Hector Olivera

As you all no doubt know by now, the Braves just made a blockbuster trade: Alex Wood, Jose Peraza, Jim Johnson, Luis Avilan, and most of Bronson Arroyo’s dead-money contract for Hector Olivera, Paco Rodriguez, Zach Bird, and a late-first round pick in the 2016 amateur draft.

The key to all of this is Olivera, who just might be an impact player at third base. If he is, then he’s cheap at the price, and the Braves won’t regret trading one of their best pitchers and one of their best prospects for a 30-year old Cuban player who hasn’t played a day in the majors and who has been dogged by injury concerns for the past three years. However, as Martin Gandy says, this is clearly “the riskiest trade the Braves have made yet.”

Who is Olivera? He was born in April, 1985, and he was almost exclusively a second baseman in Cuba, though Baseball America notes that third base is “a position he has some history with when he was starting his career.”

Olivera’s calling card is his broad base of skills: he’s basically average to above-average in every tool. If you don’t know the 20-to-80 scouting scale, it’s basically a normal distribution where 50 is average and 80 is Giancarlo Stanton’s power or Billy Hamilton’s speed or Aroldis Chapman’s fastball. Here are the grades that Fangraphs’ Kiley McDaniel gave him back in February:

Hit: 45/55, Game Power: 45/50+, Raw Power: 55/55, Speed: 55/55, Field: 50/50, Throw: 55/55, FV: 50

FV means Future Value. The numbers on the left side of the slash are his ratings today; the numbers on the right side of the slash are him at his peak. Essentially, he has no weaknesses.

Except for his health. Back in March, Yahoo’s Jeff Passan and MLB’s Jesse Sanchez reported that he might have a UCL tear. As a result, the Dodgers inserted a clause into his contract that would give them an additional year of his services for just $1 million if he should require Tommy John surgery.

But the bigger issue is that he has barely played the field in the last four years. He missed the 2012-2013 season after being diagnosed with a blood clot in his left arm; he took blood thinners to address the issue, and his doctors wouldn’t let him play baseball. When he returned to play in 2013, he mostly played DH, and he didn’t play on the Cuban national team that year. So the last time he played a full season as a position player was 2011. That may partly explain why he was DL’ed with a hamstring injury in late June. When he was trying out for teams during the offseason, McDaniel writes, many scouts noticed that he was “noticeably fatigued in some private workouts for clubs, which were all scheduled with plenty of downtime between so he could recover.”

That said, all of these health issues are extremely well known, and he has been examined extremely closely. It is fair to say that his health concerns have been baked into his price. The Braves are getting Olivera for 5 years and $32.5 million, which becomes 6 years and $33.5 million if Olivera needs ligament replacement surgery at any time between now and 2020. That price is about a 45% discount from that of two other Cuban players who were free agents this offseason, Yasmany Tomas (who signed with Arizona for 6 years, $68.5 million) and Rusney Castillo (who signed with Boston for 7 years/$72.5 million). Moreover, as BA’s Badler writes: “On talent alone, Olivera was a better player than Castillo and Tomas when they were in Cuba. Olivera is 29 while Castillo is 27 and Tomas 24, so that works against him, but Olivera is the same age as most major league free agents. But if I had my choice of one of those three players, assuming the team doctors give him a thumbs up, I would take Olivera over Castillo or Tomas. From talking with several scouts about it, I’m not alone in that opinion, either.”

So, this is a leap of faith, and it’s much more of a leap for us fans than it is for the Braves front office. Olivera did a private workout for the Braves in late January, and they were known to be one of the chief teams pursuing him in the offseason, before the Dodgers swooped in and offered him a $28 million signing bonus. Braves scouts clearly love his skills and Braves doctors have clearly reviewed his medical reports, and they believe that he is an acceptable risk, one worth trading one of the team’s top pitchers and one of the team’s top prospects.

I’m not quite sure what a good comparison would be, but it seems to me that the team is hoping that Olivera will be something like Travis Fryman: a pretty good hitter who’s also a pretty good fielder, one of those guys who flies under the radar as one of the better players in the league precisely because he’s good at everything and bad at nothing. (Unfortunately, Fryman also had trouble staying on the field and was done by age 33, so we’ll have to hope that Olivera has better staying power.)

