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
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 firstname.lastname@example.org.