Monday, December 11, 2017

LMB wrestles with internal issues (again) at Winter Meetings

You have to hand it to Javier Salinas.  His transition to Mexican League president has gone smoothly enough that little appears to have changed with the circuit since former LMB leader Plinio Escalante stepped down at the conclusion of the 2017 season.  Evidence?  One year after Escalante and the Assembly of Presidents were dealing with a myriad of issues within the league at the 2016 Baseball Winter Meetings, Salinas and his employers have gathered in Orlando this week for the current winter meetings with yet another myriad of problems sitting on their plates, many of them new but one polarizing item last year may be broached again this time.  This is what Salinas & Co. may or may not deal with in Florida this week:
*A wrestling match between the LMB and the Durango Generales franchise, a basket case under owner Virgilio Ruiz this year after the team relocated from Carmen last winter.  The LMB first announced that the Generales would take 2018 off to get their financial house in order, then reversed their position to state Durango WOULD play after all while new owners would be sought and now Ruiz has stated in no uncertain terms that the league does not have the right to revoke his franchise and that HE will operate the Generales next year.
*Quintana Roo Tigres owners Fernando Valenzuela and his wife Linda have reportedly been told by Salinas that their protest over five Tigres prospects on a master roster they were given before buying the Cancun team, only to have those prospects mysteriously pop up in the employ of the Mexico City Diablos Rojos after the February sale was completed.  Two of those prospects were sold last summer to the Texas Rangers for a combined US$2.7 million, money the cash-strapped Valenzuelas say should be theirs.  Unwilling to anger the league's richest owner, Alfredo Harp Helu, Salinas has in effect closed whatever investigation he conducted and told the Valenzuelas to move on, which they say they will: straight to Minor League Baseball president Pat O’Connor and MLB commissioner Rob Manfred.
*The Diablos are on the receiving end of another complaint, this time a lawsuit brought by former bullpen coach Braulio Neri, who was injured last spring in Leon when a light tower in hastily-readied Estadio Domingo Santana collapsed during the Bravos delayed home opener and caused Neri a knee injury.  A ten-year Diablos coach, Neri was fired by Mexico City GM Francisco Minjarez (who appears to be very involved with the Tigres-Diablos imbroglio) a month after his knee was operated on.
*Another lawsuit, this one from pitcher Sergio Mora, was filed against the Oaxaca Guerreros, who (like the Diablos) are owned by the billionaire Harp.  This grievance centers on payment for treatment Mora received after suffering an injury while playing for the Guerreros.  In what appears to be typical fashion, the team has not responded to past entreaties from Mora to pay bills incurred on their watch.  
*Finally, Monterrey Sultanes co-owner Jose "Pepe" Maiz, who sold half the team to the Grupo Multimedios corporation at the same time the Tigres sale went through last winter, is rattling sabers about bringing up the use of Mexican-American players in the LMB again.  Maiz carried his snit over losing the 2016 Northern Division championship series to a Tijuana team loaded with such players to the winter meetings last year and the issue threatened to split the league in two or cause the cancellation of the 2017 season altogether before O'Connor convened an emergency meeting in Houston and essentially read the owners the riot act, ruling that there would be no limit on the number of Mexican-American players, partly because a limit would violate Mexican labor laws.  Maiz, who runs Mexico's Little League organization and was a member of Monterrey's 1957 LL World Series title team, remained under wrap during the season but appears to be spoiling to pick his fight up where he left off.
Other than that, it should be business as usual for the LMB in Orlando, including the announcement of 2018's two schedules.  Then again, it may be "business as usual" that has caused these problems in the first place. Ojeda fired in Obregon, replaced by Juan Navarrete
With 15 games remaining in the Mexican Pacific League's regular season, former major league catcher Miguel Ojeda became the fourth manager in the eight-team loop to lose his job since play opened in mid-October.  Ojeda, who was hired last month to manage the Mexican League's Monterrey Sultanes next year, had managed Obregon to a last-place finish in the first half with a 13-22 record.  He had the Yaquis in fifth place with a second-half record of 6-8 when he was let go last Wednesday following a 4-2 loss to Mazatlan.
It's been an interesting past few months for Ojeda, who was hired by Obregon last January after the Yaquis missed the playoffs.  Since the conclusion of the Mexican League regular season, when his Mexico City Diablos Rojos missed THAT league's postseason after his team was riddled by injuries while other longtime veterans showed their age and failed to deliver as expected, the Sonora native (who led the Red Devils to the 2014 pennant) was not re-hired for the 2018 season.  He then began his first year in Obregon with a roster that many Mexican baseball columnists say was poorly-assembled by the Yaquis front office during the offseason.  Entering this week's play, Obregon's offense is last in the LMP in batting (.243) and runs per game (3.25) while the pitching staff has been mediocre despite the strong work of starter David Reyes, who is 5-0 with a 1.92 ERA in ten starts.
Former star second baseman Juan Navarrete has replaced Ojeda in the Yaquis dugout.  A product of Gomez Palacio and former Expos farmhand, Navarrete hit .327 over 16 LMB seasons, collecting 2,396 hits and scoring 1,005 runs in 1,607 games (mostly for Saltillo) before retiring as a player following the 1990 season.  Navarrete was selected to the Salon de la Fama in 1998.  Since his playing days ended, Navarrete has spent the past 20 years working for the Oakland Athletics, for whom he is currently their minor league coordinator.  As a manager, he led Tabasco to their lone Mexican League pennant in 1993 and was named the MexPac's Manager of the Year in 2014-15 while piloting the Jalisco Charros during their first winter in Guadalajara after moving east from Guasave.
Things have been going a little better in Mexicali, where new manager Pedro Mere (who replaced Roberto Vizcarra, who replaced Tony Tarasco in Jalisco) has the defending champion Aguilas in the lead with a 13-5 record, but Navojoa has won four in a row and nine of their past ten games to pull within one game of the leaders at 12-6.   The Mayos have been led by utilityman Randy Arozarena, a Cuban-born Cardinals minor leaguer who's hitting .299 with an LMP-best 12 homers while scoring 40 runs (also a league high) while Mexican League MVP 1B Jesse Castillo (.302/8/34) and 3B Jovan Rosa (.293/9/25) have also been prime contributors, but it's the Mayos' pitching staff that has really shone for combustible manager Willie Romero.  Navojoa leads the MexPac with a 2.96 team ERA, with knuckleballing vet Eddie Gamboa (5-0/2.72) leading a staff that should get an expected boost later this month from Red Sox hurler Hector Velazquez, last winter's Pitcher of the Year.
Speaking of the aforementioned Vizcarra, he hasn't had any more luck getting wins out of the Jalisco Charros than Tarasco did.  The front office is almost desperate to win the pennant so their team will represent Mexico in February's Caribbean Series (which the Charros will host), but Jalisco had lost seven of eight games before beating Los Mochis twice over the weekend to pull into a seventh-place tie with the Caneros at 6-12.  The Charros axed former MLB catcher Jarrod Saltalamacchia last week after he hit just .189 with three homers and 12 RBIs in 27 games, going 1-for-14 over his final four games.  You can't blame second sacker Manny Rodriguez for Jalisco's poor showing, though.  The 35-year-old is hitting .340 with 9 homers and 47 ribbies, the latter ranking tops in the LMP.  Rodriguez has an outside shot at a Triple Crown and appears to be in the lead among potential MVP candidates.
LMP STANDINGS (as of 12/11/17)
Mexicali 13-5 (4.0), Navojoa 12-6 (4.5), Mazatlan 10-8 (6.0), Culiacan 9-9 (7.0), Hermosillo 8-10 (8.0), Obregon 8-10 (3.0), Los Mochis 6-12 (3.5), Jalisco 6-12 (5.0).
Batting-Sebastian Elizalde (CUL) .369, Runs-Randy Arozarena (NAV) 40, Homers-Randy Arozarena (NAV) 12, RBIs-Manny Rodriguez (JAL) 47, Stolen Bases-Jeremias Pineda (MAZ) 27.
Wins-Mitch Lively (MAZ) 8, ERA-Rolando Valdez (MXI) 1.75, Strikeouts-Sergio Mitre (MXI) 52, Saves-Manny Acosta (OBR) 15, Holds-Carlos Bustamante (NAV) and Edgar Gomez (MXI) 13, WHIP-Mitch Lively (MAZ) 0.90.

