Meche has 55 million reasons to succeed

Team Infidel

Forum Spin Doctor


Associated Press

KANSAS CITY, Mo. - When Gil Meche was introduced Wednesday as the newest member of the Kansas City Royals, he slipped into a white jersey with blue numbers that are sure to remind him each day of the lofty expectations put on him.
He's wearing No. 55 - as in the $55 million, five-year deal he signed last week.
The 28-year-old righty has worn the number since breaking into the majors with Seattle in 1999. Only this year, it seems more significant.
"The commitment the organization made in me, that's going to come with a lot of responsibility," Meche said. "To me, I thought it was a pretty big challenge to try to help this team turn around."
Kansas City general manager Dayton Moore has quickly made pitching a priority in the offseason, signing free agent reliever Octavio Dotel and several prospects, a couple of whom could make the big league roster.
But Moore said Meche was the guy the front office targeted as early as last summer.
"We started to identify players that we felt would make a difference for our long-term success," Moore said. "This guy is a difference maker."
That might be why Kansas City had stave off late overtures from the Chicago Cubs and Toronto Blue Jays by offering a longer contract and more money.
For a franchise that has lost 100 games in four of the past five seasons, even a major coup like Meche comes with detractors. Many argue Moore overpaid in a lean free-agent market for a pitcher who has never won more than 15 games in a season.
The $55 million deal matches first baseman Mike Sweeney's as the richest in club history. Together they consume nearly half of Kansas City's payroll, which was a shade over $47 million in 2006 but is likely to increase this year.
Meche, who made $3.7 million with the Mariners last season, will earn $7 million in 2007 with a $2 million signing bonus. He is due $11 million in 2008 and 2009, and $12 million in 2010 and 2011.
"To me, this is the perfect, perfect sign for Kansas City, without a doubt. And I'm so convicted in it," Moore said, while denying the small-market franchise was making a statement by offering the lucrative, long-term contract.
"We were relieved when they asked for a fifth year," Moore added. "We wanted a fifth year. We were excited to do that."
Meche is 55-44 with a 4.65 ERA in six seasons, all with the Mariners. He missed the 2001 season with a rotator cuff injury and spent 2002 in the minors.
But he had a breakout year in 2006, going 11-8 with a career-best 4.48 ERA. He also pitched a career-high 186 2-3 innings, although Kansas City will likely ask for at least 200 innings from their newest acquisition.
"He's entering the prime years of his career," Moore said. "When that pitch quality and that pitching skill begins to merge, which happens about this time, you have a guy who is a number one, number two starter."
Meche is expected to stabilize a rotation that was about as solid as quicksand a year ago.
Nine different Royals took a shot in the starting rotation, combining for a major league-worst 5.65 ERA. They also allowed the most runs, had the second-fewest wins and lasted the fewest innings in games started.
"It's something we needed to get better at," Manager Buddy Bell said. "We had a hard time finishing games, but not only that, we had a hard time getting past the third inning.
"A lot of the acquisitions we've made just stretches our whole organization. It's been real satisfying the last couple weeks."