In the land of spring training cliches, the change of scenery card is often played. "Player A is with a new team, and he's having a blast! His struggles last year were because of his unhappiness with his old team. Watch out for Player A in the upcoming season!" The Chicago Cubs are sure hoping a new environment will do wonders for Carlos Silva, who they acquired from the Mariners for Milton Bradley. Frankly, it’s hard to be worse than Silva was in Seattle (6.81 ERA the past two years), and if recent history is any indication, a change of address won’t be enough to help his pitching.
For starters, Silva should be quite familiar with the plight of Ian Snell, his former Seattle teammate. Snell, was so unhappy with the Pittsburgh Pirates that he actually demanded a demotion. The Pirates obliged and then traded Snell to the Mariners last July. Snell responded by smiling and pitching worse with the M’s than he had with the Pirates – his FIP was 4.61 in Pittsburgh and 5.23 in Seattle.
Dontrelle Willis seemed poised for a breakout upon leaving the last place and frugal Florida Marlins for the contending Detroit Tigers prior to the 2008 season. Willis’ 5.13 FIP with the Marlins soon looked much better in comparison to the 8.30 and 6.22 FIPs Willis has posted with Detroit during two injury-hampered seasons.
Area code magic doesn’t always work on positional players either. Former top prospect Delmon Young was seen as a victim of a poor organization when Tampa Bay traded him to the Minnesota Twins prior to the 2008 season. Young did hit better with the Twins, going from a .315 wOBA to a .324 wOBA, but posted a career low .312 wOBA in 2009, and his defense has been a nightmare.
The Kansas City Royals hoped the tales of the lethargic and apathetic Yuniesky Betancourt were false when they took him on from Seattle last year. To Betancourt’s credit, he upped his wOBA by four points while wearing blue, but also saw his defense get worse, as he posted a -28.6 UZR/150 with the Royals, a steep decline from his already horrid -18.5 UZR/150 with the Mariners.
Three of the four projections listed for Silva at FanGraphs have him posting an ERA over 5.00 next season. Is there any reason to be more optimistic than that? We know Silva is not going to strike people out (3.0 K/9 for his career), so he'll have to rely on his defense. On the plus side, he is leaving the DH league for the non-DH league. However, he is also leaving what is widely considered to be the best defense in baseball. And remember, while pitching in front of that defense last year, his ERA was 8.60.
In reality, the Cubs didn't really want Silva, they simply needed to eat his awful contract (two years, $25 million remaining) in order to convince Seattle to take Milton Bradley off their hands, and the Mariners even threw $9 million into the deal. But if the Cubs think a change of address will reverse Silva's fortunes, they're going to be sorely disappointed.
R.J. Anderson is an author of FanGraphs