Little pay off to Dodgers’ 2013-16 run of international signings

Luis Avilan & Yaisel Sierra (Photo: Stacie Wheeler)

In light of the Yadier Alvarez news, both last week and now on Saturday, I’d started to look back to the run of international signings spanning late 2013 into early 2016.

While that technically includes Kenta Maeda and his rather team friendly contract signed in January 2016, the run of signings from Latin America resulted in quite a bit of wasted money. Having looked pretty closely (and checked with Dustin to make sure I wasn’t missing anyone obvious), it looks like the largest eight international contracts besides Maeda combined for $191 million.

I covered Alvarez and what he has done since signing his $16-million deal in the previous post, so I won’t dive too deeply into how the past few years have gone for him. Especially with his future in the organization currently unclear. Instead, I figured I’d take a quick look at the other seven players and how much (or little) they made an impact on the organization as the Dodgers seemed to chase a similar impact that Yasiel Puig had.

Alex Guerrero

Signing a four-year, $28-million deal in October 2013, Guerrero debuted in the majors while the Dodgers faced the Diamondbacks in Australia to start the 2014 season. After striking out in his only plate appearance, he spent most of 2014 in the minors during which Miguel Olivo bit part of his ear off.

After returning to the majors in September, Guerrero spent all of 2015 with the Dodgers where he produced pretty poorly. His most notable moment came in June of that year when he hit a two-out, two-strike home run to put the Dodgers ahead 9-8 in the ninth at Coors Field.

However, -0.3 WAR in 243 PAs (that included 63 strikeouts and 7 walks) in 2014 and 2015 left Guerrero on the outside looking in for 2016. After spending some time in the minors rehabbing at three levels, the Dodgers designated the then 29-year-old Guerrero for assignment and released him.

Safe to say that didn’t work out well for the natural shortstop.

Erisbel Arruebarrena

Probably the worst signing I am about to roll through, Arruebarrena’s five-year, $25-million deal from February 2014 seemed like a pretty clear mistake as soon as he reached the field.

Debuting at the end of May, Arruebarrena’s major league career lasted 22 games and 45 PAs in which he recorded eight hits made up of seven singles and just one double. Striking out 17 times with an OPS of .464, Arruebarrena finished with -0.3 WAR.

Never even reaching Triple-A after 2014, Arruebarrena spent parts of the next three years in the minors along with a suspension in May 2016 for “repeated failure to comply with the terms of his contract.”

Mercifully, the Dodgers pulled the plug on the 28-year-old Arruebarrena in the middle of 2018 as the investment was a complete bust.

Héctor Olivera

Olivera continued the run of swings and misses on Cuban players in 2015, only saved by the trade the Dodgers were able to package him in.

After handing out a six years and $62.5 million to Olivera in March 2015, the Dodgers traded the 30-year-old to Atlanta after 74 relatively successful plate appearances in the minors. While Mat Latos, Michael Morse, Bronson Arroyo and Jim Johnson either didn’t play or played poorly for the Dodgers, Olivera helped bring back a few key pieces.

First, Alex Wood obviously spent a few seasons for the Dodgers before being traded with others for Jeter Downs (now flipped for Mookie Betts) and current Top 100 prospect Josiah Gray. Wood is now back with the Dodgers as everyone is aware.

Luis Avilán served as a useful piece of the bullpen for a few seasons before being sent away in a deal for Scott Alexander and Jake Peter. Lastly, Jose Peraza spent about five months in the Dodgers’ organization before moving as part of a deal for Frankie Montas, Micah Johnson and Trayce Thompson. Montas then helped bring Rich Hill to Los Angeles.

Meanwhile, Olivera quickly flamed out in Atlanta (and was also arrested and suspended for domestic violence) with -0.3 WAR across 108 PAs and was used as a salary dump for Matt Kemp.

Pablo Fernandez

A player I admittedly forgot about, the Dodgers gave Fernandez $8 million on a minor league deal in March 2015 around the same time as Olivera’s deal. He pitched just 10 games in the minors, all between Rookie ball and High-A, before Tommy John surgery knocked him out in May 2016.

A year later as a 27-year-old, Fernandez returned for five games with the AZL Dodgers in June 2017. It unfortunately went very poorly, with a 13.50 ERA om 12 innings and the Dodgers released Fernandez at the end of spring training in 2018.

Yusniel Diaz & Omar Estevez

Announced at the same time in November 2015, Diaz and Estevez signed with the Dodgers as teenagers. Diaz, then 19, earned $15.5 million while a 17-year-old Estevez landed $6 million.

Diaz spent two and a half years in the Dodgers’ organization, playing for the AZL Dodgers, Rancho Cucamonga and Tulsa (and ranking as a top-100 prospect) before being sent as part of the package for Manny Machado. He’s still in Baltimore’s top-10, but outside the league’s top-100 now.

Meanwhile, Estevez is currently a non-roster invite to major league spring training where he’s homers as one of hit two hits in 8 at-bats. Still only 22, Estevez finished with 336 PAs in Tulsa last season with a .784 OPS. Dustin ranked him 12th in the Dodgers’ prospect rankings, where he mentioned Estevez was hitting .333/.412/.456 through mid-May before a leg injury cost him about six weeks and derailed his season a bit.

Yaisel Sierra

Getting back to dumping enormous amounts of money on players, the Dodgers gave Sierra six years and $30 million in February 2016 when he was 24 years old.

It took less than five months for the Dodgers to outright Sierra off the 40-man roster to the minors, doing so in July 2016. He finished 2016 with a 5.89 ERA in 88 2/3 innings between Rancho and Tulsa.

Pitching exclusively out of the bullpen for Tulsa and Oklahoma City in 2017 made Sierra look like he might bounce back, finishing with a 3.04 ERA in 71 innings. Unfortunately, a shoulder injury cost Sierra all of 2018 before pitching just 3 innings for the AZL Dodgers Mota in June 2019.

I haven’t seen anything on Sierra for awhile now, but based on the initial report of his contract, he’s signed for $5.5 million in 2020 and $7.5 million in 2021.

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There’s a few other players who signed for around $2 million or so (Starling Heredia, Ronny Brito, Yordan Alvarez to name a few) who have also been traded or are still struggling a bit in the minors. But the seven mentioned above plus Alvarez make up the near $200 million in contracts handed out over a 29-month run.

Some of that also came during a period in which the Dodgers cleared out their international scouting department in August 2015, a period that led to a federal grand jury investigating international signings.

While there’s a few useful pieces among the signings, as well as a handful of players who have been acquired in deals for some of those above, it sure seems to have been a lot of money (and potentially illegal activity) for little gain.

About Cody Bashore

Cody Bashore
Cody Bashore is a lifelong Dodger fan originally from Carpinteria, California (about 80 miles north of Dodger Stadium along the coast). He left California to attend Northern Arizona University in 2011, and has lived in Arizona full-time since he graduated in 2014 with a journalism degree. He now works for the university’s athletics department after spending seven years with the local newspaper.