Boston Red Sox: Scoop on Their 16 Latest Minor-League Free-Agent Signees

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Boston Red Sox: Scoop on Their 16 Latest Minor-League Free-Agent Signees
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Carlos Silva is the best-known of this group.

The Red Sox started off the New Year by announcing that they had signed 12 players to minor-league contracts, including $48 million man Carlos Silva. None of the 12 have been added to the 40-man roster, but all have been invited to major league spring training camp.

Although the press release was issued on Jan. 2, some of the signings had actually taken place weeks before—which shows how low-profile some of these transactions were.

Since that release, another four hopefuls were brought into the fold.

This group is a diverse lot: All had had at least a cup of coffee at the major league level, and 14 of the 16 are pitchers (no big surprise there).

Aaron Cooke, Justin Germano, Vicente Padilla and John Maine are all seasoned major-league pitchers.

Lefty Rich Hill had impressed at both Triple-A and in Boston last season before he went down with an injury requiring Tommy John surgery.

Nate Spears, Brandon Duckworth and Charlie Haeger were all with the Pawtucket Red Sox last year; Spears earned a brief call-up to Boston in September.

I'm thinking the other seven may be as unknown to most of you as they were to me, so here's some background on them all. 

Let's start with Silva, the highest-profile member of this group. He has pitched in 316 major-league games. He is also the most controversial; many (me included) question whether or not he can change his reputation of being an out-of-condition malcontent. The bad Carlos Silva has a reputation for a poor attitude and work ethic and is a shadow of the good Carlos Silva performance-wise. 

One of the reasons the Red Sox are giving him a chance is because he throws strikes. His rate of walks per nine innings (1.725) is the lowest among all active pitchers who have thrown at least 750 innings in their career. In fact, in the last 30 years (thanks, FanGraphs), only five pitchers have hurled as many innings as Silva with a better BB/9 rate: Bob Tewksbury, Dennis Eckersley, Brad Radke, Bret Saberhagen and Rick Reed.

The right-handed Silva signed with the Philadelphia Phillies as an amateur free agent in 1996. He made his Major League debut in 2002 as a reliever and pitched two seasons in that capacity. After the 2003 season, the Phillies traded him to Minnesota, who made one of the best decisions of the 2004 season by converting him to a starter (Daniel Bard, anyone?) 

He had no problems at all getting stretched out; he threw 203 innings while posting a 14–8 mark and ended up as the No. 2 starter behind Cy Young winner Johan Santana. In a four-year stretch from 2003 to 2007, Silva won 47 games for the Twins while making 31 or more starts in three seasons and 27 in the fourth. He averaged more than 193 innings per year. He also went fairly deep into games for an offensively-challenged team, averaging almost seven innings per start. He went 23-16 for 2004 and '05.

In 2005, while pitching for the Twins, he walked only nine batters in 188.1 innings, setting the modern era MLB record for fewest walks allowed per nine innings (0.43). That same year, he led the majors in double-play balls induced with 34. On May 20, 2005, Silva threw only 74 pitches in a nine-inning complete game, which was the lowest number since 1957.

After the 2007 season (13-14 with a 4.19 ERA in 33 starts), the star-crossed Bill Bavasi made on of the biggest mistakes of his tenure as Seattle GM when he signed Silva to a four-year, $48 million contract. 

There had been warning signs. In 2006, he gave up a major-league-worst 1.90 home runs per nine innings, allowing 38. He also posted a major-league-worst batting average against of .326. 

To be fair, those numbers improved in 2007; but his career in Seattle was a total bust. He went 3-15 with a 6.46 ERA in 2008 and 1-3 with an 8.60 ERA before being shut down for most of 2009 with a shoulder injury. 

Looking to make lemonade out of lemons, the Mariners and Cubs swapped problems. Silva plus $9 million went to Chicago for troubled outfielder Milton Bradley.

Seattle Times writer Larry Stone wrote, "I understand why the Mariners are making this move -- Silva has absolutely no role on the team any more after two disastrous seasons and little hope for a turnaround."

Things were looking up for Silva and the Cubs when he started the 2010 season with an 8-0 record, the first Cubs starter to do so since 1967. However, he fell off a cliff in the second half, finishing the season at 10-6, missing much of the final two months after dealing with an irregular heartbeat.

Silva's evil twin emerged during 2011 spring training.

As reported by Bruce Levine of ESPNChicago.com, Cubs third baseman Aramis Ramirez made an error while Silva was pitching. Channeling his inner John Lackey, Silva showed up Ramirez. He went one step further, actually getting into a fight with Ramirez in the dugout.

"Most of the blame was assigned to Silva," wrote Levine. "If only because Ramirez had never been known as a problem player."

Silva made things worse by complaining that his rotation spot was not guaranteed, and the Cubs had seen enough. They released him.

He made matters worse by criticizing pitching coach Mark Riggins and the Cubs organization on his way out the door.

"Obviously we're dealing with a man at this stage of his career who's not willing to face the facts," Cubs general manager Jim Hendry told Levine.

"What he's done for the last few years in his career, except for a two-month period, is way below major league standards. And he seems to have the continual problem [of] blaming everybody but himself."

Understandably, no team picked Silva up on waivers, so the Cubs ($6 million) and the Mariners ($5.5 million) ate the $11.5 million due him on the last year of his contract. Seattle also paid him a $2 million buyout of a 2012 team option. 

Silva then signed a minor-league deal with the Yankees. He pitched reasonably well to start the year, posting a  2-1 record in 36 innings at High Single-A Tampa, Double-A Trenton and Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre. He was working on a 2.75 ERA with 28 strikeouts and six walks when shoulder problems cropped up. The Yankees released him on July 2.

Signing Silva is a risky move for the Red Sox, not just because of the injury issues (he's also a heavy 280 pounds), but because of his reputation of being a clubhouse problem. Just what the Bosox need…

Silva will earn up to $1 million if he makes the big league club. According to Jon Morosi of Fox Sports, Silva has an opt-out in his contract that would allow him to walk away if he is not on the big league roster by mid-April. 

I would be shocked if he is.

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