So flabbergasted am I about this Gil Meche development (5 years, $55 million is indeed the final damage) that it may take me a few moments this morning to retrieve all of the brain pieces from the walls of my apartment and return them to their proper positions. Let's bust it Olney style and see what the "pros" have to say about the Ground Zero of the 2006-07 Hot Stove rounds.
Joe Posnanski, Kansas City Star: "Seriously what could be easier than ripping the sad-sack Royals for spending $55 million on Gil Meche? Columnists dream about opportunities like this. There's only one small problem: I kind of like this move."
Neil deMause, Baseball Prospectus: "One co-worker of a BPer quipped, 'This is like a family on welfare buying a plasma TV that doesn't work.'"
Keith Law, ESPN Insider: "The Meche contract is, in [one] sense, a four-year, $44 million deal from 2008-2011, with the 2007 season (a year in which the Royals aren't going to contend anyway) tacked on the front end as a developmental year, in a season where the Royals are going to struggle to spend a respectable amount of money anyway. Signing Meche may have other, less tangible benefits. It sends a signal to the Royals' various stakeholders...that the penury and the striving for mediocrity that have characterized the Glass family's ownership of the franchise are over. It may blunt criticism from other owners that the Glasses are pocketing revenue-sharing money rather than spending it on players."
Jacob Luft, SI.com: "We now have the answer to the question of what is the worst signing of the offseason."
The most common defense of the Meche signing, past Law's somewhat more sophisticated analysis, is that, well, this offseason is crazy anyway (Posnanski: "If you want to improve your baseball team, you have to spend way more than any sane person would spend") so you might as well strip naked, smear mud all over yourself, and run around hooting. I don't see a lot of merit to this argument, but then again I have always enjoyed mud-smeared naked hooting somewhat less than your average man on the street. And I hate to admit it, but I have a perfectly good example of a team improving itself without spending hardly any money at all: the Colorado Rockies. There's hardly any one move they've made that stands out, but the sum total of Dan O'Dowd's body of work thus far seems like incremental improvement to be sure. And the group of LaTroy Hawkins, Kaz Matsui, Byung-Hyun Kim, and Oscar Rivera, who taken as a set will cost less than Gil Meche in 2007, will absolutely be more valuable.
Here's the catch with overspending to win back the faith of a much-abused fanbase. If the team keeps losing, you've only made things worse. Sports fans in Denver don't just think that the Rockies are cheap, they think they are incompetent as well. At this point there are no personnel moves that O'Dowd can make that will immediately reverse the course of fan sentiment. The only way Colorado will start filling the seats at Coors Field again is by winning, and the limited revenue streams that a decade of losing has caused make the process of clawing together a competitive team punishingly difficult. Kansas City has much more of a history, and much more of a loyal regional fanbase, than do the Rockies. But this is the kind of witless move that can set a franchise's progress back five years. The Rockies, as I seemingly have to remind everyone each and every day, are still reeling from the poorly-considered free agent signings of the 2000-01 offseason. And in the wake of one of the few teams more cash-strapped than they breaking the bank, they're still operating in dazed caution.
Here's O'Dowd on the Helton situation, for example: "It's not like he doesn't understand the position we're in. He knows we very much care for him. We'd love to win with him here. If there's a way to make that happen, hopefully that'll happen this year. But he also knows that the contract presents obstacles that are very difficult in this environment to overcome."
Wah! Wah! We're so poor! Our socks have holes in them and our clubhouse attendants eat only gruel! The only guy in the organization with health insurance is the dude who works the humidor! Dan, sir, the Royals spent $55 million on Gil Meche. Quit crying into your peanuts and crackerjack and get a Jason Jennings deal done. NOW! Well? Well? We're waiting!