Former All-Star pitcher Esteban Loaiza has pleaded not guilty to drug charges following his arrest for allegedly possessing 44 pounds of suspected cocaine.
Loaiza denied all allegations during an appearance Wednesday in San Diego County Superior Court that was also attended by his father and other family members.
Prosecutors charged Loaiza with possession and transportation for sale of more than 10 kilograms (22 pounds) of cocaine base or heroin, and using a false compartment to smuggle drugs.
The specification of more than 10 kilograms could draw a stiffer penalty.
Loaiza would face up to 20 years and eight months in prison if convicted.
The court raised his bail to $250,000 after the prosecution argued he poses a flight risk.
Loaiza was arrested Friday on suspicion of drug smuggling after San Diego County sheriff's officers who pulled him over for a traffic violation found a "sophisticated" compartment used to hide contraband in his vehicle, according to investigators. Later they obtained a search warrant for the home he rented in the beach community of Imperial Beach, where officials say packages were found containing a white powder believed to be cocaine.
Loaiza played for numerous teams between 1995 and 2008, included stints with the Pittsburgh Pirates, the New York Yankees, the Los Angeles Dodgers and the Chicago White Sox. He had a 21-9 record with the White Sox in 2003 and started in the All-Star Game that year.
Investigators have said the arrest was part of an on-going narcotics probe but have given few other details about how a successful baseball star became linked to a case involving the transport and sale of drugs with an estimated value of $500,000, according to the San Diego Sheriff's Department.
Criminal defense attorney, David Shapiro, who has handled numerous drug cases in San Diego but is not representing Loaiza, said this one is unique because of his fame as one of Mexico's most successful pitchers.
"At the very least what it shows is how Mexico's drug culture is infiltrating every aspect of life, whether he was associated with people doing it or doing it himself," he said.
Born in Tijuana, the Mexican city across the border from San Diego, Loaiza became a celebrity in his native country after marrying the late Mexican-American singer Jenni Rivera. The "Diva de la Banda" was considered to be the most successful female singer in grupero, a male-dominated Mexico regional style, selling more than 15 million records, and acting in reality television before she was killed in a plane crash in 2012.
She filed for divorce shortly before her death, ending their two-year marriage.
Agent John Boggs, who represented Loaiza during his Major League Baseball career, said he had not seen him in more than a year but that he had heard he was involved in a business selling Mexican-made hats.
''I love Esteban," Boggs told the San Diego Union-Tribune. "He's a great guy with a big heart — again, I don't know what or why he'd be involved in this. I have no idea. He's a friend, and I'm sorry as heck to see what's going on."