball America recently listed the Braves among the favorites to sign the 29-year-old Olivera, and Fangraphs’ Kiley McDaniel called Atlanta the most likely of a group of teams that was “lurking if the price comes down” to sign Olivera.
What the price for Olivera will be is highly debatable. Olivera’s representatives have said they expect a deal worth $70MM or more, and Hall of Fame journalist Peter Gammons has heard from multiple executives that such a price tag is possible. However, in the linked piece above, McDaniel is exceptionally skeptical that the price will reach such heights, pegging Olivera for something south of $50MM. Concerns over Olivera’s health are well documented, as he reportedly has had blood clot issues that give scouts pause and may or may not have damage to his UCL, giving further reason for trepidation. Olivera’s camp shot down the UCL rumors almost immediately, but if the damage is there, it will almost certainly be revealed on a physical.
The Braves are familiar with Olivera’s trainer, Rudy Santin, as Santin also worked with outfielder Dian Toscano, whom the Braves signed this offseason. Additionally, manager Fredi Gonzalez is of Cuban descent and has had good meetings with Olivera, per McDaniel. The Braves lack an immediate answer at second base, which figures to be manned by some combination of Alberto Callaspo, Jace Peterson and possibly non-roster invitee Kelly Johnson this season.
However, adding Olivera may be a longer-term move than the Braves require. Top prospect Jose Peraza is nearing the point at which he will be Major League ready, and he is widely believed to be the heir apparent at second base. Of course, the Braves could always move Olivera to third base when Peraza is ready, thereby supplanting Chris Johnson, who struggled greatly in 2014. Having “too much” talent at a position is a problem that any club would be glad to have.
If a pact with Olivera is ultimately reached, it would represent the second significant, “win-now” type of free agent investment for Atlanta this winter, as Nick Markakis was signed to a four-year, $44MM deal in late 2014. But, the rest of Atlanta’s moves have looked the part of a rebuilding club. The Braves have traded Jason Heyward, Justin Upton, Evan Gattis, Jordan Walden and David Carpenter for prospects while bringing in several veteran relievers and starters on low-cost Major League deals (Jason Grilli, Jim Johnson) or on minor league pacts with invites to Major League Spring Training (Wandy Rodriguez, Eric Stults, Chien-Ming Wang, Jose Veras).
Olivera is a .323/.407/.505 hitter in 10 pro seasons in Cuba and is believed by many scouts to be capable of stepping into an MLB lineup in short order and delivering strong OBP marks with 15- to 20-homer power.