What’s The Nats’ Interest In Cuban Second Baseman Hector Olivera?
By Billy Brost
With the departure of free agent second baseman Asdrubal Cabrera to the Tampa Bay Rays late last week, the Washington Nationals have yet another item to cross off their off-season shopping list. The Nats find themselves in a precarious position heading into 2015, as a handful of players are slated to hit free agency at the end of the season, and the team needs to decide who their priority is to keep, between pitcher Jordan Zimmermann and shortstop Ian Desmond among others. With the inconsistency of Danny Espinosa over the past couple of seasons, could the addition of Cuban defector Hector Olivera be the answer to help put the Nats over the top?
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Olivera, who is regarded by many, to be big league ready right now, could cost the team who signs him, somewhere in the neighborhood of $70 million dollars over six years, but unlike many of his fellow countrymen who have made their Major League debuts in recent years, questions surround Olivera. He missed most of 2012-13 due to a blood disorder, and once he returned, he spent more time as a designated hitter than he did at second base. Prior to his illness, Olivera put up solid power numbers, hitting double-digit home runs in the five seasons before his extended absence, topping out at 17.
The scouting report on Olivera from Ben Badler and Baseball America is a positive one, as they rate the 6’2″, 220 lb. right-handed hitter a good physical player tools-wise, and someone that has excellent power for a middle infielder. If the Nats’ believe they are going to lose Ian Desmond next winter, the team may want to be proactive now and sign someone with power on the other side of the diamond to help prepare for the loss. With Anthony Rendon locked in at third, and Ryan Zimmerman at first, the Nats’ are not lacking for power, but if they lose Desmond, and don’t have a viable replacement for Cabrera now, the team could be in trouble sooner rather than later.
Once Olivera returned from his illness, he posted a triple slash line of .316/.412/.474 with seven home runs, 38 walks and 25 strikeouts in 273 plate appearances. The Nationals’ front office has yet to say whether or not they intend to slash payroll, or go all-in to keep both Zimmermann and Desmond, but if the team believes they can win now, which they should, perhaps signing Olivera could be the final piece to building another offensive juggernaut for 2015, and to also help offset the loss of Adam LaRoche from their lineup.