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April 3, 2000

The Daily Prospectus

Lifeís Not Fair

by Joe Sheehan

We do a lot of analysis here, most of it from a more-or-less detached viewpoint. However, we are talking about people, people with lives and families and concerns and all the things you and I have. And sometimes, events conspire to make you really feel for some of these guys.

Too mushy? Well, think about Rockie outfielder Angel Echevarria for a second. Echevarria spent 1996 through 1998 bouncing between Colorado Springs and Denver, picking up 70 at-bats in the majors and slipping from "prospect" to "roster filler" as he grew older. In 1999, though, he made the Rockies out of spring training and had a decent year--11 home runs, hit .319 as a pinch-hitter--as their fifth outfielder and top right-handed pinch-hitter.

While he was having this good year, establishing himself as someone who could contribute in the major leagues, Brian Hunter was playing his way out of Detroit on his way to Seattle, with whom he led the American League in stolen bases and still managed to be one of the worst everyday players of the 1990s. Inexplicably, instead of non-tendering Hunter, the Mariners elected to offer him arbitration, an offer that was accepted. Hunter would go on to win the case, and a salary of $2.45 million for the 2000 season.

Fast-forward to March. Echevarria went into spring training without a guaranteed job, but in a stronger position than in four previous springs. In Peoria, Ariz., Hunter also began his spring training, but almost no one believed he would begin the year with the Mariners. Sure enough, the team cut him last week, saving close to $2 million in salary (they're on the hook for severance pay) and making Hunter a free agent.

And the Rockies jumped. Dan O'Dowd, whose moves this winter have ranged from inspired to demented and touched on most spots in between, picked up Hunter and handed him a roster spot. Angel Echevarria's roster spot. With three days until Opening Day, Echevarria was sent to Colorado Springs, to flying commercial and staying in Holiday Inns and carrying his own bags.

There are so many ways this could have, even should have, turned out differently. Hunter is a poor player, and the Rockies have no real need for a defensive replacement in their outfield, so O'Dowd could have passed on him. Better yet, had the Mariners not offered Hunter arbitration, he would have been a free agent in mid-winter and would have had a wider range of potential suitors. And even had he found his way to the Rockies at that point, perhaps watching him for a month would have helped them come to the same conclusion the Mariners did: he's not worth the roster spot.

None of that happened, and when the Rockies open the season in Atlanta today, Echevarria will be preparing for the start of the SkySox season. I feel for him, and hope like hell he hits lights out in April and gets back to the major leagues. Not because he's a great player, but because he lost his job--his very special job as a Major League Baseball Player--because two teams made silly decisions regarding a player who has no business on a roster. And that's just not right.

Joe Sheehan can be reached at jsheehan@baseballprospectus.com.

Joe Sheehan is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
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