Reports: Hector Olivera declared free agent, may or may not have a damaged UCL

Depending on who you ask, Cuban infielder Hector Olivera may have a damaged ulnar collateral ligament in his throwing elbow, meaning he faces season-ending Tommy John surgery. Jeff Passan says “serious concerns exist” among teams while Olivera’s camp told Jesse Sanchez their client is fine. “Photos don’t lie. They always tell the story,” said one team official to Sanchez, referring to an MRI.

Olivera, who turns 30 in April, was cleared to sign by MLB and the Office of Foreign Assets Control yesterday according to Sanchez, so he can sign at any time now. Passan says it is believed Olivera has at least one offer worth more than $50M in hand, though the injury will change everything, assuming it exists. Olivera is considered the best available Cuba player on the market now that Yoan Moncada has signed.

Back in January we heard the Yankees had “strong interest” in Olivera, who is considered a better player than recently signed outfielders Rusney Castillo and Yasmany Tomas. Assuming he’s healthy, of course. Here’s a quick scouting report from December, via Ben Badler:

At around 6-foot-2, 220 pounds, Olivera is a physical righthanded hitter with a loose, quick swing and a good hitting approach. He showed good power for a middle infielder, and given that several Cuban players have transformed their bodies and increased their power since leaving the island, it wouldn’t be a surprise if Olivera did the same. His size, athleticism and plus speed (at least at his peak) made him one of the most well-rounded players in Cuba.

The elbow is not the only physical concern with Olivera. He missed the entire 2012-13 season in Cuba with a blood disorder and hasn’t participated in many international tournaments since then. Scouts simply haven’t seen a whole of him the last few years. (He has been holding showcase events in recent weeks, which is when the UCL injury apparently occurred.) Here are Olivera’s stats from Cuba, via Baseball Reference:

Year Tm Lg G PA R H 2B 3B HR RBI SB CS BB SO BA OBP SLG OPS
2003 Santiago de Cuba CNS 132 32 38 6 3 1 11 5 0 7 20 .319 .367 .445 .813
2004 Santiago de Cuba CNS 298 47 92 10 4 6 35 7 7 12 32 .326 .362 .454 .816
2005 Santiago de Cuba CNS 77 296 42 66 8 4 3 35 5 6 35 24 .262 .351 .361 .712
2006 Santiago de Cuba CNS 89 409 72 113 15 1 6 32 7 4 28 26 .315 .370 .412 .782
2007 Santiago de Cuba CNS 84 394 91 114 25 3 10 45 21 1 55 28 .353 .467 .542 1.009
2008 Santiago de Cuba CNS 84 398 84 115 23 5 16 71 8 3 55 24 .346 .444 .590 1.035
2009 Santiago de Cuba CNS 89 411 76 111 34 4 14 54 0 1 56 29 .322 .415 .565 .980
2010 Santiago de Cuba CNS 86 394 83 110 25 1 16 70 2 0 37 21 .318 .390 .535 .924
2011 Santiago de Cuba CNS 60 264 48 73 10 0 17 42 0 1 44 22 .341 .462 .626 1.088
2013 Santiago de Cuba CNS 73 273 44 72 11 2 7 38 0 0 38 25 .316 .412 .474 .885
10 Seasons 642 3269 619 904 167 27 96 433 55 23 367 251 .323 .407 .505 .912

Two years ago the Phillies agreed to a six-year, $48M contract with Cuban righty Miguel Gonzalez before cutting it down to a three-year, $12M deal after concerns about his shoulder popped up, so Olivera would not be the first Cuban free agent to deal with an injury before signing. Position players typically need six months to rehab from Tommy John surgery, which is half the usual timetable for pitchers but still season-ending.

Olivera is both a second and third baseman, and while the Yankees have Chase Headley for the hot corner, they do need a long-term second base solution. The elbow injury could be an opportunity for New York to grab Olivera on the cheap, though there’s a lot of risk involved because Tommy John surgery isn’t a sure thing. If nothing else, there’s no reason for the Yankees to not kick the tires and see if a discount is in the cards.

Update: Luis Torrens to miss 2015 due to shoulder surgery

(MLBpipeline.com)
(MLBpipeline.com)

Tuesday: Torrens was diagnosed with a torn right labrum and will have surgery tomorrow, the Yankees announced. He will miss the entire 2015 season. Dr. David Altchek at the Hospital for Special Surgery in New York will perform the surgery. Bummer.

Monday: Luis Torrens‘ shoulder is acting up again. George King reported late last week that the young backstop was heading for tests on his right shoulder, and today assistant GM Billy Eppler told Chad Jennings the team is still gathering information and will know more in the next 24 hours. Earlier today reports were floating around that Torrens needs surgery and will miss the season, but the Yankees aren’t ready to commit to that yet.

