Meares Mortal Shortstop-turned-second-baseman Pat Meares
by Mike Carminati
Shortstop-turned-second-baseman Pat Meares has agreed to drop his grievance against the Pirates. Meares had been kept on the disabled list for the entire 2002 season even though Meares contended that his injured left hand was healed and he was ready to play. He demanded his release so that he could sign with another team. Perhaps Meares' agent pointed out that he has approximately $4 M left on his contract before slapping him on the head and shouting, "Moron!"
Apparently, Meares will serve out the remaining year of his 4-year contract extension on the disabled list. Meares in accepting this agreement is in essence retiring since he will be 35 at the end of the contract and after not playing for most of 3 years will not be the most attractive free agent in the 2003-04 marketplace.
Meares represents the worst of the Pirates' Cam Bonifray years. Not many remember that the ever-average Meares actually took a salary cut in signing a one-year deal with the Pirates in 1999. He had made $2.5 M with the Twins in 1998, up from $245 K in 1996 and $1.425 M in 1997 thanks to arbitration. However, when the Twins started to pare down the team salary prior to 1999 Meares was cut loose. The Twins feared arbitration would continue to escalate his salary. The Twins were vilified in the press and by fans for doing so, but given his fungible mediocrity and the price tag accorded sustained mediocity by the arbitration system, who could blame them? Certainly, no one is questioning the decision now.
When then Pirates' GM Bonifray signed Meares to a $1.5 M, one-year deal just before the start of Spring Training in 1999, it seemed like a wise bargain. Then the Pirtates mistakenly repaid Meares for taking the salary cut by guaranteeing him in April of 1999 a 4-year, $15 M extension. The extension did not take effect until 2000. Meares responded by playing only 21 games due to the injury to his hand and the subsequent surgery to repair it. He started at short in 2000 and then switched to second in 2001, all the while getting plenty of ABs and showing very little resemblance to a major-league player at the plate (His 2001 adjusted OPS was only 41% of the average major leaguer).
In May of this year, Meares, who started the year on the DL, claimed that he was ready to play and was as healthy as when he played last year. The Pirates responded that that's what they were afraid of, and asked him to have further surgery to strengthen his hand so that he could better grip the bat (he was getting hammered on the inside pitch). It is in the Pirates best interest for Meares to stay on the DL so that they can recoup their losses via disability insurance. No mention was made of the additional hush funds directed Meares' way.
But it's deserved since all rehab and no play makes Pat a dull boy. Dull he has not been as this citation from BaseballLibrtary.com will attest:
June 26th, 1999: Shortstop Pat Meares of the Pittsburgh Pirates, on the disabled list recovering from surgery on his left hand, participates in a sausage race at Milwaukee's County Stadium. Meares, dressed as a 10-foot bratwurst, wins the race defeating a giant hot dog and a polish sausage. Two days ago, Meares was caught on videotape sunbathing in the upper deck of Philadelphia's Veteran Stadium for the first six innings of game.