The Dodgers Already Have Hector Olivera

The Hector Olivera situation is just really strange. As Kiley broke down over the weekend, the market has been saturated with questionable information, and Olivera ended up hiring new representation after the early offers apparently didn’t match the lofty thresholds that were being floated publicly. Toss in his unusual health track record and the fact that this has dragged into mid-March, and the entire situation remains particularly odd.

And that’s before we even get to the teams involved (or not) in the bidding. Olivera is projected as a second baseman or a third baseman, depending on the acquiring team’s need on the infield, but the teams with the most glaring needs at those positions seem mostly uninterested. No contenders need a second baseman more than the White Sox, Blue Jays, or Angels, but none of them have been reported to be particularly interested in signing him as a middle infield upgrade. On the other hand, the Braves have been strongly connected to Olivera, despite the fact that they’re likely to be one of the league’s worst teams in 2015, and at age-30, Olivera isn’t exactly a long-term upside play.

But perhaps no team linked to Olivera makes less sense than the Dodgers. With Howie Kendrick at second base and Juan Uribe at third base, the team doesn’t really have an open spot for a player who is likely going to command $10 million or more per season, and it seems unlikely that Olivera would want to spend a year on the bench waiting for a position to open up. Of course, injuries do happen, and the Dodgers have enough money to stockpile depth, so the presence of Kendrick and Uribe shouldn’t automatically eliminate LA from signing a talented player.

However, when reading scouting reports about Olivera’s expected performance, I can’t shake the idea that the Dodgers already have this player; he just goes by the name of Justin Turner.

For context, here’s Kiley’s report on Olivera from a month ago:

The Scouting Report

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

There’s undeniable talent here: Olivera has above average bat speed, bat control, plate discipline and raw power, which is to all fields and he has a history of getting to in games. He’s an above average runner that can play second base or third base and has an above average arm.  That’s an above average everyday player with the statistical track record to give you some confidence that he’ll perform in the big leagues, but there’s real risk of him staying on the field regularly and not having his tools regress in a few years.

What all of this the means is that the optimistic outcome is, in 2015 in the big leagues, that Olivera could hit .260-.280 with a good OBP, 15-20 homers and solid-average base running and defensive value.  He may well be better in 2015 than Yasmany Tomas and Rusney Castillo, but given his age and track record, that isn’t going out on much of a limb; the concern is if he’s better than them in the following years and the risk associated with that.  It’s possible Olivera will need a couple week in the minors to get up to speed, but he’s seen as a plug-and-play MLB option.

Now, just for fun, here’s Justin Turner’s career batting line.

Career 1,248 7% 15% 0.114 0.322 0.281 0.344 0.395 0.328 110

Turner’s game might skew a bit more towards the BA/OBP end of the spectrum at the expense of some SLG, but overall, this is a pretty similar line to what Kiley was projecting for Olivera. Turner is a high-contact guy who doesn’t chase bad pitches and hits the ball hard enough to do some damage, and showed some improvement in the power department last year, posting a .153 ISO while nearly doubling his career home run total. His career 110 wRC+ with average baserunning would be a pretty nice outcome for Olivera as a hitter, and while Turner is not a great defender, he’s at least shown he can play third base at a reasonable level and hasn’t completely embarrassed himself up the middle; Olivera might have more defensive tools, but also comes with a lot of physical risks that Turner doesn’t have.

And, interestingly enough, they’re essentially the same age; Turner turned 30 back in November, while Olivera turns 30 next month. If the Dodgers want a slightly younger league average third base option for 2016 when Uribe likely departs, it doesn’t seem entirely clear to me that Olivera would be a dramatic upgrade over what Turner could provide. Turner, by the way, will still be under team control next season as a third year arbitration eligible, and if he spends most of 2015 as a part-time player backing up Kendrick and Uribe, he’s probably not looking at more than $3.5 million in salary for 2016.

None of this is meant to be a knock on Olivera, who might turn out to be a very nice player. Plenty of teams could use a high-contact, gap-power infielder, especially contenders who are projected to give significant playing time to guys like Maicer Izturis, Gordon Beckham, Josh Rutledge, or Will Middlebrooks. I just don’t know how much Olivera actually helps the Dodgers, given that they already have a guy with a very similar skillset backing up their two quality starters.

And, of course, none of this even touches on the depth behind Turner; Alex Guerrero’s contract makes it difficult to do anything besides carry him as an additional 2B/3B reserve, and the projections love both Enrique Hernandez and Austin Barnes, who were acquired in the trade that sent Dee Gordon to Miami. Even if you assume that both Kendrick and Uribe will leave via free agency at year’s end, the Dodgers already have internal depth at those positions, with Turner, Guerrero, Hernandez, and Barnes providing options for the team beyond this season.

From the Dodgers perspective, Olivera will only cost them money, which they seemingly have an unlimited amount of, so there is some logic to just loading the organization with as much talent as they can find. In this particular case, however, it feels like there’s not enough of a difference between Olivera and Turner to justify the risk. If the Dodgers didn’t already have a capable 2B/3B with this skillset, then using their financial resources to solve a 2016 problem in advance could be a good move.

With Turner around, though, I’m just not sure how much Olivera actually helps them. There are places where Olivera could represent a real significant improvement; the Dodgers just feel like the wrong LA team to be pursuing him.

Dave is the Managing Editor of FanGraphs.

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mario mendoza
9 years ago

What is Turner’s trade value? Guerrero’s trade value is negative; he’s worth more on the Dodgers’ roster than he is on any other. Maybe they sign Oliviera and trade Uribe and/or Turner to a team that couldn’t compete financially for Oliviera?

9 years ago
Reply to  mario mendoza

The Mets released him pre-2014, and 2014 so far has been his only year where he was above average on defense or offense, so I’d be surprised if it was that much. He’s kind of like Scott Van Slyke, who teams could have claimed for nothing but passed on. Both of those guys now look like they could be the best backups in baseball at their positions. I think they Dodgers got pretty lucky with these guys.

9 years ago
Reply to  Bip

Agreed. Before last year, he had less than 1 career WAR in about 320 games. He was very good last year, but that was with a .400+ babip.

He’s useful to have around due to his versatility, and he shouldn’t hurt you in the field or with the bat, but I doubt any teams would give up a decent prospect for a utility infielder. And I also doubt that teams would want to give him a starting job, unless he has another strong year to show that 2014 was no fluke.

The Foilsmember
9 years ago
Reply to  mario mendoza

Uribe can’t be traded. Unless Friedman wants to lose the clubhouse six months into his tenure.