Analysis: Loaiza a Low-Risk Gamble

Is Esteban Loaiza, who signed a one-year, $2.9 million contract with the Nationals on Wednesday, the same pitcher who won 21 games and was the runner up for the Cy Yong award in 2003? Or is he the pitcher who was traded to the Yankees in midseason 2004 and wound up in the bullpen, last seen throwing mop up relief in the final game of New York's collapse at the hands of the Red Sox?

The answer is almost certainly somewhere in between. It's highly unlikely that the 33-year-old right hander will sniff 21 wins ever again, he's good enough to maintain a spot in many starting rotations, including Washington's.

It would be easy to say that, like many others before him, Loaiza simply melted under the bright spotlights that are ever present in the Bronx Zoo. There likely was an element of that last year, but he wasn't off to a great 2004 even before the trade. Even though he was 9-5 with the White Sox his ERA was 4.86, almost two runs higher than his 2003 mark of 2.90. His '04 performance is far more indicative of his career ERA number, which stands at 4.70.

Still, Loaiza should be an asset to the Nats staff. He as good command of his pitches, averaging just 2.6 walks and racking up 5.9 strikeouts per nine innings. On top of that, he's a decent inning-eater, going over 180 innings pitched in four of the past five seasons.

While the Loaiza acquisition is a gamble, it's a low-risk one. At one year and less than $3 million, the price certainly is right for a veteran starter, albeit a journeyman. If he's anything like the '03 version, it will be a bargain in today's market. If his ERA closer to the 8.5 he posted with the Yankees, it's no great loss.

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