On Wednesday night, top prospect Kyle Drabek made his much anticipated MLB debut for the Jays. Though he didn’t get the win, he showed flashes of brilliance, and (in my opinion) justified the hype.
This week in Blast From the Past, I thought I’d go back in time to when another Blue Jay debuted for the team. The situation was definitely nowhere near comparable. This pitcher wasn’t a rookie making his first career start – he was a five year veteran. To be honest, I can’t remember the hype surrounding his first start, but I remember there being a bit of excitement in the air when the Blue Jays acquired Esteban Loaiza from Texas. Too bad the excitement didn’t last.
July 19, 2000. After the games played that night Toronto was in contention. At 51-45 they were tied with Boston for second in the AL East, only 1.5 back of the Yankees. Similar to 2010, Toronto had a ton of power. Seven players would hit 20 or more HR. But the pitching was suspect. Toronto’s top four were eventual 20-game winner David Wells, followed by two youngsters – Kelvim Escobar and Chris Carpenter, Frank Castillo, and 23-year old Roy Halladay. Sensing that if he improved the rotation that the opportunity for a postseason birth was within reach, Gord Ash made a deal for Loaiza.
Esteban Loaiza joined the Pittsburgh Pirates as an amateur free agent in 1991, and made his debut in ’95. After four average seasons as a Pirate (27-28, 4.63 ERA), he was shipped to Texas for the one of the most famous failed prospects of all time Todd Van Poppel. In Texas he spent parts of three very average seasons. A 17-17 win/loss record coupled with a 5.19 ERA and a 1.49 WHIP had Loaiza looking like nothing more than a capable fourth or fifth starter. He had only eclipsed the 100 strikeout mark twice, and had a career high K/9 ratio of 6.2. But Ash saw something he liked, and pulled the trigger.
The acquisition of Loaiza gave Jays fans real hope. Though his numbers weren’t superb, he was a 28-year old pitcher in his prime with over five years of experience. Bumping the talented but raw Halladay from the rotation would be an upgrade, and might be all the Jays would need to get back to the playoffs. Sadly, it didn’t work out. The Blue Jays finished the season on a 32-34 run, and in an extremely winnable year, finished third. The Yankees won the division with a mere 87 wins (a total they have already surpassed this year with 16 games remaining). Though he pitched decently, Loaiza only went 5-7 down the stretch for Toronto, not the deadline acquisition fans were hoping for.
The Salt in the Wounds
Loaiza pitched two more unproductive seasons in Toronto, going 11-11 in 2001, and 9-10 in 2002. His Toronto tenure ended with him posting a record of 25-28 and a 4.96 ERA. The Jays never finished that close to the playoffs again. Sensing he was never going to be anything above mediocre (and judging by his past performance he wasn’t), Toronto let him walk. Loaiza then spit in the face of Blue Jays fans in 2003 by going 21-9 with a 2.90 ERA with the White Sox. He lead the AL in strikeouts. He was the starting pitcher of the All-Star game, finished second in Cy Young voting, and 24th in MVP voting. But that wasn’t the worst part. The worst was the fact that Gord Ash traded a minor league prospect by the name of Michael Young to Texas to acquire Esteban. Yes, the same Michael Young who still plays for Texas as one of the top players in baseball. The same Michael Young who is a six-time All-Star, won a batting title, and hit over .300 six times since 2003. Yikes.
Though he also made the All-Star team in 2004, Loaiza never did much again. A mid-season trade to the Yankees that season saw him implode and turn into a journeyman the rest of his career.
And though he didn’t make the trade, I will always blame him for losing Michael Young.
Esteban Loaiza: Career Major League Statistics
14 seasons (1995 – 2008)
8 teams (PIT, TEX, TOR, CHW, NYY, WAS, OAK, LAD)
126-114 record, 2,099 IP, 4.65 ERA, 1.41 WHIP, 1,382 K:604 BB
*Blast From the Past is a feature dedicated to bringing back the memory of classic Jays from days past – the lesser known the better. If you have any suggestions please contact 500 Level Fan.