Torrens, 18, missed two months last season with a right shoulder strain. He returned from the injury in mid-June and hit .270/.327/.405 (115 wRC+) with two homers in 48 games for Short Season Staten Island as one of the youngest players in the NY-Penn League, so if the shoulder was still bothering him, it didn’t show in his performance at the plate.

In 109 games across two minor league seasons, Torrens has thrown out 50 of 122 attempted base-stealers (41%), which is excellent. Especially considering he did not become a full-time catcher until the Yankees signed him out of Venezuela for $1.3M during the 2012-13 international signing period. Hopefully the injury does not compromise his arm behind the plate, because it is a weapon.

I ranked Torrens as New York’s sixth best prospect two weeks ago because he’s taken to the catcher position extremely well and shows offensive promise. Losing an entire season at age 18 (he turns 19 in May) or even just a chunk of it would be pretty serious though. He’s at a crucial stage in his development. Yeah, Torrens is still very young and will have time to recover, but this is crummy news. No other way to put it.

Update: Yankees have $7.885M bonus pool for 2015 draft

This year it’ll be Rob Manfred at the podium. (Getty)

February 28th: The Yankees will have a $7,885,000 spending pool for the 2015 draft, according to John Manuel. That’s slowly lower than the estimations Mayo dug up earlier this month. The team still has the sixth largest bonus pool for this year’s draft thanks to their extra pick for Robertson. We still don’t know the individual slot values for the top ten rounds and those are pretty important.

February 11th: Now that James Shields has signed, the 2015 draft order is more or less finalized. The 12 competitive balance lottery picks can still be traded before the draft, but unless the Yankees somehow acquire one of those picks, it won’t change their draft situation at all. New York has two first rounders this year: 16th overall and 30th overall. The 30th pick is compensation for losing David Robertson. The entire draft order is right here.

On Tuesday, Jonathan Mayo got his hands on estimated bonus pool numbers for the 2015 draft. The Astros, by virtue of having two of the top five picks (they failed to sign first overall pick Brady Aiken last year and get the second overall pick as compensation this year), have the largest bonus pool at $17.37M. The Rockies are a distant second at $14.06M. The Mets are dead last $3.6M after forfeiting their first rounder to sign Michael Cuddyer.

The Yankees have the sixth largest bonus pool for the 2015 draft thanks to the extra pick for Robertson. The Astros, Rockies, and Braves are the only teams that will pick twice before New York, which is a nice change of pace from previous years. Here is the club’s draft pool situation according to Mayo:

16th overall: $2,555,200
30th overall: $1,923,900
Total Bonus Pool: $7,922,200

As a reminder, the bonus pool covers the top ten rounds only. If a team pays one of those picks a below-slot bonus, they can use the savings elsewhere. Anything over $100,000 paid to a player drafted after the tenth round counts against the pool, but teams can’t save pool space with picks after the tenth round. Got it? Good.

The Yankees had a measly $3.2M bonus pool last year after forfeiting their top three picks to sign free agents. A nearly $8M bonus pool is a ton of money, especially since the Yankees tend to take cheap college seniors in the eighth, ninth, and tenth rounds as a way to save pool space for other picks. They have enough pool space to land big bonus guys not only at 16 and 30, but also at 57 (second rounder) and maybe even 92 (third rounder) as well.

Here are MLB.com’s top 50 draft prospects. I’m telling you though, it is way too early to get an idea of who will be available or who the Yankees might target with those 16th and 30th picks. The college and high school seasons are just now getting underway. The draft runs from June 8-10 this year.

Badler: Yankees have $2.26M spending pool for 2015-16 international signing period

Top 2014 IFA Juan DeLeon. (Photo via @BenBadler)
Top 2014 international signee Juan DeLeon. (Photo via @BenBadler)

According to Ben Badler, the Yankees will have a $2,262,800 spending pool for the 2015-16 international free agency period, which opens on July 2nd. The Diamondbacks ($5.39M) have the largest pool because they had baseball’s worst record last year and the Angels ($1.97M) have the smallest pool because they had the best record.

The Yankees far exceeded their spending pool during the 2014-15 signing period, and, as a result, they will be unable to sign a player to a bonus larger than $300,000 during the 2015-16 signing period (and 2016-17 as well). So they still have a full spending pool but the individual bonuses are capped. Got it? Good. (The $2.62M pool works out to 7.5 individual $300,000 bonuses.)

