Meche takes a $12 million walk

You really can have enough money. Who knew?

Gil Meche, an everyman starting pitcher with an 84-83 record after 10 big-league seasons, made a louder statement with his recent decision to retire than he ever did on the mound. He walked away from the $12 million he was due in the last year of his contract because he didn't think he had enough good pitches left in his ailing right shoulder to justify being the Royals' highest-paid player."

"I'm not really fulfilling what I thought I needed to do when I signed," Meche told reporters. "The Royals have done enough for me."

Meche thought it was unlikely he truly could earn his salary and knew the Royals no longer were counting on him. So the 32-year-old from Louisiana decided to spend time where he could do the most good and experience the most peace — with his family.

What a refreshingly noble concept.

Unlike in the NFL, baseball contracts are guaranteed. Meche signed a five-year, $55 million contract with the Royals before the 2007 season — the same giddy time when the Cubs gave Alfonso Soriano his eight-year deal.

The Royals went to the fifth year because he was on the verge of signing a four-year contract with the Cubs, who instead signed Ted Lilly two days after Meche went off the board.

Meche gave the Royals two good years, but his production vanished after he talked manager Trey Hillman into letting him stay in to finish a 132-pitch shutout of the Diamondbacks in June 2009.

He insists he didn't hurt his shoulder in that outing, but in his next 18 starts (split over '09 and '10), he went 2-9 with a 7.52 ERA, averaging just more than five innings.

He opted for a move to the bullpen rather than the surgery that might have restored him as a starter. He seemed healthy at the end of 2010 but never regained his confidence.

"It's just the right thing to do," Meche said of terminating his contract without seeking any compensation. "I'm not trying to look good. … I didn't want to go through that again. To be the guy making $12 million and doing absolutely nothing to help this team. Not when I can walk away, be with my family."

"I'm not that surprised," former teammate Zach Greinke told the Kansas City Star's Bob Dutton of his mentor. "People don't realize it, but most guys really don't play the game because of money.

"And it drives most guys crazy when they're injured and can't earn their money. I know it bothered Gil."

Meche earned about $52 million from the Royals and Mariners, who drafted him in the first round out of high school in 1996. But still … do you know anyone who wouldn't trade 71/2 months of pain, inconvenience and first-class travel for $12 million?

King of thick skin: It has been clear for a long time that Brian Cashman had the thickest skin in his business — an invaluable trait for a modern general manager — but it was never clearer than when he admitted he pursued former Yankees flop Carl Pavano and advised against giving Rafael Soriano a three-year, $35 million deal to serve as Mariano Rivera's setup man.

There's nothing unusual about a GM disagreeing with his ownership group, but it's practically unprecedented to disclose the difference up front.

Doug Melvin certainly didn't do it when the Rangers gave Alex Rodriguez a $252 million deal.

Nor did Jim Hendry do it with Tribune Co.'s pre-sale spending spree, which included the dreadful Alfonso Soriano deal.

Yet there was Cashman last week, saying Hal Steinbrenner pulled rank to sign Rafael Soriano less than a week after Cashman had said he valued his 2011 first-round draft pick too much to send it to the Rays as compensation.

"My plan would be patience and waiting," Cashman told reporters after Soriano's introductory news conference. "They, obviously, acted. We're better, there's no doubt about it. It's not a dispute over the player whatsoever. … It's all the other stuff wrapped around the deal — the money, allocating closer-type money to an eighth-inning situation, those types of things."

This has been a tough winter for Cashman, who lost free-agent targets Cliff Lee to the Phillies and Carl Crawford to the Red Sox and failed to add a proven starter via trade. There's no sign he is on his way out with the Yankees, but his contract does end after the season.

Dirty work of rehab: Stephen Strasburg hosted a 5k run for the San Diego State baseball team last weekend. That figures to be his biggest public moment until August, at the earliest, when he might make some rehab appearances in the minor leagues.

The Nationals' 22-year-old phenom is on track to make a successful return from the right elbow reconstruction surgery he had last September.

But he hasn't started even soft tossing, so it's impossible to do more than speculate about the long-term impact of the torn ligament that led to surgery.

Strasburg says he's fine with the need to take thousands of baby steps before attempting to dazzle, as he did in his 14-strikeout debut for the Nationals.

While working toward finishing his college degree, Strasburg has strengthened his already massive legs and has done exercises focused on the back of his shoulder.

His goal is to make a few September starts, but Opening Day in 2012 is a more realistic timetable for his return.

"I focus on the times where I pitched really, really well," Strasburg said. "I try to remember what I was thinking. I just can't wait to go there and do it all over again."

The last word: "He's opting not to play right now, but that might change, it might not. I told him, 'Don't Brett Favre us. You have to be all in and fully dedicated to play.' … I need him, but I don't want him to play if his heart's not in it." — Cashman on starter Andy Pettitte, who hasn't announced his plans for 2011.

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