(Gil Meche reacts to a balk call in a game with Oakland in 2006. Photo by Associated Press).
This one is kind of a stunner: Gil Meche, who once was one of the shining pitching hopes in the Mariners organization — and who indeed had his moments in Seattle — announced today he is calling it quits. Meche is just 32.
As far as I can tell, he’s leaving $12 million on the table. That’s the amount he was to have earned in 2011 in the final year of the five-year, $55-million contract he signed with the Royals on Dec. 8, 2006. In that respect, from KC’s vantage point, it’s somewhat akin to the decision by Kenji Johjima to opt out of his contract and head back to Japan, absolving the Mariners of nearly $16 million in salary — $7.7 million in 2010, and $8.1 million in 2011. Meche has been hampered by major shoulder injuries in recent years and his ability to contribute in 2011 was in doubt. In fact, in a statement just released, Meche said it was his health that led to his decision:
“After a lot of thinking and prioritizing of issues in my life I have decided to retire from baseball. As a competitor my entire life this is the hardest decision that I’ve ever faced, but it’s not fair to me, my family or the Kansas City Royals that I attempt to pitch anymore.”
“I came into this game as a starting pitcher and unfortunately my health, more accurately, my shoulder, has deteriorated to the point where surgery would be the only option and at this stage of my life I would prefer to call it a career rather than to attempt to pitch in relief for the final year of my contract. I can’t thank the Kansas City Royals and their fans enough for my four seasons there and if I have any regret, it’s that we weren’t able to accomplish on the field what the goal was when I signed there.”
The Royals took a lot of heat for the contract they gave Meche, but he was very solid for them his first two years. It wasn’t until his shoulder problems hit in 2009 that he regressed — and manager Trey Hillman didn’t help matters, as this piece chronicles. Meche appeared in just 20 games last year (nine starts) and was 0-5 with a 5.69 ERA. Realistically, they weren’t expecting much from Meche this year, and anything they got would have been a bonus. Many baseball analysts believe the Royals have among the best prospects in baseball and could be on the verge of a turnaround. This financial relief could enable them to augment their youth with some veteran talent.
Meche was the M’s top draft pick in 1996 — one year before they selected Ryan Anderson in the first round. Those two were supposed to anchor the M’s for the next decade, but of course it didn’t quite work out that way. Anderson never made it to the big leagues. Meche had an up and down career with Seattle, winning 15 games in 2003 but battling injuries — including shoulder surgery — in other years.
I always found Meche to be an engaging guy, very earnest and very sincere. I think it shows a lot of integrity to be able to walk away from that much money. Yes, he’s already made a lot (nearly $52 million), but a lot of players would have been happy to sit on the DL and keep the paychecks coming. That he wasn’t says something about him. I wish him well in whatever awaits him next.