Tuesday, November 29, 2005

Loaiza lands in Oakland

Imagine for a few minutes the career path of a B-list television actor. You struggle early in your career, playing bit roles and tooling around comedy clubs but then get your big break as the lead role in a network sitcom.

The show is good enough to last a few seasons, not long enough to land you big residuals once it goes into syndication, but long enough for you to get typecast. So the next thing you know, you’re sitting around Hollywood basements tossing cards around with guys like Dustin Diamond and Nick Lachey, wondering if you can land a spot on some celebrity poker show.

Then after everyone’s written you off, you land a supporting role on a cable TV show, and all of a sudden, you’re cashing paychecks again as a serious actor.

That’s probably pretty close to how Esteban Loaiza’s baseball career has been. Up through age 30, Loaiza bounced from Pittsburgh to Texas to Toronto. Some years he was decent, some years he was pretty terrible.

Then things changed when he landed on with the White Sox in 2003. He picked up a new gimmick (his cut fastball), parlayed that into a career season (154 ERA+ with 207 K in 226 1/3 innings) and looked like he was going to be set.

But that’s when the Sox pulled the plug on his little sitcom, trading him to the Yankees mid-2004. Loaiza imploded in the Bronx and had to settle for a one-year deal with the Nationals going into 2005.

Instead of falling off the table for good, Loaiza came back and leveraged a nice pitcher’s park into a 3.77 ERA. He was again striking guys out (173). And that yeoman-like effort just earned him a 3-year, $21 million contract from the Oakland A’s this week.

As one of my favorite guys to watch with the Sox in recent years, it’s nice to see Loaiza land on his feet. While some have panned the deal he just inked as an albatross for the small-market A’s, I think it will end up looking like a pretty smart move after the dust settles with the other free-agent pitchers this offseason.

Congratulations Esteban.

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