It's easy to be cynical after the Aoki 'n' Friends offseason that started with YASMANY TOMAS and segued into JON LESTER. But there's a rumor out there, it makes a modicum of sense, it's the middle of February, so by gum, here it is. Hector Olivera is a Cuban free agent who can play second or third, and the Giants are still heavily involved.
Hundreds of scouts here in the DR at Hector Olivera's showcase game. Dodgers, Giants, A's, Padres among those with notable presence.— Ben Badler (@BenBadler) February 11, 2015
The good news is that Baseball-Reference has Cuban stats dating back to 1997, so we can get a much better idea of the kind of player Olivera is, at least based on the stats.
He turns 30 in April, and he missed a year (because of left-bicep thrombosis) and came back to mostly DH last season, showing decreased power. That means scouts and teams were a little skeptical, but that's what the showcases are for. While acknowledging that these stats are inflated because of the level of competition, the combination of patience and contact is instantly appealing.
Luckily, we don't have to rely wholly on guesswork, as Clay Davenport has been translating Cuban performances for a while. Here are his translations:
That's a solid player. Not quite a star, but a clear starter, even with the lack of power. Which brings us to the possible reasons the Giants might want him.
1. Platoon help for Joe Panik
Wait, you cry! Panik killed lefties last year! That's true. He did it in Triple-A, too. But it was the first year that he's shown reverse platoon splits at any level, and those splits are always subject to sample size concerns. You can believe that Panik developed an unusual ability to hit southpaws if you want, and I'm hoping that's the case. It would be smart for the team to prepare the roster as if Panik were a normal player who would need occasional help against lefties, though.
2. Insurance against Casey McGehee regressing
McGehee wasn't in Japan because he wanted to see the world; he was there because he wasn't impressive enough to convince teams to give him an opportunity here. His average-fueled comeback was nice, and he should contribute just fine, but he already went kerflooey as a much young player. He's still something of an enigma.
3. Insurance against Panik regressing
I love Joe Panik and will fight you if you disagree with the Bill Mueller comp I'm going to tattoo on my neck. Still, Panik is an extremely average-dependant player. He doesn't hit for enough power or take enough walks to be much of a contributor if he's hitting .260. I think the concerns about his BABIP are inflated a touch -- he was 43rd in baseball among hitters over 250 plate appearances, not an outlier -- but there should still be some concern that he isn't a perennial .300 hitter until he does it again. If he's not a .300 hitter, he's probably someone a team keeps around because they don't have a better alternative, not because they're set at the position.
In this scenario, Olivera would be the prudent backup plan, not something analgous to a paniked trade for Chase Utley because the Giants are convinced Panik can't keep the job. As such, if you think of Olivera like a Gregor Blanco of the infield who will get 400 plate appearances and help in your darkest hour, he makes sense.
The problem is that another team might see him as an unquestioned starter and offer him unquestioned-starter money. The Padres might not be enamored of Yangervis Solarte at third, for whatever reason, and the A's could put Ben Zobrist in left and Sam Fuld on the bench if they figured Olivera was an upgrade. All it takes is one team to think Olivera is Martin Prado in his prime, and the Giants won't be in the hunt.
The Giants probably won't be in the hunt, anyway. They're just kicking tires, and I'm just a sad blogger writing about the tires that were kicked. They're not done yet, though! They're not officially done yet! A little insurance at two positions wouldn't be a bad thing for the 2015 Giants. It might make an incredible amount of sense. The other teams just have to get out of the way.