Teams are allowed to trade up to half their pool space — the pool is actually broken into unequal slots and the individual slots are traded, it’s not a lump sum of any amount — and since their bonuses are capped this year, it could make sense for New York to trade some international cash. Then again, it doesn’t have much trade value. The Marlins acquired a good Double-A bullpen prospect (Matt Ramsey) for a little over $1M in pool space last year, for example.

The $300,000 bonus limit isn’t much on the international market but the Yankees have shown they are very good at finding prospects on the cheap. Top prospects RHP Luis Severino ($225,000) and SS Jorge Mateo ($250,000) signed for small bonuses, as did fellow Top 30 Prospects SS Abi Avelino ($300,000), SS Angel Aguilar ($60,000), and SS Thairo Estrada ($49,000). The Yankees should still be able to find quality prospects, but they won’t be able to make competitive offers for the top talents.

With no Yoan Moncada, Dermis Garcia and Juan DeLeon headline Yankees’ international haul

Dermis. (MLB.com)

As you know, the Yankees missed out on Cuban infielder Yoan Moncada earlier this week. He took a $31.5M bonus from the Red Sox. It’s disappointing but at this point there’s nothing to say that hasn’t already been said. The Yankees didn’t strike out internationally this year just because they didn’t get Moncada though. Far from it.

When the signing period opened last July, New York spent roughly $30M in bonuses and penalties within the first day or two. As you can imagine, ranking 16-year-old kids as prospects is a fool’s errand, but the consensus is the Yankees signed many of the top talents. Here’s part of a table from my international free agency recap showing the team’s top five international signings (by bonus) with the corresponding Baseball America and MLB.com rankings:

Player Bonus Baseball America MLB.com
SS Dermis Garcia $3.2M 9th 1st
3B Nelson Gomez $2.25M 6th 2nd
OF Juan DeLeon $2M 2nd 5th
OF Jonathan Amundaray $1.5M 22nd 7th
SS Wilkerman Garcia $1.35M 7th 14th

Baseball America says the Yankees signed four of the top nine available prospects while MLB.com says they signed four of the top seven, including the top two. MLB.com’s rankings paint a rosier picture but who the hell knows. Two years ago SS Jorge Mateo was a small bonus ($250,000) afterthought who is now one of the top shortstop prospects in the game. When it comes to prospects, no one knows anything, and that goes double for 16-year-old international guys.

Anyway, I looked through the various scouting reports soon after the Yankees signed all these guys and developed some personal favorites. Everyone does that, right? I’m not weird or anything. Based on the reports, the two who stood out to me as the most exciting prospects were Garcia and DeLeon. Both Baseball America and MLB.com ranked them very highly, especially DeLeon, and in the 2015 Prospect Handbook, DeLeon (No. 24) and Garcia (No. 25) were the only members of last year’s international haul to crack the Yankees’ top 30 prospects. I feel validated!

MLB.com’s scouting reports are free, so I’m going to blockquote them. Here’s a snippet of their report on DeLeon, which says he has average or better tools across the board, include grade 60 (on the 20-80 scouting scale) hit, power, and arm tools:

There’s a belief that DeLeon might have the best all-around combination of tools and body among outfielders in this year’s class from the Dominican Republic. Evaluators often use words like “explosive” and “electric” to describe the outfielder’s skill set, and some view him as a potential five-tool player … DeLeon, who played in the Dominican Prospect League, has also been praised for his above-average bat speed, accurate arm and raw power … The consensus is that DeLeon does everything well and has a chance to be an impact player. Scouts are keeping an eye on the development of his hit tool, because it might dictate how fast he moves through a Minor League system.

The reports sounds great and the offensive tools are exciting. DeLeon is listed at 6-foot-1 and 175 lbs., and here’s some video from Instructional League that shows his projectable frame and “explosive” bat speed:

DeLeon is a classic “you can dream on this guy” international prospect. He looks great in a uniform and his overall physicality is impressive, at least to my untrained eye. DeLeon is the kind of prospect who appears to have the potential to do a little bit of everything down the road. Hit for average, hit for power, steal a few bases, and play the hell out of center field. Maybe right field, but either way, he looks like the total package.

Garcia is not the same kind of prospect. He’s a bat first guy. MLB.com listed him at 6-foot-2 and 182 lbs., but the 2015 Prospect Handbook notes he’s already gained 15 lbs. since signing. Here is part of his MLB.com scouting report, which gives him 55 hit and 65 power grades but below-average speed (35) and defense (45):

Some scouts believe he has the best power and the best arm in the entire class of international prospects this year … Evaluators like Garcia’s bat speed and his easy power. Some believe he’s going to have a plus arm in the future … Garcia is not the fastest baserunner, but he’s a smart baseball player and will not run into any outs on the bases … There is room for improvement on defense, and Garcia is expected to become a more disciplined hitter with experience, but there is no denying that he is one of the most talented prospects on the market this year. He has also gained a reputation as a hard worker and has the potential to be a team leader.

