Newly-signed Dodgers infielder Hector Olivera reportedly has a partial tear in the ulnar collateral ligament of his right elbow, a source tells Jesse Sanchez of MLB.com. This matches a March 5 report from Jeff Passan of Yahoo Sports, sparking fears that Olivera may ultimately need Tommy John surgery.
But it appears the Dodgers have built in some protection for themselves, in the form of a one-year, $1 million club option for 2021 should Olivera need Tommy John surgery, per Passan, J.P. Hoornstra of the LA Daily News, and Sanchez.
We will know more once Olivera receives his visa, takes his physical, and officially signs his deal with the Dodgers, but let's play devil's advocate and say he's out for 2015. Tommy John surgery for a position player doesn't carry the 12-18 month return timetable that it does for a pitcher. Jon Heyman of CBS Sports speculated Tuesday a return within eight months for position players, and that seems to match some notable returns:
Shin-Soo Choo had Tommy John surgery in September 2007, and was playing again by June 2008.
Kyle Blanks had the procedure in July 2010, was playing by spring training 2011.
Carl Crawford had the surgery in August 2012, and was playing by opening day 2013.
Miguel Sano had the procedure last March, and is back with the Twins in spring training.
Matt Wieters had the surgery last June, and is playing with the Orioles in spring training (though he is 0-for-23).
Not that there is ever a good time for such a thing, but if Olivera were to miss 2015, the Dodgers are uniquely built to withstand that. He doesn't necessarily fill an immediate need on the team, but after this season third baseman Juan Uribe, shortstop Jimmy Rollins and second baseman Howie Kendrick are all free agents.
Looking at the free agent third base market next offseason is downright frightening. Per MLB Trade Rumors:
Joaquin Arias (31)
Mike Aviles (35)
Gordon Beckham (29)
Willie Bloomquist (38)
Kevin Frandsen (34)
David Freese (33)
Jonathan Herrera (31)
Maicer Izturis (35) – $3MM club option with a $1MM buyout
Don Kelly (36)
Jeff Keppinger (36)
Casey McGehee (32)
Aramis Ramirez (38)
Sean Rodriguez (31)
Juan Uribe (37)
There is no way a 37-year-old Uribe should be the clear market favorite, but here we are. Cross off Ramirez because he said he will retire after 2015. But the point is the third base market is razor thin, so the Dodgers may have just preferred to do their shopping now.
The Dodgers spending $62.5 million over six years on someone about to turn 30 who might need Tommy John surgery in the first year of the deal on the same day the club partnered with Irish company Kitman Labs to help prevent injuries is at the very least odd.
But again, the Olivera move wasn't just about this year. It's a long-term play for the Dodgers, and anything they get in 2015 is just icing on the cake.