I’m sure you all saw the CNN Special Report that broke into regular programming when Gil Meche retired today, but in case you didn’t, it’s true. The Royals pounced on Meche after reading a secret think-tank report, "The Darren Dreifort Gambit: Giving Wheelbarrows of Cash to Unproven Pitchers with Good Stuff and Mediocre Results." The think tank’s report was poorly translated from English into Royals’ Front Office, though, which caused the Royals to sign Meche for $55M over five years rather than avoid him like a Dreifort-scented plague.
For two years, the Meche deal was actually a little bit of a steal, as he put up two very strong seasons. After that, his shoulder melted, and he struggled through two lost seasons. Two good years, two bad years, and he was paid all the while. Fair enough. That’s about right for any multi-year deal to a pitcher, so the Royals did well enough to get any value out of a starting pitcher who hadn’t yet cracked the 100 ERA+ barrier when he was signed.
Now Meche is retiring, though, and it’s big news because the choice is costing him approximately $12M. He could have taken the money and gone through rehab, making an honest effort to return to the field. He chose not to. Now I’m reading some folks responding with a heartfelt "Good for him!" While I can’t speak to Meche’s unique case, I disagree with the larger point that it’s necessarily honorable to refuse money because of an injury.
The decision made by Meche had to be intensely personal. Rehabbing a busted shoulder or arm isn’t just a matter of putting ice on it, drinking V8, and taking it easy when playing Wii Sports. It’s grueling, demanding work for several hours every day, and there’s no guarantee that it will ever pay off with a return to form. It chills me to think how much effort a player like Noah Lowry put in to return to the majors without success. Meche decided it wasn’t worth it, and that he had enough to be comfortable for the rest of his life. I can respect that decision, for sure.
But thinking he owed the Royals something is silly. If Meche came back this season and pitched 250 innings of 1.55 ERA baseball, the Royals wouldn’t have slipped an extra $10M in his locker as a performance bonus. He was playing under a contract that was agreed upon by both parties with an understanding of the risks involved. At the beginning of the contract, Meche understood that if he morphed into Pedro Martinez, he would still be paid the same. The Royals understood that if Meche got hurt, they were hosed. Everyone knew the risks, and they agreed on a deal that would balance the risks with the rewards.
Organizational hero Robb Nen had the chance to refuse money. He was paid almost $18M for not throwing a pitch in 2003 and 2004. Both of those years were player options. He knew it would be almost impossible for him to return to action in either of those years – though he certainly tried – but he took the money. And good for him. Even if he didn’t leave his rotator cuff on the mound in a smoldering heap during the postseason, he was right to pick up those player options. If the Giants held team options in 2003 and 2004, you can be absolutely sure they would have declined them.
We were going to sign Vladimir Guerrero, but we instead committed a large portion of our payroll to an injured player as a symbolic gesture. Thanks for the memories, Robb, and thanks for leaving it all out on the field as we tried to win a championship.
You will never read that, or any variation thereof. So hooray for Meche for making a decision that’s motivated more by happiness than money. But it’s not like David Glass is going to take the $12M and start a scholarship fund ("The Mechetriculation Facilitation"), and it’s not even likely that the money will all be directly applied to the payroll or scouting budget. It’s a boon more for Royals ownership than the team on the field, and Meche didn’t owe the Royals ownership anything more than his best efforts as a baseball player, healthy or not.