Twins can't bear to look at what Silva market will bear

The team wants him back, but he will be one of the most sought-after free-agent pitchers this offseason.

Scott Baker is close to being a finished product. Matt Garza, Boof Bonser and Kevin Slowey are polishing their games in the major leagues. Johan Santana is among the elite pitchers in baseball. Francisco Liriano, a k a "Franchise," is expected to return from elbow surgery next season.

Yet the Twins would like to re-sign righthander Carlos Silva, who offers the insurance experience brings. But getting him back won't be easy.

"We'd like to have the veteran presence," new Twins General Manager Bill Smith said of Silva, 28. "He has been a good player for us, he's a good person in the clubhouse and a good member of this team. We would like to keep him. If not, then it's Baker, Bonser, Slowey."

Smith said he's fully aware of the seller's market for quality starting pitching in recent years. The deal last winter that had every mediocre pitcher in baseball cheering: Gil Meche signed with Kansas City for five years and $55 million -- then went 9-13 with a 3.67 ERA.

The only thing that has spiraled upward faster than the cost of average pitching is the price of a barrel of light sweet crude oil.

And that means that Silva, who is 47-45 in his career with the Twins but has lost 29 games over the past two seasons, is sure to entertain offers for vastly more than the $4.35 million he made last season.

Looking at the numbers from last season, Silva could fetch a deal between $8 million and $10 million annually. Throw out older free-agent pitchers who likely sign for one year (Tom Glavine, Curt Schilling) and pitchers who are injury risks (Kris Benson, Jason Jennings, Freddy Garcia, Bartolo Colon) and what's left is a group that includes Silva, Livan Hernandez, Kyle Lohse, Josh Fogg, Jeff Weaver and Kip Wells.

Silva, who was 13-14 with a 4.19 ERA last season, has the most victories and lowest ERA of that group -- and is under 30.

Ka-ching!

One agent who represents a former Twins player and some current Twins prospects said that every team he has spoken with has Silva on its wish list.

"Silva is going to get paid," the agent said.

The Twins' history of being unwilling to compete for free agents works against them. Early indications are that their offer won't be close to $10 million annually -- and maybe not even $8 million a year.

"I can guarantee you that there's no team that can offer Carlos Silva the intangibles that the Minnesota Twins can," Smith said. "He's got a manager he likes. He's got a pitching coach he likes a lot. A strength and conditioning coach that got him on a program this year that I think helped him a lot. He has a family here in the Twin Cities. He owns a home here in the Twin Cities."

The Twins could have dealt Silva before the July and August trade deadlines. Arizona, Atlanta, the Cubs, Mets and Philadelphia all expressed interest, and a few of those teams still appear to have pitching needs. Tampa Bay, Toronto, Cincinnati and St. Louis also are looking for starters.

By deciding not to trade Silva (they didn't like the offers), the Twins risk losing him and not getting anything in return. In the annual rankings released by the Elias Sports Bureau on Wednesday -- rankings that determine compensation for free-agent losses -- Silva did not qualify for any compensation. While the Twins could receive a first-round draft pick and a sandwich pick between the first two rounds for losing Torii Hunter to free agency, they won't get any draft picks if Silva signs elsewhere.

Barry Praver, who along with Scott Shapiro represents Silva, would not rule out Silva re-signing with the Twins -- Silva has married, had a son and bought a home in the Twin Cities within the past year and wants to stay. But if you're going to go to the beach, you might as well stick a toe in the water.

"It is unrealistic to expect Carlos to sign with the Twins or any other team until we determine his value in the marketplace," said Praver, who negotiated a five-year, $91.5 million contract for Cubs pitcher Carlos Zambrano during the regular season.

So Silva will take a dip, where the water is warm -- and green. Will the Twins join him or stay on the beach?

"We are going to compete and try to get him signed," Smith said.

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