Even before he signed, there was talk Garcia would have to move off shortstop and over to third base. Since he’s already added weight since signing, that move is even more likely. Here’s video of Garcia from last year and you can immediately see the difference between him and DeLeon. DeLeon’s swing has that explosiveness, but Garcia’s is much more fluid and controlled (/amateur scout):

Garcia and DeLeon are two different types of players and they seem to cover the wide range of international prospects — one is a toolsy guy who can do everything and the other is a bat first guy with big offensive upside.

If the system worked the way it was intended to work, the Yankees would have been able to sign only one of these two. Probably DeLeon because their bonus pool was only $2.19M and Garcia received a $3.2M bonus. Had they not decided to make a mockery of the system and spend like crazy, their international haul would have been something like DeLeon and bunch of third tier guys. Instead, it’s DeLeon, Garcia, Nelson Gomez, and several other top talents.

Let’s face it, without Moncada, the team’s international haul for the 2014-15 signing period feels sort of incomplete, which sucks because the Yankees added some serious talent, including Garcia and DeLeon. This isn’t a talent class that should be viewed negatively. It’s a potentially franchise altering haul, that’s how it was viewed before anyone knew who Moncada was, and that’s it should continue to be viewed. Garcia and DeLeon are the best (in my opinion) of a group of players who will shape the backbone of the farm system going forward.

Sanchez: Red Sox agree to deal with Yoan Moncada

(Jesse Sanchez)
(Jesse Sanchez)

10:43am: Brian Cashman told Dan Barbarisi the team made their “final and best offer” yesterday but were told by David Hastings, Moncada’s representative, it wasn’t good enough.

10:15am: The Yankees offered Moncada $25M and were willing to go to $27M, according to Sherman. So they were outbid by $4.5M, which is really $9M with the penalty. Though that assumes Boston wouldn’t have raised their offer. Either way, they bid just enough to not get him.

9:53am: Joel Sherman says Moncada is getting $31.5M. Add in the penalty and it’s $63M total.

9:12am: Once again, the Yankees did not sign a top Cuban free agent. Jesse Sanchez reports the Red Sox have agreed to sign 19-year-old infielder Yoan Moncada for a bonus in the $30M range. Including the tax for exceeding their bonus pool, the total investment is $60M up front.

The Yankees worked Moncada out privately three times, including twice last week. By all accounts the team loved his talent, so it seems they fell short financially, which is dumb. Hal Steinbrenner and the rest of the brass have been talking about building from within and yet they stopped short of signing a projected star.

The Yankees have not signed a top Cuban free agent since Jose Contreras more than a decade ago, and he blew up in their face. At some point they’re going to have to get back in the game though. They can’t ignore a talent source like that, especially since several top Cuban players have actually exceeded expectations (Jose Abreu and Yasiel Puig, specifically.)

Because they exceeded their spending pool last summer, the Yankees will not be able to sign an international player for more than $300,000 during the 2015-16 and 2016-17 signing periods. Moncada was basically their last chance to land a top international talent for nothing but money for another two years.

King: Yanks held third private workout for Yoan Moncada

(Dodgers Nation)
(Dodgers Nation)

For the second straight day, 19-year-old Cuban infielder Yoan Moncada was in Tampa for a private workout with the Yankees, reports George King. It was his second straight day at the complex and third private workout with the team overall. They first worked him out last month before bringing him back this week.

Here are some more details on this week’s workouts, courtesy of King:

On Thursday, for the second straight day, the Yankees held a private workout for the 19-year-old switch-hitter that was attended by club scouts, team officials and general partner Hank Steinbrenner, who is rarely seen around the team.

Wednesday night’s workout was held at George M. Steinbrenner Field under the lights. Moncada took ground balls at second and third and faced live minor league pitching. On Thursday the showcase was shifted to the minor league complex and conducted in daylight, and he again faced minor league hurlers.

King says the Yankees don’t want to pay Moncada the $30M to $50M bonus it will take to sign him, which seems like typical Yankees posturing. They always seem to say “we like him, but not at that price” whenever they really want someone.

Moncada’s agent David Hastings has said they hope to sign soon, perhaps by Monday, though that didn’t seem like a firm deadline. Whoever signs him is going to have to pay a 100% tax on the bonus. Steinbrenner being at yesterday’s workout seems to indicate ownership wants to see Moncada firsthand before giving the thumbs up to sign him. Either that or Hank had nothing better to do. Intrigue!