Jack Of All Trades: Esteban Loaiza

As the year 1971 prepared to close, and Nixon Now's 1972 dawned, a baby named Esteban Loaiza entered the world in Tijuana, Mexico. This Baby New Year would go on to pitch for eight teams over 14 seasons in the major leagues. Three times, he was traded for in July, with teams counting on him to pitch them to the postseason. The results were, at best, a mixed bag.

Loaiza signed as an amateur free agent with the Pittsburgh Pirates in 1991. He made the jump from Double-A in 1995, and pitched until July of 1998 with Pittsburgh, putting up similar numbers to his production for the remainder of his career- a 4.63 ERA in Pittsburgh, compared to a lifetime 4.65 ERA. At that point, the Rangers decided he'd be the perfect addition to their stretch-run pitching staff, dealing infielder Warren Morris and pitcher Todd Van Poppel to Pittsburgh for Loaiza.

The trade didn't really work out for either team. Morris had a strong 1999, witn 15 home runs and a respectable 98 OPS+ at second base, but his career utterly disintegrated from there. The Pirates tried to make Van Poppel into the star everyone thought he'd be back when he was drafted in the first round of the 1990 draft. Alas, after a 4.95 ERA at Triple-A in 1999, the Pirates let him leave via free agency.

Meanwhile, Loaiza did not provide the pitching the late-90s Rangers so desperately needed. In 14 starts for Texas following the trade in 1998, he pitched to an unsightly 5.90 ERA, allowing 15 home runs in 79.1 innings, and didn't get a posteason start in an ALDS sweep by the Yankees. He improved to a 4.56 ERA in 1999, earning a Game 3 assignment in the ALDS, but Texas got swept by the Yankees again.

In 2000, the Rangers slipped out of contention early. This time, the Toronto Blue Jays sought Esteban Loaiza as the answer, shipping pitcher Darwin Cubillan and infielder Michael Young to Texas for Loaiza. With Toronto just 1.5 games out of first place, Loaiza should have been the difference. He pitched to a strong 3.62 ERA in 14 starts, but the Blue Jays finished the year 32-34 and 4.5 games behind the Yankees. As for Texas' haul, Cubillan didn't provide any value, but Michael Young and his six All Star games, 158 home runs and multi-position versatility certainly did.

Loaiza spent 2001 and 2002 in Toronto, posting an ERA over 5.00 each year, then signed with the White Sox in 2003. He was spectacular, pitching to a 2.90 ERA and finishing second in the Cy Young voting to Roy Halladay. He returned to previous form in 2004, but the Yankees saw an opportunity to acquire a starting pitcher and rid themselves of Jose Contreras, a huge disappointment. The Yankees shipped Contreras and cash to Chicago for Loaiza on July 31, 2004.

Once again, dealing for Loaiza didn't help. He pitched to an 8.50 ERA in 42 1/3 innings for New York, and the Yankees memorably came up a pitcher short in their ALCS collapse against the Boston Red Sox. The White Sox straightened Contreras out, and his 204.2 innings of 3.61 ERA pitching helped thee White Sox to their first World Series victory since 1917.

So what can we learn from the saga of Esteban Loaiza? One thing, mainly. If the best pitching help on the market is Esteban Loaiza, you might as well not make the trade. 

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