Monday, February 20, 2006

February 20th, 1999

Pirates Sign Pat Meares

I've written before about Derek Bell, one of Cam Bonifay's more questionable signings, and today we reach another, Pat Meares. The quick-and-easy comparison for Meares at the moment is Christian Guzman, an ex-Twins shortstop who was underwhelming during his time in Minnesota but was nevertheless rewarded with a gigantic contract that became an albatross almost from the moment it was signed.

I'm a little unclear on exactly what happened with Meares' contract, but the short version of events is that at some point the Pirates--inexplicably--granted Meares a four-year, fifteen million dollar contract. As I mentioned, from the start it was a disaster; Meares injured his hand in 1999 and played only two hundred and forty games across three seasons for the Pirates, 1999-2001. In that time, he batted .308 the first year, but in just twenty-one games and proceeded to hit .240 and .211 the next two years. That's bad, but even worse because the Bucs were actually on the hook to pay Meares approximately three and a quarter million for both 2002 and 2003, time when he saw no Major League action.

As might be expected, the conflict between Meares and the team got a trifle nasty, as the Pirates tried to forcibly retire Meares after he refused to have a surgery performed on his hand, claiming he could not physically play at the Major League level without it. This would've put the team's insurance company on the hook for the deal (teams and players do sometimes agree to deals like this, Albert Belle and Mo Vaughn are recent examples) but Meares denied he was unable to play. I assume the pair eventually settled rather than go to an arbitrator--how would an arbitrator decide that anyway?--but I can't find any stories one way or the other. Either way, Meares' contract is a cautionary tale for teams everywhere, one Jim Bowden evidently hadn't learned.

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