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Gil Meche Retires

This is almost certainly not news to my readers, but it’s something that I feel I should write about. Yesterday, Gil Meche suddenly retired from baseball. In the process he decided to forego his 2011 salary of $12.4 million which may ultimately make him a Kansas City folk hero as time passes. Let’s not kid ourselves and pretend that by leaving this money he can’t feed his family or anything. He did make $42.6 million over the first four years of his contract. What it comes down to is that Gil Meche is a classy guy who realized that he was essentially taking from the Royals and decided that he didn’t want to do that anymore. I wouldn’t be terribly surprised if Meche spent the season rehabbing and working very hard and tried to come back in 2012, maybe even with the Royals, but I have more respect for Meche today than I ever have during his entire Royals tenure.

Unfortunately, Gil Meche’s time for the Royals will not be remembered for his two fantastic seasons at the start of his contract, but rather for one game in June of 2009. It was his 132 pitch complete game against the Arizona Diamondbacks when Meche famously told Trey Hillman that he felt fine, so he was left in the game to finish a 5-0 shutout. I was at that game, and I remember very distinctly being puzzled why Meche was brought out after throwing over 110 pitches through eight innings when he had thrown 115 pitches the start before. I’m not a huge advocate of pitch counts, but I am a huge advocate of protecting investments when necessary, and pitching the ninth inning of a 5-0 game did not seem at all necessary to me. At the time, the Royals were within five games of first place still and had begun to rebound after slumping as a team for about a month.

So that’s what many fans will take away from Gil Meche’s Royals career. Because of his shoulder injury that was probably the result of a series of starts in June of 2009, Royals fans continue to shudder at the thought of a 5-year, $55 million contract. The first two years of the deal, though, Meche was worth every penny the Royals were paying him. He made 68 starts and threw over 400 innings in those two years. He was signed to provide a legitimate starting pitcher in front of what was expected to be a young rotation, and he did that. He started Opening Day in his first start with the Royals against Curt Schilling and the Red Sox and shut them down after allowing a first inning run. He didn’t really slow down until after June 16, 2009. In 2009, prior to his injury, he added 14 starts, almost 85 innings with 67 strikeouts and a 3.31 ERA. He was overshadowed by Greinke, but he was having a really nice season.

He only made nine more starts in 2009 and had an ERA of well over 8 that he most certainly earned. He was pretty awful. He shut things down in September and started rehabbing to get ready for 2010, which most believed he would not be able to start on time. He basically did, starting the year on the DL, but not missing a turn and went 0-4 with a 10.13 ERA in April. He only pitched one more month as a starter, but was definitely a respectable back end of the rotation guy with a 4.50 ERA and averaged six innings per start. His velocity was there, but his command was not and he walked more than he struck out. That’s when he went on the DL and Royals fans expected he’d never pitch again for them. He decided to rehab rather than have surgery in attempts to return as a reliever, and that’s exactly what he did when the rosters expanded in September.

I remember being at the Westport Flea Market when he made his first appearance out of the bullpen. It was sort of weird seeing him on the mound as I’d grown used to him not being on the mound, but the one thing I noticed was that he was darn good out there. He pitched 13 innings out of the bullpen, had a 2.08 ERA, struck out 11 and walked just four. While he certainly wouldn’t earn his full $12.4 million out of the bullpen, he’d at least provide some value and some veteran leadership out there. Maybe, just maybe, they’d be able to move him at the deadline and be able to get some value back if they picked up some of his contract. Well, obviously that won’t happen now.

In the short-term, this probably doesn’t do a ton for the organization or the current team because while he was very good in September, it would have been tough to count on him too heavily at first. This does open up a spot for a young player who might make the team out of spring training now such as Louis Coleman or someone of that ilk. In the long-term, I hope that the Royals take the $12.4 million in savings and either shift it to their draft/international signings budget, save it for next off-season and see if they can’t lure a big-time free agent or invest it in one of their young players like Billy Butler. I think the latter is the most likely, but I’d be perfectly fine with any of the above.

Gil Meche is really interesting in that he’s sort of been the guy anybody can point to when looking at Dayton Moore’s tenure. When he was signed, Moore was made fun of for investing so much money in a guy who had never done anything. Then, when he was good, Moore’s supporters were able to throw it in the bashers’ faces. Then, he got hurt and people got to say how they knew a five-year contract would be an awful idea. I also find it a little humorous that the Royals got Meche because they added an extra year and an extra $1 million per year and they ended up with roughly the contract that both the Blue Jays and the Cubs offered. No matter what you thought of Meche when he was pitching for the Royals, it’s pretty hard to argue now that he’s not a class act. I hope he can rehab and get back on a mound in 2012 for some team and do well.

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