Over the next couple of weeks, I'll be breaking down a list of current Royals who are "Wild Cards" to the Royals success. These will be players who have the most questions surrounding them heading into the '10 campaign. I start breaking down the list, by importance, with #5, Gil Meche.
Gil has been a consistent performer for the Royals and one of the better pitchers in the AL Central, when healthy. Gil is on this list simply because he needs to stay healthy. His health isn't an issue all alone to Gil. It is an issue of Trey Hillman limiting Gil's workload. The Royals have said that they want their starters to combine for over 1000 innings this year. A pretty lofty goal, and seems to be congruent with the Royals and Dayton Moore's "Old School" and possibly ill-advised approach.
The fact of the matter is that Gil Meche is not a workhorse. He has only pitched over 200 innings twice in his career. Both came in back to back seasons in 2007 and 2008 when Meche was considered the team's ace. The interesting thing is that those seasons in which he pitched over 200 innings, they were the best seasons of his career (3.67 ERA in 2007, 3.98 in 2008). So I'm actually hoping that Gil can reach the 200 inning plateau that the front office has set him.
Those 200 innings will not come if he is once again abused by Trey Hillman for back to back 125 pitch outings. The Royals have invested $55 million in him. He is still due nearly $25 million before his contract is up in 2011. The Royals would be wise to get their money's worth from Gil Meche by using him appropriately. He needs to stay healthy this year and next as he is going to be prime trade-bait if he returns to his form that he displayed early in his Royals career. That is one way that the Royals could stand to gain in this scenario. The other is that Gil Meche will be a solid number two starter behind Zack Greinke, and possibly give this team the legs to actually contend this year. Any team that has a solid 1-2-3 punch in their rotation will almost always compete for a division crown.
Gil has been a centerpiece on this team for three seasons and a leader on and off the field. He is a valuable pitcher to have. His value is only good when he is healthy. Just because a pitcher is throwing a shutout through 6 innings doesn't mean you have to keep him in. Gil Meche usually has high pitch counts in the late innings and is generally solid into the 7th inning. But if those pitch counts are around 100-110 pitches and there are still multiple innings left, he needs to be sat down and hand it over to the pen. That is common baseball knowledge, especially with a guy who has a history with injury and the ever dreadful "dead arm".
Gil can be a big piece on a contender. He is still at the age where a player can consistently perform at a high level and I doubt he will display many signs of regression. His numbers most likely project him as a number three starter, but on a team that lacks consistency in the lower part of the rotation, that is a risk that the Royals cannot take.