Royals' Meche cites health for retirement

Royals' Meche cites health for retirement

Royals' Meche cites health for retirement
KANSAS CITY -- For Gil Meche, it wasn't about the money. It was about his doubts that his cranky right shoulder could hold up through another season.

So Meche on Tuesday announced that he'd walk away from the $12 million remaining on his Kansas City contract, abandon his plan to join the Royals' bullpen and retire as a player.

"A lot of people might think I'm crazy for not trying to play and make this amount of money," he said, "[but] I don't think I'm going to regret it."

This would have been the final season under the five-year, $55 million contract he signed with the Royals prior to the 2007 season. Health issues, with his back and then with his shoulder, plagued him the last two seasons.

"I didn't want to go try it again for another season and be the guy making $12 million and doing absolutely nothing to help this team," he said.

There is no settlement, no nothing for Meche as he walks away from the guaranteed money.

"I think it really reaffirms and validates why we signed Gil Meche -- the integrity and the class and the respect that he's displaying, not only for his name but for the game of baseball and this organization and we appreciate it very much," Royals general manager Dayton Moore said.

In his experience, Moore couldn't recall a player forfeiting such a big salary haul.

The Royals' 2011 payroll, projected to be about $60 million before Zack Greinke was traded and Meche retired, now is reduced dramatically to about $40 million according to Moore. Last year's payroll was about $74 million.

But while noting that he now has some payroll flexibility, Moore has no plans to go on a spending spree. For one thing, the prime free-agent season is about over. For another, he doesn't want to invest in long-term signings that would delay the Major League arrivals of Royals prospects.

"Our plan is not going to change with regard to the young players that we have on the horizon," Moore said. "We're not going to do anything with long-term contracts that are going to restrict their transition to the Major Leagues."

Meche's decision to retire is a complete turnaround from his attitude in the final week of the 2010 season, when he talked about his eagerness to continue his career in the bullpen. His aching shoulder limited him to nine starts in April and May and he was 0-4 with a 6.66 ERA. The figures hurt as bad as the shoulder.

For a time, he appeared headed for shoulder surgery, which would have knocked him out of the 2011 season entirely and possibly for his career.

"I opted out of the surgery because I knew I probably wouldn't come back from that, no matter what -- not only next year but for my career," Meche admitted on Tuesday.

Even so, at the time, he felt his shoulder could hold up with the shorter bullpen appearances and that this was the only way he could fulfill his desire to pitch in the final year of his contract. After various medical meditations and rehabilitation rehearsals, he joined the Royals' bullpen for September and October. Results: 11 games and one loss but a 2.08 ERA. He faced 50 batters in 13 innings and gave up nine hits and four walks with 11 strikeouts.

He looked pretty darn good and manager Ned Yost was encouraged.

Yet, after returning home to Louisiana this offseason, Meche began to have second thoughts.

"Being home this offseason, it kind of sunk in," he said. "At this time, I just felt my kids were important in my life and I needed to spend more time with them. Yeah, I know it'd been only maybe eight more months of trying to pitch but I didn't think I was going to be able to do it. Mentally and physically, I thought it was the best decision for me."

He remembered a soul-searching session with his parents in mid-December, figuring his dad would object.

"I thought he was going to wring my neck and say, 'Are you kidding me? This is your dream. I know you've played a long time but it's still there,' " Meche recalled. "But he was kind of on my side and so was my mom."

About a week ago, Meche decided to make his decision known to the Royals.

Meche's career included 243 Major League starts and more than 1,400 innings in 10 seasons. He steps away with a record of 84-83 and a 4.49 ERA in a total of 258 games with the Royals and the Seattle Mariners.

In 1996, he was a first-round pick, No. 22 overall, by the Mariners in the First-Year Player Draft. He reached the big league club in 1999 and went 8-4 in 16 games. But the next year he began having shoulder problems and eventually underwent arthroscopic surgery that kept him out of the Majors for the 2001 and 2002 seasons.

Meche returned to the Mariners in 2003 to win a career-high 15 games and was named Sporting News Comeback Player of the Year.

After signing with the Royals, he made 34 starts in each of his first two seasons, going 9-13 with a 3.67 ERA in 2007 and 14-11 with a 3.98 ERA in 2008. But in the next season, he had back problems from Spring Training on and later had shoulder issues, restricting him to 23 starts with a 6-10 record and 5.09 ERA.

"He was a terrific pitcher for us for 2 1/2 years," Moore said. "He always took the ball and always competed. ... In my view, our signing Gil in the offseason of 2007 and the way he went about his business, it took the pressure off Zack Greinke where he could just blend in."

Meche was the Royals' Opening Day starter for his first three years with the club and it was his first start in 2007 that he remembers fondly.

Meche walked off the field after 7 1/3 innings with a 7-1 victory over the Boston Red Sox in hand and got a standing ovation from 41,257 fans at Kauffman Stadium.

"That was pretty cool," he said. "I'd had some standing ovations at times in Seattle, but to come into a new city with the expectations I was putting on myself and the fans and the amount of money I signed for -- and all that stuff -- pitching against Boston, that was a pretty special moment, not only as a Royal but for my whole career."

One of his best games, a 5-0 shutout over Arizona on June 16, 2009, also turned out to be controversial. He made a career-high 132 pitches, convincing then-manager Trey Hillman to finish the game despite the five-run cushion.

After that he wasn't nearly as effective, winning just twice in his next nine games with his ERA jumping from 3.31 to 5.09. A sore shoulder ended his season in late August and some observers blamed the long outing for his decline but not Meche.

"That game had nothing to with my shoulder," he said. "To me it wasn't a big deal. This had nothing to with Trey Hillman. That was something I wanted, he saw that. Complete games don't come around that often, especially for a guy like me who throws kind of hard, lot of foul balls, high pitch counts. So I wanted that game and when I came out after the eighth inning, I looked at him and said, 'This is mine.' I know he's the manager and it's his call, but, to me, it wasn't even an issue. And it got blown all out of proportion."

Meche was picked for the American League All-Star team in 2007 and was the Royals' Pitcher of the Year. Meche's total record for KC was 29-39 with a 4.27 ERA in 111 games.

For a while at least, Meche thought his career might continue in the bullpen. But he really doubted his shoulder would remain healthy and he wouldn't be a guy to hang on just for the money.

"The money wasn't ever, ever a factor in my decision," he said. "It was a matter of me missing baseball and hanging out with the guys. ... That's going to be one of the things I'll miss most."

Dick Kaegel is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.