Incidentally, with this trade, Olivera now blocks Rio Ruiz in the same way that Jace Peterson blocked Jose Peraza. Right now, Ruiz’s stock is way down, so he’s no kind of trade chip. But if he is able to solve Double-A next year, he may be just as expendable as Peraza was today.

However, Peraza aside, this trade helps to demonstrate why the Braves believe that pitching is the key currency in baseball: they traded four pitchers and a position player for two pitchers, a position player, and a draft pick, and there’s a decent chance that they’ll use that draft pick to take another pitcher next year. This is why they keep drafting pitchers and trading for pitchers. They believe that they can develop pitchers and trade for position players. I expect that we will see more trades like this in the near future.

It also demonstrates a key truth in baseball: you can never get too attached. Here’s hoping the guys in charge know what they’re doing.

67 thoughts on “Hector Olivera”

  1. We gave up our #2/#3 pitcher, a top 5 system prospect, and two relievers, for a guy that projects to be “average” and hasn’t really played the field much since 2011.

    He’d better be a smidge better than average.

    This still feels like an onion article, but I guess it’s real life…so…let’s hope it works.

  2. But krussell–just think about how fresh his legs are with all that time he’s missed over the last 4 years.

  3. Lol. He looks 47 years old in some of the photos. It’s a fresh 47 though.

    I kid. Ok enough of that. It’s not his fault we traded for him. Our FO appears to be in the midst of a bad mushroom episode, but it’s not his fault.

  4. Hey I’m a huge Olivera fan now that he’s on our roster. Hope he does awesome for us. I’ve been trying to find a positive opinion on this trade. Seems like every neutral commentator thinks we got hosed. The only positive opinions are from sycophantic AJC resident nut-lickers whose sole purpose is to play cheerleader to ATL team management. The consensus is that we lost this trade in both the short and long term. If we come out ahead in actuality, the Johns will genuinely have proven just about everyone wrong.

  5. @9 thanks. I would say this article is more explaining the Braves’ reasoning in a charitable way, while not going so far as to say it’s correct.

  6. Yeah, it seems that the writer isn’t necessarily fully buying it either, to be fair, but he does lay out the argument for pretty well.

  7. One way to look at it is that the Dodgers bought Wood and Peraza with Olivera’s signing bonus.

  8. Will we finally get somebody with this stupid replay thing? We’ve had our guys overslide, pop up, etc over and over.

  9. John Hart gave an interview during the game, the salient point of which is that the ETA for Olivera in the majors is mid- to late-August.

  10. I love the way Andrelton plays the game. I forgive him his next 20 Willie Mays Hayes pop ups. I think I owe him 28 now.

  11. Olivera better look out. Recent draft pick, Austin Riley, hit his seventh homer today, which ties him for first in the GCL with a kid who’s almost five years older than him.

  12. This deal seems to hinge upon Olivera’s health. That’s the scary part. I think most people would feel better if Olivera was a known commodity.

  13. Bye the bye, thanks for the way you explained what, maybe, we can expect to see from New Guy.

  14. Waiting for Godot, Waiting for Peraza… neither came..

    Easy to feel cheated by this part of the trade, not in terms of value, more as an almost personal slight…an empty feeling for the majority of us who never got to see him play…we will not be able to avoid following his progress in that awful place, corrupted by tv money and Hollywood BS…any success he achieves there must be enjoyed vicariously at a stage removed and will weaken in time…he will become a cipher.

    Now, had he come up, played a bit, good or bad, it would all have been different. We would have had his image in memory and his performance we could quantify not fantasize what might have been.

  15. “Olivera now blocks Rio Ruiz in the same way that Jace Peterson blocked Jose Peraza.”

    Meaning Olivera is essentially mediocre but can expect to keep his job because Rio Ruiz is not yet the player we had hoped he would be?

  16. I need to go back into ’80’s watching mode, but that bar has been closed for a long time. Conundrum.

  17. 4-13 since Fredi was informed of his extension. The roster churn was in full swing before then, as it has been since. Just saying.

  18. After the game, Chip was saying we need to look out for the Phils less they pass us for “4th place”. I mean, I’m sure the players would rather not finish last, but at this point, it’s no moral victory to make sure the Phillies get a better draft pick than we do.

