Good and bad of M's signing Silva 

December, 20, 2007
If we set the length of the contract aside for a moment, the signing of Carlos Silva makes some sense. The Mariners needed two more starting pitchers this offseason to avoid having to use the walking disaster named Horacio Ramirez, and if Silva alone pushes Ramirez out of the rotation, he's a significant upgrade, worth three or four extra wins to the Mariners over what Ramirez (whom they should have non-tendered) would provide. It's possible that the Mariners would use Ramirez as the fifth starter instead of Cha Baek or Ryan Rowland-Smith, but even so, Silva's still a two- to three-win upgrade over those pitchers. Even the $12 million per year salary that Silva will get, makes sense in that context.

Silva will benefit somewhat from the change in ballparks, although perhaps not as much as most other pitchers. Safeco Field is an outstanding pitchers' park, but it's much tougher on right-handed hitters (especially for power) than it is on left-handed hitters. Silva has a similar platoon split of his own, giving up 100 points of extra OPS to left-handed hitters, because his changeup is below-average and he has trouble getting the ball to his glove side. Silva will get some benefit from the Seattle defense, especially its outfield, which has the potential to be one of the best in the business if Adam Jones is still with the Mariners on Opening Day; Minnesota had some scattered good defensive players but was lacking in its outfield corners.

The contract itself, however, is lunacy. Starting pitcher performance is volatile enough, and Silva's performance is going to be even more so. He lost his starting job briefly in 2006, and he's a slight loss of fastball command away from being a consistent 30-35 homer per year pitcher who struggles to keep his ERA under 5.00. So while he's likely to be an immediate upgrade over the internal options Seattle had, the odds of him turning out to be a good investment over a four-year period -- even before we consider the chance he suffers a major injury -- are low, and if the Mariners' defense declines via a trade of Jones or Adrian Beltre, Silva's performance will take a direct hit.

We're seeing more general manager moral hazard at work here, since Bill Bavasi is under significant pressure to win in 2008, and the Mariners are already facing regression off of their 88-win season (in which they were outscored by 19 runs) in '07. Seattle is giving Silva four years in the hopes that he'll improve their club enough in the first year to put them close to contention and keep the front office intact. Silva does make the Mariners a better club, but he alone is not enough to keep up with the Angels, who are the clear favorites to win the American League West. If the Mariners are going for broke in 2008, there has to be a second move coming.