Tijuana wins Academy Rookie League title
The Tijuana Toros claimed their second pennant of 2017 when their Academy Rookie League squad posted a 22-11-2 record to finish three games ahead of Veracruz-Leon, who came in second at 20-15 in the six-team circuit.  There will be no playoffs.
Under manager Jorge Luis Loredo (who is Monclova's helmsman during the LMB season), the Toros broke a two-year grip on the Academy League crown that Mexico City-Oaxaca had held, with the Diablos-Guerreros coming in fourth at 17-16-2, one game behind third-place Yucatan-Laguna, who went 18-15-2 (games are allowed to end in ties).  Quintana Roo's rookie team ended up in fifth with a 14-18-3 mark while Monterrey brought up the rear at 9-25-1.
Tijuana was led by the 1-2 pitching punch of youngsters.  Fernando Gallegos went 5-2 and struck out 37 batters while walking 6, somehow losing twice despite a 1.38 ERA.  Fernando Olguin was a perfect 6-0 with a not-as-otherworldly 2.87 ERA.  The Toros had four .300+ batters in their everyday lineup: Martin Gonzalez (.333), Victor Navarro (.331), Alejandro Gutierrez (.330) and Oscar Romero (.324).
However, it was Tigres rookie Efren Nieves who was selected Most Valuable Player.  Nieves batted .354 with four homers and 25 RBIs in 35 game with a .468 OBP aided by 26 walks in 158 plate appearances.

