Seems like just yesterday when Carlos Silva and his smiling wife were introduced to the Seattle media. It was actually two years ago next week. And why wouldn’t they be smiling? Silva had just been handed $48 million by soon-to-be-outgoing GM Bill Bavasi. At the time, Silva and Hiroki Kuroda had been the two top free agent arms out there. Seattle failed to land Kuroda, then went all-out to get Silva. According to team president Chuck Armstrong (and later confirmed by us when we checked around internally), Bavasi had gone into the winter shopping period armed with a detailed statistical analysis that showed that if the team replaced the arms of Jeff Weaver and Horacio Ramirez with two pitchers who could deliver better innings and results, then the team could build on an 88-win season the year prior.
The two pitchers chosen by Bavasi were Silva and Erik Bedard. Armstrong said the stats analysis was one of the big reasons the team chose to go after Bedard.
And unfortunately, the two pitchers did not deliver the results, for one reason or another. Not sure whether they are doing stats analysis any differently these days, but one suspects the team would not do similar moves.
In Silva’s case, he complained about not having his trademark sinker at full strength almost since Day 1. Whatever the case, his results just weren’t there. Never a strikeout guy, he was hit hard and often from the get-go. Twice in his two seasons here, he was placed on the DL with shoulder problems. This past season, he suffered damage to his rotator cuff and labrum — I’m told it was more serious than simple “fraying” — but chose to rehab through physical therapy rather than surgery.
Where Silva lost the Seattle fanbase, though, came off the field during that dismal 2008 season. After a pair of losses at Yankee Stadium in May and at Safeco Field in August, he decried the inability of the Mariners to police themselves within the clubhouse. He complained that, unlike his past Twins teams, who knew what the post-season was about, some Mariners were more about personal stats than winning and had no idea how to be accountable to themselves and their teammates.
His take was, of course, bang-on, as the subsequent overhaul of the 2008 team would reveal.
The problem was in the messenger.
Silva was probably the worst possible guy to be delivering this message to the world. It was a message nobody wanted to hear in a season quickly going south. And what happens in this world, when an unpopular message is given by a less-than-popular messenger? Well, the messenger gets shot.
It speaks volumes about the 2008 squad that the only guy who dared go public with the truth about how bad the clubhouse was just happened to be one of the team’s worst on-field performers. There are those who believe that internal clubhouse problems should be dealt with internally and that belief is fairly sound as a theory. In reality, though, nobody was dealing with it internally. The Mariners started sinking as a ship in late April of 2008 and by the second half, the internal strife was getting worse, not better. It’s nice to advocate dealing with stuff internally, as former manager Jim Riggleman, outfielder Raul Ibanez and others suggested.
But from what we know now, that internal policing just wasn’t taking place. At best, Riggleman and company were putting band aids on gaping wounds and praying the season would end. Theories are great, but at some point they have to be put into practice.
Nobody did that in the Seattle clubhouse. And now, a year-plus later, just about everybody from that team is gone, including coaches, management and players. Judging by how the team has done since, those were the right moves to make.
And in building a new team, GM Jack Zduriencik has made it a priority to take care of clubhouse business. Players now do police themselves and they answer to each other. It isn’t a fluke that this happened. The Mariners’ top brass investigated what had gone on in the clubhouse, the new GM’s regime took it to heart and every move made since — from the hiring of coaches to the selection of veteran players for specific team roles — was done with an eye towards restoring the character of a team that pretty much had none.
In the end, Silva was right. But the fact he was the one left to call his teammates out in public doomed any chance there was of him being heard. Kind of like the reception given to Jose Canseco when he first wrote about steroids use. An unpopular guy delivering an unpopular message.
To set the record straight, Silva was not the guy who was overheard by coaches threatening to harm Ichiro. That was another guy. And that player’s problems with Ichiro pre-dated Silva’s arrival in 2008.
But Silva, safe to say, was not a huge Ichiro fan in 2008. Things changed in 2009 when Ken Griffey Jr., Mike Sweeney and Don Wakamatsu’s staff took over the clubhouse. By season’s end, Silva was carrying Ichiro off on his shoulders.
But Silva was never going to leave 2008 behind. Not when he couldn’t get it together on the mound. In hindsight, all of that work he did to lose 30 pounds prior to last spring probably should have been done over the winter of 2007/2008. A team gives you $48 million, you owe it to that club to show up to play in your best possible shape.
Now, it’s too late and best for all parties that he moves on. With no room for him in the 2010 rotation or bullpen, he had the potential to become a problem even worse than fans thinking he’s overpaid, overweight and not a team guy. Silva happened to be best buddies with Felix Hernandez. And while the Silva I knew took every loss personally and woke up every morning feeling the pressure to live up to a contract he’d never be able to justify, there’s no telling how his demeanor might have changed and rubbed off on Hernandez this coming season if forced to be a $12 million mop-up man.
Best for everyone that he moves on.
Silva at his best is a fun teammate who threw a party for the Mariners at his Minneapolis home before the season opener. A guy who cares about family, runs an annual charity fundraiser for children in his Venezuelan hometown and gets involved in the community here in the U.S. He’s a guy who wants to win, knows what winning clubhouses look like and isn’t afraid to insert himself when he doesn’t see that or feels some teammates are going at less than 100 percent.
But he picked the wrong time to bottom out and speak out in 2008. Seattle fans saw Silva at his worst and that will be his lasting legacy here.
For him to have any hope of a different legacy in baseball, he had to move on. His heart was in the right place. But his execution was sorely lacking on and off the field.
Photo Credit: AP