Mega-money baseball contracts don’t guarantee success. Because they reward past, and incentivize future, performance, they’re bets on the come for clubs like the KC Royals and rarely risky for players, who usually reap the benefits of their bargains regardless of how (or sometimes if) they perform. Teams bear the immediate costs of underperformance—not until bad deals expire, or teams find ways to unload disappointing players without further financial liability, can they avoid paying players to play badly.
Take the Royals, for example, who’ve been burned, or at least singed, by a few pitchers’ contracts. Ask longtime Kansas City fans to name pitchers who’ve been paid handsomely despite consistently underperforming their contracts. The wait for the answer “Gil Meche” won’t be long.
Meche, however, really shouldn’t be in the conversation.
He signed a five-year, $55 million contract in December 2006, a deal that when made tied Mike Sweeney’s for the most lucrative Royal pact ever, and preordained Meche as either a landmark acquisition or waste of money.
He went 9-13 for a bad (69-93) 2007 club, then won 14 times to help KC improve six games in 2008. But in 2009, Meche went downhill after manager Trey Hillman let him throw 132 pitches in a June 5-0 shutout of Arizona after he’d averaged almost 110 in his three previous starts. He ended the season 6-10, threw 128 and 122 pitches in two May games the following season, spent that June, July and August on the disabled list, then tried some relief work in September to ease the burden on a troublesome shoulder. He retired before 2011 spring training started.
Meche finished 29-39 and twice led the American League in starts during four Kansas City seasons, not a terrible record considering the inferior clubs (93 average losses) he pitched for and his health. But for that health, perhaps precipitated by overuse, his Royal years would certainly have been better. Injuries shouldn’t count as underperformance.
And Meche’s contract? Upon retiring, he refused to accept the $12 million it guaranteed him for 2011. As he told The New York Times:
"“Once I started to realize I wasn’t earning my money, I felt bad. I was making a crazy amount of money for not even pitching. Honestly, I didn’t feel like I deserved it. I didn’t want to have those feelings again."
So, let’s not count Meche as a bust, or his deal as one of the Royals’ worst.
A lefthander’s huge KC Royals contract was better for him than for the club.
Eleven years after signing Meche, the Royals made southpaw Danny Duffy rich with the five-season, $65 million contract he signed in January 2017. The deal came on the heels of his 12-3 2016 campaign.
That record remains the best of Duffy’s 11-year career, and therein lies the problem. Duffy didn’t win more than nine games in a season, and only 32 total, since signing his deal, and in none of the five campaigns it covered did he fulfill the promise of his 2016 season. (He was, however, 4-3 with a 2.51 ERA before injuries ended his 2021 campaign in July, and his future is clouded).
Unfortunately, Duffy’s body of Kansas City work never really lived up to his big contract.
What were the club’s other three worst pitcher deals? In no particular order, here they are.