Monday, December 4, 2017

Mexicali rides six-game win skein to LMP second half lead

Mazatlan pitcher Mitch Lively
After a tepid first half in which defending Mexican Pacific League champion Mexicali finished sixth with a 16-19 record and manager Roberto Vizcarra was fired, the Aguilas have caught fire under new skipper Pedro Mere.  The Eagles swept a road series in Los Mochis and a home set against Hermosillo over the past week to head into Monday's travel day with six straight wins, a 10-2 second-half record and a two-game lead over second-place Mazatlan with three weeks remaining in the regular season.
Mexicali is a balanced team, standing one point behind Culiacan for the LMP lead with a .272 team batting average while Aguilas pitchers are third in the loop with a 3.13 ERA.  Veteran outfielder Luis Juarez (350/4/19) is one of four starters above the .300 mark while fellow gardener Chris Roberson (.301) and third baseman C.J. Retherford (.220) each have seven homers.  Starter Rolando Valdez has pitched far better than his 2-2 record after nine starts implies and leads the LMP with a 1.78 ERA.  Fellow Mexicali hurler Sergio Mitre 5-3/3.12) tops the circuit with 47 strikeouts in 49 innings.
Mazatlan dropped the last two games of a weekend home series against Los Mochis to fall out of a first-place tie with Mexicali, but the 8-4 Venados have augmented their usual strong pitching with a top-notch offense led by speedy outfielder Jeremias Pineda.  The fleet Dominican is second to Culiacan's Sebastian Elizalde (.381) in the MexPac batting race with a .377 average and his 24 steals in 35 games is more than twice his nearest competitor.  In comparison, the entire Mexicali team has swiped just 14 bases (in 30 attempts!) this season.  However, the biggest story in Mazatlan has to be pitcher Mitch Lively.
Strictly a reliever for the first six years of his 11-year MiLB career (most in the Giants organization), Lively has come off a solid (7-2/2.41) summer for Leon in a very trying Mexican League season for the Bravos and now leads the LMP with seven wins in nine starts, including six in a row, and his 0.89 WHIP is also tops.  The 32-year-old California tossed a one-hitter over Culiacan last Thursday, retiring the last 25 Tomateros in order after after Elizalde's first-inning double gave the hosts their only baserunner of the evening in a 1-0 Venados win as Erick Rodriguez' sacrifice fly in the seventh scored Fernando Luciano with the game's only run.
Bringing the fired Vizcarra back into the conversation, it didn't take long for the Coahuila native to find work, replacing ex-MLBer Tony Tarasco as manager of the Jalisco Charros last week.  A first-time helmsman, Tarasco led the Charros to a fourth-place finish in the first half with a 19-16 record, but Jalisco lost five of their first six games in the second stanza to sound the panic alarm in Guadalajara.  One problem Tarasco reportedly had was an inability to speak Spanish, always a good skill for managing a Mexican baseball team (as Wally Backman learned last summer in Monclova).  The Charros lost four of their first six games under Vizcarra.
There was some good news (always a rare treat for a manager in Mexico) when Hermosillo's Lorenzo Bundy won his 700th career MexPac game, pounding Culiacan by a 13-1 count November 23 at Estadio Tomateros.  A 58-year-old Philadelphian who began managing LMP baseball in 1991, Bundy trails only Francisco "Paquin" Estrada (856) for all-time wins in league history.  The late Benjamin "Cananea" Reyes is third with 605 victories.

