When news broke Tuesday morning that Cuban expat Hector Olivera had signed with the Los Angeles Dodgers, the number of notable Cuban infielders the Yankees passed on this winter officially matched the number of home runs their current second baseman, Stephen Drew, hit for them last season. First it was Yasmany Tomas snagging a six-year, $68.5 million contract to play third base for the Diamondbacks with the Yankees showing some interest, but not enough. Then the much ballyhooed Yoan Moncada signed with the Red Sox for $5 million more than Hal Steinbrenner's "heck of an offer." Now Olivera, too, is off the market, donning Dodger blue for a reported $62.5 million. Despite the success of players like Yasiel Puig, Jose Abreu and Yoenis Cespedes, it's clear the Yankees don't view the risk of big money Cuban free agents as one worth taking.
Unlike Tomas' and Moncada's free agencies, the Yankees were never seriously connected to the 29-year-old Olivera. Regarded as a well-rounded talent, combining above-average contact skills and power with solid speed and advanced plate discipline, several health concerns on the infielder's ledger scared off some teams. After missing the entire 2012-13 season in Cuba with a blood disorder, and spending most of his time at DH the following year due to the same condition, recent reports have Olivera suffering from a partially torn UCL - an injury that could require Tommy John surgery if it becomes more serious.
As is generally the case with Cuban free agents, though, Olivera will be an absolute bargain if he pans out at just over $10 million per year through age 35. The Dodgers have become known over the past few years for chasing that reward, even if it doesn't always work. Sure, Puig is a 24-year-old perennial MVP contender and bat flip king and one of the lowest paid players in the L.A. lineup, but $53 million worth of Cuban signees in Alex Guerrero and Erisbel Arruebarrena will spend 2015 as Oklahoma City's wealthiest inhabitants not named Kevin Durant. The Dodgers, though are ever-willing to kick their mistakes to the curb once a better option comes along. Olivera will be there to wrest third base from Juan Uribe, or second from Howie Kendrick if either falters this season, and if things go according to plan, Andre Ethier will be an $18 million bench bat in favor of rookie Joc Pederson, who'll be starting in center field. The Yankees don't seem to share that philosophy. They're still loyally beating the Carlos Beltran as everyday right fielder drum and CC Sabathia and Mark Teixeira, who've each lost the last two years to injury and ineffectiveness, are being counted on for major contributions.
While it's worth being outraged over the Yankees' inability to make the deal on Tomas and Moncada - and on plenty of others if you go back a little farther - Olivera wasn't the ideal player for them to go all in on. In Los Angeles, Uribe and Kendrick are both free agents at the end of the season, so second and third were going to need plugging soon anyway. The Yankees already locked up third base for the next four years with Chase Headley at $52 million and while Drew figures to be one of the worst starting second basemen in baseball, their closest-to-MLB-ready prospect, Rob Refsnyder, plays that position, too, and could take the job as soon as his super-2 window closes.
If you're feeling frustration over the Yankees' disinterest in Olivera, it probably isn't over the player himself as much as it is over the team who signed him. The Dodgers have firmly entrenched themselves as what the Yankees used to be. No, not the dynasty Yankees, but the teams who came after them. You know - the teams who were constantly knocked because they only made the playoffs every year, brought in seemingly every big-name player who was ever available, and would stop at nothing to recapture the glory years. Those Yankees would have Olivera, Moncada or Tomas right now. They might have all three. They'd be starting Max Scherzer on opening day with Hanley Ramirez behind him at short. You may have loved those teams and you may have hated them, but there was never a question of desire to win. If you miss them, it doesn't help to have the Dodgers out there on another coast, taking their place.