Jb0194, I'd argue that replacing the entire drawer is a safer bet than simply changing out the laser head pickup by at least an order of magnitude. Laser heads are prone to instant (or, withing the first 72 hours of play) death via ESD (electrostatic discharge), and most people (including those who shold know better) that I see changing out the part simply do not follow the proper procedures (I've had several people tell me, "Yeah, that's true, but I know what I'm doing...").
Just about a year ago, I received an order for a case of Sony transports, and every one of the laser heads was dead - right out of the box from the primary Sony factory in China.
The laser head and/or servo board of the Sony transport assemblies used in most CD players is far more likely to fail than the drawer mechanisms, though the drawers are also far more failure prone than they should be so you are right there in that elimination of failure points can eliminate failure.
I would also put in a recommendation for the Esoteric. Nothing can beat a well designed and built transport/laser head assembly, and it sure seems like Esoteric deserves kudos here.
I'd also say that buying a high resolution player from a larger company such as Denon, Marantz, Pioneer, Sony, etc. seems like a good bet to me, as the average $99 DVD player from one of these companies bought in a big box store is probably two to three orders of magnitude more reliable than 95+% of the multikilobuck CD players from the high end audio CD player manufacturers. Funny, but I picked up a Samsung universal (CD, region free DVD-V, DVD-A, SACD) player a few years ago for $99 at Best Buy with the intention of having it modded (now, I'm thinking maybe a nice DAC), and even though it has been used primarily by children and adults with no concept of babying a machine as they play their DVDs, it has been the very definition of reliability.