Mexicali 10-2 (4.0), Mazatlan 8-4 (6.0), Navojoa 7-5 (4.5), Obregon 6-6 (3.0), Hermosillo 5-7 (8.0), Culiacan 5-7 (7.0), Los Mochis 4-8 (3.5), Jalisco 3-9 (5.0).
*First-half points for each team are in parentheses following their current record.
Batting-Sebastian Elizalde (CUL) .381,  Hits-Sebastian Elizalde (CUL) 69, Runs-Randy Arozarena (NAV) 38, Homers-Randy Arozarena (NAV) 11, RBIs-Manny Rodriguez (JAL) 41, Stolen Bases-Jeremias Pineda (MAZ) 24.

Wins-Mitch Lively (MAZ) 7, Earned Run Average-Rolando Valdez (MXI) 1.78, Strikeouts-Sergio Mitre (MXI) 47, Saves-Manny Acosta (OBR) 14, Holds-Edgar Gomez (MXI) 13, WHIP-Mitch Lively (MAZ) 0.89.

LIM regular season ends, female ump to work in postseason
The Mexican Winter League has concluded its 2017-18 regular season, with playoffs slated to open on Tuesday, December 5.  The two-time defending champion Mexico City Diablos Rojos finished in first place with a 29-16 record for the top seed in the postseason, four games up on the 25-20 Moroleon Toros Bravos and seven games ahead of the 22-23 Oaxaca Guerreros.  The Salamanca Petroleros copped the fourth and final seed at 21-24.  The Celaya Cajeteros and Maravatio Leones were both eliminated with identical 19-26 records.
Mexico City's Yousamot Cota led the LIM with a .392 batting average, nineteen points ahead of Diablos teammate David Jimenez, who was tops with 62 hits, 39 runs scored and 36 RBIs.  Salamanca's Roberto Ramirez had the most homers with eight while Maravatio's Walter Cirilo Higuera stole 15 bases in 21 attempts to lead in that category.  Diablos pitcher Luis Fernando Miranda paced the LIM with a 2.01 ERA and his five wins tied Oaxaca's Ariel Gracia for most in the circuit.  Rogelio Martinez of Moroleon's 51 strikeouts led the way.
Mexico City was number one in both team batting (.305) and team ERA (3.55) and will be favored to win a third straight flag under manager Victor Bojorquez, who'll manage the big club in 2018.  They'll open their first round series on the road in Salamanca while Moroleon will visit Oaxaca for the first contest in their semi set.
When the LIM playoffs get underway, the first woman umpire in league history will be working the games.  Culiacan native Luz Alicia Gordoa Osuna, 41, has played softball for over 20 years while umpiring the past five.  She's also spent two decades as a soccer referee.  Gordoa opened the fall in the Academy Rookie League along with another lady ump, 34-year-old Paulina Barajas Castro.  Barajas is from Mexico City, where she umpired in the Liga Olmeca, Liga Lindavista and Liga Maya youth organizations before heading to the Academy in El Carmen near Monterrey.  
The Mexican League says that at least one of the two female umpires will work during their 2018 two-season schedule, and it appears that Gordoa, who made her LIM debut in Salamanca in November, is on track to become the first woman arbiter in the LMB's 93-year history.

Eleven Mexicans on Major League Baseball 40-man rosters
Kansas City pitcher Joakim Soria
With the Baseball Winter Meetings less than a week away, eleven players of Mexican descent have been protected among the thirty Major League Baseball's 40-man rosters heading into Orlando.  
Three of the eleven are with the National League champion Los Angeles Dodgers: veteran All-Star first baseman Adrian Gonzalez, prized pitching prospect Julio Urias and outfielder Alex Verdugo.  Toronto is protecting closer Roberto Osuna and starter Marco Estrada, young hurlers Luis Cessa and Giovanny Gallegos are on the Yankees roster while third baseman Christian Villanueva (San Diego), pitchers Hector Velazquez (Boston), Joakin Soria (Kansas City) and Victor Arano (Philadelphia) are also exempt from the Rule 5 draft.  Soria was the top Rule 5 draft pick by the Royals in 2006 after an 8-0 start that winter for Obregon in the MexPac.

Seven Mexican MLB players entered December as free agents, including starting pitchers Yovani Gallardo, Jaime Garcia and Miguel Angel Gonzalez plus relievers Sergio Romo, Oliver Perez, Jorge de la Rosa and Fernando Salas.  An eighth, Cesar Vargas, spent last summer in the Padres organization but did not appear in the majors.  Vargas is currently 3-2 with a 3.38 ERA in 18 appearances (two of them starts) for Hermosillo this winter.  Romo is anticipated to join Jalisco later this month for the stretch drive of the regular season and the January playoffs.

