The $12 Million Question

February 8th, 2011 by Andrea Bennett

Would you forfeit guaranteed millions if you didn’t think you were earning it?

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The Responsibility Project

Last week, Kansas City Royals pitcher Gil Meche announced that he would retire from baseball, forfeiting the $12 million he was guaranteed to earn in 2011.

As The New York Times reported, this means he won’t show up to spring training in Surprise, Ariz., and he won’t have surgery to repair his chronically aching right shoulder. He will simply retire and walk away.

“When I signed my contract, my main goal was to earn it,” he told the Times. “Once I started to realize I wasn’t earning my money, I felt bad…Honestly, I didn’t feel like I deserved it. I didn’t want to have those feelings again.”

Forfeiting the paycheck from a guaranteed contract is rare; a player will generally only lose his income for gross personal misconduct or for an injury sustained off the field.  (Meche’s forfeiture isn’t entirely unprecedented: notably, Ryne Sandberg retired from the Chicago Cubs in 1994, forfeiting nearly $16 million.)

Meche had signed a five-year, $55 million free agent contract before the 2007 season, but by mid-2009, his shoulder had begun deteriorating. Still, he was guaranteed his 2011 salary; he could even have spent the season on the disabled list and collect.

Royals’ general manager, Dayton Moore, told the Times that for Meche, it was a matter of doing the right thing. “I’m not saying that if a player decides to do his best and fulfill his contract that’s the wrong thing. But Gil did what he felt was right for him.”

Still, not everyone is so sanguine about Meche’s decision. Kevin Baumer, a writer for Business Insider’s sports page, called the retirement “the lazy way out,” and his comments to the Times “romantic.”

“He was facing his third shoulder surgery, and a long road of rehab, and his love of the game had clearly eroded….Meche turned his back on $12 million, because he no longer had the desire to put that much effort into the game,” Baumer wrote.

In a statement issued by the Royals, Meche said, “…at this stage of my life I would prefer to call it a career rather than to attempt to pitch in relief for the final year of my contract.” He had already collected $43 million, but $12 million is a lot to walk away from, and ultimately that’s $12 million the Royals organization is saving. Amidst skepticism about Meche’s motives from pundits such as Baumer, perhaps the real question is: Does it matter, as long as he was ultimately doing the responsible thing? Weigh in here.