The United States might be open to normalizing relations with Cuba, but for now, the flow of potential Cuban free agents is still erratic. This week has more developments than most...
The representation for Hector Olivera has informed teams that he will perform in an open showcase on Jan. 21 and 22 in the Dominican Republic, according to Baseball America's Ben Badler.
While the Yoan Moncada sweepstakes will be a contest to see which team can throw the most money at him, the pursuit of Olivera is more complicated. He's a 29-year-old second baseman (he turns 30 in April), so he doesn't count against a team's international budget pool. He's also a large second baseman (6-foot-2, 200 pounds), and his right-handed bat is highly regarded, as Badler ranked Olivera the No. 6 prospect in Cuba:
When healthy, Olivera shows a well-rounded skill set with size, athleticism, hitting ability and power. Olivera recognizes pitches, stays within the strike zone and has hit over .300 in nine of his 10 seasons in Serie Nacional. He has good power for a middle infielder, ranking second in the league with 34 doubles in 2008-09 with 14-17 home runs in each of his last four seasons before he was sidelined. Olivera also showed his speed with 21 stolen bases in 22 attempts in 2007-08, though he hasn’t otherwise been a big basestealing threat. Olivera showed the defensive chops to play second base before missing time, but this past season Olivera spent most of his time at DH, with just 29 games at second base.
He'd probably rate higher, but he missed the entire 2012-13 season with thrombosis in his left bicep, and while he returned to form at the plate, it's not clear if his whole bag of skills is back, and just how big a risk his condition poses in the future.
Badler said the Yankees, Padres and A's are the three teams that have kept the closest tabs on him, but now that a formal showcase is on the calendar, that pool could widen. The White Sox could stand to upgrade that position, so, hey.
The contenders for Moncada, on the other hand, seem to be pretty much established:
Good luck getting out ahead of that arms race. However, if Moncada isn't cleared to sign by June 15, then those two teams are out of luck, as they exceeded their budgets into the maximum penalty zone and won't be able to sign a player for more than $300,000 over the next two signing periods. June is a long time away, though, so I imagine one of those teams will land him with time to spare.
The U.S. government did clear Yoan Lopez to sign with an MLB team, according to MLB.com's Jesse Sanchez:
The D-backs, Dodgers, Padres and Yankees are among the teams to express strong interest in the 21-year-old starter, although other clubs could be in the mix now that the pitcher can officially sign a contract.
Lopez throws a cut fastball, a changeup, a curveball and a slider, but he is best known for a fastball that has reached 100 mph and usually hovers in the 93-95 mph range. In Cuba, he played three seasons for Isla de la Juventud in Serie Nacional, the island's top league. Lopez sported a 3.12 ERA with 28 strikeouts and 11 walks in 49 innings in his final season before defecting.