I’m here to write the epitaph on Gil Meche’s career with the Royals.
Yes, he’s only out for the season and he’s signed through next year, but you can’t honestly expect him to pitch again for this team. I think he’s done as a Royal.
(It’s possible I could be jumping the gun on this. Nobody will know exactly his timetable for return until he goes under the knife and the surgeons poke around. Given his history though, and past recovery times, I’m betting his days in Kansas City are over.)
If, in fact, Meche has thrown his final pitch as a Royal, he will always be remembered for his start on June 16, 2009 – A 132 pitch shutout against the Arizona Diamondbacks. It’s fitting he’ll be remembered for that game, because it was his finest start as a Royal.
9 IP, 4 H, 0 ER, 1 BB, 6 SO
It was worth a Game Score of 84. Hell, according to Game Score, it was the best game of his career.
We’ll always have the Diamondback game.
Ironic isn’t it, that the best game of Meche’s career was the beginning of the end. He was shelled in his next start. And again… Then came the fateful “dead arm” and subsequent 121 pitch outing just two days after a bullpen session.
Here’s how Meche fared in his career as a Royal. I’ve broken them down in two parts. One, Before Shutout (BS) – which actually includes that start. The other, After Shutout (AS).
I’ve said it before, so I’ll say it again. It wasn’t the 132 pitch outing that spelled doom for Meche. That 132 pitch outing on June 16, 2009 was borderline insane, but it wasn’t the nail in the coffin. The nails were pounded in over the next several starts when Meche couldn’t pitch past the fifth inning. The final nail was on July 1 when, just two days removed from throwing a bullpen session to test his “dead arm” Meche was allowed to throw 121 pitches in a start against the Twins.
I won’t fault Dayton Moore for spending big to bring Meche to Kansas City prior to the 2007 season, signing him to a five year deal. It was derided by many, including famously by JP Riccardi the then General Manager of the Toronto Blue Jays. “When a guy talks about coming to our place where he has a chance to win… and then he goes to a place like Kansas City, that’s an eye opener.” (Ha! I’ve said the same about Rick Ankiel.)
The 2007 season was Meche’s age 28 season. He wasn’t a great – or even good – pitcher at that point, but his strikeouts were rising, his walk rate was falling and so was his hit rate. Couple the improvement with his relative youth and you’re signing a guy like this based on potential. It’s a gamble. Probably no more of a gamble than any other free agent signing, but still… The Royals have little margin for error. Remember, this was back in the day prior everyone learning The Process would take eight to ten years. Most of us figured it would be four years. Maybe five. If that was to be the case, then inking Meche to those kind of terms was the kind of gamble that could pay huge dividends. By his final year of the contract, he would be 32. With the proper care and usage, it was possible he could be in the prime of his career.
Sometimes the best laid plans…
Don’t get me wrong. The blood is on everyone’s hands. No one gets out of this with a clear conscience. Blame Dayton Moore for not stepping in following the 132 pitch shutout and making sure his field staff handled him with care. Blame GMDM again for not doing the same following his “dead arm” that came several starts post-shutout. Blame the medical staff for failing to grasp the gravity of the issue. Of course you can blame Trey Hillman. I couldn’t believe what I saw in the game following his “dead arm” bullpen session when Meche was allowed to return to the mound after throwing 99 pitches through five innings. I thought then that what Hillman did that afternoon was a fireable offense. Oh, you can also blame Meche for all of this. I get the feeling he was less than truthful with the Royals medical staff and management. Sure, it’s one thing to be a “warrrior” who “takes the ball every fifth day,” but Meche – who had missed two full seasons with shoulder ailments in the early part of the decade – should have known better.
Fangraphs has a nifty little formula where they assign a dollar amount to a player based on his performance for the season. Kind of the opposite way MLB contracts work – they pay based on past performance. Here’s how Meche has done in his time with the Royals.
According to this formula, Meche has been worth $46.8 million to the Royals over the last three and a half years. He’s roughly $8.2 million short. Maybe GMDM, Hillman and Meche can divide the bill three ways to make amends. If only it were that simple…
Many of us will wonder why it took the Royals and Meche so long to come to the conclusion that surgery was the only option. The numbers make it clear he had been hurting for quite some time. By delaying what seemed inevitable, the Royals and Meche have almost certainly assured he’s thrown his last pitch as a Royal. The Royals termed surgery as a “last resort.” It usually is.
I’m not a doctor (I didn’t even take biology in college) so I’m not in the position to be overly critical here, but I certainly understand wanting to avoid surgery. The recovery will be long and painful. The Royals are paying Meche a princely sum, so they want something – anything – from their starter. Losing days to the disabled list isn’t a way to recoup your investment. Still, you have to wonder if the Royals were just deluding themselves in this situation. Hoping for the best when all the evidence points to the worst does a disservice to everyone involved.
What a shame. What a waste.