Braves in thick of race to sign free agent Olivera

LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. – Cuban free agent Hector Olivera will be 30 next month, had a blood disorder than kept him out of games for much of two recent seasons, hasn’t played in competitive games in front of scouts in a few years, and may or may not have an issue with the ulnar collateral ligament of his throwing elbow.

So there are potential negatives. But Braves are among the teams that believe the positives are far greater, which is why they’re competing with several other teams to sign Olivera, a big infielder who could be an immediate-impact addition to an Atlanta lineup that certainly would benefit from another good hitter.

The Braves have discussed and possibly made an offer for Olivera, who was declared a free agent last week and can sign at any time. With the major league season four weeks away, the former Cuban National Team star is expected to sign soon, so he can get to spring training and get acclimated to facing the best competition in the world.

If he were to sign with the Braves, Olivera would likely become their starting second baseman, with a possible move to third base in the future.

He is about 6 feet 2 and 220 pounds, and strong. One international scout who’s seen him quite a bit believes he could hit perhaps .280 with 20 or more home runs in the majors.

Among ther teams known to have interest are the free-spending Dodgers, even though they have no obvious opening in their lineup where they could play him, and the Padres, along with possibly the Giants, A’s, Marlins and Yankees.

While his former agent – he just switched agents in the past few days – predicted that Olivera would get a deal worth at least $70 million, many outsider observers and major league team officials seriously doubt that and say Olivera will likely end up signing for no more than $50 million.

The Braves want him, but aren’t likely to get into a major bidding war for his services.

The Braves have sent a contingent to scout him on more than one occasion in the Dominican Republic, where he’s had his training base since leaving Cuba. Accompanying top Braves scouts and other team officials on one trip was Cuban-born manager Fredi Gonzalez. The Braves also have a Cuban-born bench coach, Carlos Tosca.