  19. @28 I believe the corruption of LA predates TV money and Hollywood BS. It was a key factor in its greatest problem, sprawl.

  20. Boy, Brian Jordan searched long and hard for that analogy. That’s why they pay him the bug bucks, I guess.

  21. I cannot stop shaking my head over the play Andrelton made at second last night. He’s simply the best ever to play his position in my baseball-loving life.

    Are the Braves done for now, or will another friend be leaving us today?

  22. @41 If we do the whole “road to best Andrelton play” thing again this year I am going to vote for that tag at 2nd every time. Not flashy but it is my favorite moment so far this year.

  23. I think Maybin might be a flash in the pan. I’m selling high on him. He should bring back a good prospect. Unfortunately, probably not an OF.

    Pierzynski, obviously.

  24. Saw this headline: “Red Sox Interested In Tyson Ross” and couldn’t help but think, “and if they acquire him will sign him to a $25 million/year long-term extenstion”

  25. Giving up on Teheran? Ok, but our “pitching depth” is pretty sketchy. Looks like we’re trying to lose 100 games next year.

  26. After reading the fangraphs link, I can get my brain wrapped around this trade. However, I think that Wood is less a risk than Hector. I’m not all that sad about Peraza, but i was thinking that Wood was going to be part of our rotation going forward. I think he will be a very good pitcher in his prime.
    Wisler, Folty, Fried, Both Perez, Ban the Man Unusual, Tookie, Tyrell made him expendable I guess.

    If Olivera = Travis Fryman then the Braves have made a good deal. Good Lord hitting is expensive these days. Big risk, but in Braves scouting I trust.

  27. Only way it makes sense to trade Teheran is if Hart thinks Jenkins is a #2 or #3 starter. Even then, he can’t be counted on to give us much more than 150 innings next year. Otherwise, Banuelos is a giant question mark. Fried and Toussaint are not even in the picture right now. Folty’s control is still highly suspect. The Perezes are a solid #5, but how many innings can you count on those guys giving us, even between the two of them?

    If Hart trades Teheran I think that has to signal that we are going to make a big run at a top FA pitcher.

  28. Re: Jay from the previous thread—Those vintage baseball leagues sound amazing! What a cool way to experience history.

  29. The worst thing about keeping tabs on David O’Brien’s twitter feed on Deadline Day is keeping tabs on David O’Brien’s twitter feed.

  30. I too am going to trust Braves scouting. The last winter’s trades certainly earned my belief in the front office.

  31. I don’t buy the Soler rumors. He’s the opposite of the players that we’ve acquired. High K guy with below average defense.

  32. If we trade Teheran for Soler and then sign David Price, I will totally forget about what we gave up for Olivera.

  33. Soler sucks. Do not want. Agree that trading Teheran necessitates a big FA pitching acquisition in our near future.

  34. That Andrew McKirahan is the only current member of our bullpen who was there on Opening Day is especially astounding when you consider there was only one guy there on Opening Day who was on the team last year. And McKirahan spent half this season serving a suspension. That is a crazy amount of turnover. I can usually name the Braves 25-man roster at any point in the season, but this year I haven’t been able to do that at all.

  35. @56-If ultra-competent scouting could in any way alleviate the risks associated with the Olivera trade I’d be less skeptical. Scouting can’t tell you whether a player is going to be able to stay healthy or how steep his decline phase will be.

    Hart’s comments about how they believe they have gotten a player just entering his prime sound completely delusional.

  36. Why rush and trade Teheran now at his lowest value. We are not contending next year, he is still cheap next year. Nothing lost in trading him after next season. I don’t get it.

  37. There’s not much backing the Teheran rumors. I don’t think we’d sell low either. No contender is out there clamoring for a guy that serves up taters like it’s 1995. He’s still young and cheap, and we’ll still be needing 5 starting pitchers next season. Rather see money go to the offense.

  38. Late, but to say a guy is average to somewhat above-average in every aspect of the game is not to say he’s an average player. An average player is generally better-than-average at some things and worse-than-average at others. A guy who can hit for average, hit for power, field a challenging position, and run is a good player.

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