Monday, September 12, 2005

Bounce this!

Would you believe a player could be so ugly that a team would consider him an attractive signing? That's Ben Weber for you, or so says Jeff "Certified" Angus, who explores the "Bounce-Back" player phenomenon at his Management by Baseball blog. Or maybe I should say "that was," though not because Weber is suddenly not-ugly. No, he's still quite ugly.

Weber, if you'll recall, parlayed his subpar looks and funkadelic delivery into three fine seasons (2001-03) out of the (former) Anaheim Angels' bullpen. Then he imploded badly last season (is it possible to implode well?) and entered the market with, as it were, zero market value. Somewhat counter-intuitively, I suppose, that's precisely what made Weber attractive to Cincinnati Reds' general manager Dan O'Brien.

That's because Weber was O'Brien's "bounce-back guy," and according to O'Brien, every team takes on one or two a season.

Although Weber didn't work out for the Reds (to say the least), Angus still noted the signing as well-considered; to that end, a bounce-back guy signing is a somewhat common move precisely because it's generally a safe move:

The key to correct application of a Bounce-Back Guy is to avoid the MBWT (Management by Wishful Thinking) lure of imagining he or she can lead you to a pennant. Bounce Back Guys are bad investments when you build a team around their success. [Julio] Franco was meant to be a bat off the bench and then a platoon partner; he succeeded beyond [Atlanta's] expectations. Low risk, good reward. Weber was meant to be a middle-reliever for a borderline maybe-contending team that couldn't fill up their roster with hot minor league relief prospects. When Weber's game didn't come back at AAA, they promoted a prospect. Low risk, low loss.

Basically, the keys are a) not to give up too much and b) not to dream for too much.

Who was/were the Nats' 2005 bounce-back guys? Without broadening the definition too much (I hope), we can point to at least three: Carlos Baerga (minor league free agent, envisioned as pinch-hitter); Hector Carrasco (minor league free agent, envisioned as middle relief depth); and Jeffrey Hammonds (minor league free agent, envisioned at most as platoon left fielder and fifth outfielder). One of those (Carrasco) hit big, and he's been used to substantial gain for the team; one of those (Hammonds) missed, but to no real loss to the team. The other one (Baerga) has done pretty much what the team expected.

I can think of two other candidates, actually. The first is Antonio "Toasty" Osuna, who was much like Carrasco except he signed a guaranteed, big league contract and blew up in April. And the other one?

Esteban Loiaza.

Think back to
when Loiaza signed. (The formatting! Oh, my eyes!) The deal was for one year, at the cost of $2.9 million---though there's an additional catch, as I'll soon note. At the time of the signing, Jim Bowden acknowledged Loiaza represented a risk. But while the "Natosphere" wasn't generally enamored of the signing (there were other back-end rotation candidates already, by golly!), let's credit Bodes by characterizing the risk as "not that great." In point of fact, the Nats avoided a bidding war because Loiaza was coming off a horrid second half of '04; thus, E-Lo received no other "firm offers" for his services.

Further, did Bodes overreach in terms of Loiaza's anticipated contribution to the team? No, not really; he didn't even sound like he knew what he was buying:

"You just don't know what you're going to get," Bowden said. "Is he capable [of being a solid starter]? Absolutely. He's done it before. Will he do it for us? We don't know."

So, we've got a guy coming off a down year, a relatively low cost, and relatively low expectations. Sounds like a bounce-back guy to me. And, sure enough, Loiaza's come through in spades this season; he's by far Bowden's finest moment.


Now, when the bounce-back guy actually goes ahead and bounces back, Angus notes, the guy carries a new kind of risk:

A worse application of the Bounce Back Guy tactic is when an organization buys into someone who has apparently bounced back and
believes the apex of the bounce is either the beginning of a new uptick in accomplishment or a new assumed level of performance.
This brings us right back to Esteban Loaiza---whose contract, it turns out,
carries a mutual option for another $2.9 million next season. The option, of course, is not what concerns me; $2.9 million has been a tremendous bargain this season, and I'd almost assure it would be next year, too. Thus, you bet your bippy that Loiaza will decline the thing and aim toward free agency. Loiaza indicated he'd love to stay in Washington, but his agent sounded more concerned with, you know . . .

. . . money.

Now, Loiaza's certainly worth re-signing, but not as an absolute matter. There's a reasonable threshold of money and term that the Nats (whoever is calling the shots by then) must not breach. Loiaza's been quite good this season, but let us still remember that he's not getting any younger and he's a bounce-back guy. Tread wisely.


It's inevitable that the Nats will try out a bounce-back guy or two next season. Any candidates?

I've heard good things about this Ryan Freel character. Thoughts?
The thing with those guys is, sometimes they are headed for something big.

A good example would be, hum...

Livan Hernandez

Loaiza is probably not pulling a Livan tough...

Brad Wilkerson is a nice bounce back candidate...
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