Friday, December 1, 2017

BBM EXTRA: Three stories for a Friday Afternoon

  Every so often, stories might pile up between Monday postings that might otherwise get delayed, cut short or even simply lost in the shuffle. Whenever that happens, it seems worth posting a BBM extra on Friday to make sure Mexican baseball news is put out in a timely fashion, and this is one of those days. So here we go...

LMB Assembly of Presidents adjusts 2018 schedules

Mexican League president Javier Salinas
The Mexican League Assembly of Presidents convened a meeting last month at LMB offices in Mexico City and made some adjustments in their upcoming two-season calendar for 2018.  The most notable event may be something that happened before the meeting started, when new league president Javier Salinas confiscated cell phones from all 16 team representatives on hand in an attempt to eliminate leaks of the discussion to the media, in particular the Puro Beisbol website (which has posted LMB information in the past that did not go over well at Liga HQ).  Salinas reportedly told the team owners and presidents on hand that phones would be taken prior to the next Assembly meeting later this month at the Baseball Winter Meetings in Orlando.
The projected schedules were pushed back to earlier in the year, in part to avoid playing the 2018 All-Star Game on the originally-planned date of July 1, which coincides with Mexico's presidential election and the declaration of a national holiday during which events like baseball games are prohibited.  The LMB's version of an Apertura will commence with a March 15 Opening Day (originally slated on March 23), the All-Star Game will now be played between seasons on June 24 while the Clausura playoffs will conclude by no later than October 8, one week earlier than the previous October 15 end date and providing more of a cushion between LMB seasons and the Mexican Pacific League schedule.
Among other changes in the Mexican League structure were the allowance of foreign players to perform for up to three different teams per season (the previous limit was two teams), jerseys will be required to have the wearer's surname printed on the back, and attempts to speed up game will include automatic bases-on-balls and the installation of pitch clocks on outfield walls.  Minor League Baseball tried using pitch clocks this summer but games still averaged a record 3 hours, 5 minutes.

Japhet Amador returning to Japan in 2018

Rakuten DH/1B Japhet Amador (on left)
Jalisco Charros slugger Japhet Amador will be returning to Japan for a third season in 2018 for a reported US$539,000.  
The 6'4" designated hitter/first baseman (who runs from 305 to 330 pounds, depending on the source) suffered an injury-plagued 2016 Nippon Professional Baseball debut campaign (.258/9/19 in 39 games) with the Rakuten Golden Eagles.  El Gigante de Mulege came back healthier for Rakuten this summer and broke Karim Garcia's record for most homers by a Mexican in NPB with 23 roundtrippers and driving in 65 runs in 121 games.  His .237 batting average in 2017 was not a selling point for his contract renewal, but power hitters are forgiven lower averages and Amador has become a fan favorite in Sendai, home of the Eagles.  Rakuten is a Japanese internet shopping company similar to Amazon and Alibaba.

Before heading to Asia, Amador had established himself as the most-feared batter in Mexico, following a 2015 Mexican League MVP season (.346/41/117) in 101 games with the Mexico City Diablos Rojos with a strong winterball campaign for the Charros in 2015-16 (.288/14/48) before heading off to Japan after 58 regular season games.  He was named the MexPac MVP that season, too.  Amador, who turns 31 in January, showed .270/7/20 numbers over 44 games last winter in Guadalajara and is currently batting .239 with 3 homers in 19 contests for Jalisco after coming home from Japan last month.
Amador's return to NPB next season is the only certain one from among the 2017 Mexican contingent in Japan.  Former Rangers and Royals pitcher Luis Mendoza split a rocky season between the Nippon Ham Fighters and Hanshin Tigers, going a combined 3-9 with a 4.17 ERA, but Luis Alfonso Cruz (whose 73 RBIs for the Chiba Lotte Marines is a record for Mexican-born NPB players) spent this summer playing minor league ball in both the Rakuten and Yomiuri Giants organizations, as did ex-Yankees infielder Ramiro Pena, who played in the Hiroshima Carp system.

Salon de la Fama member Miguel Suarez dies at 65

Former Mexican baseball star Miguel "Mr. Hit" Suarez has passed away in his native Guasave, suffering from circulation problems in the days before his death last month at the age of 65.
The following is a profile on Suarez that was initially posted on BBM's predecessor, Viva Beisbol, as part of a "Maestros of Mexico" series of sketches on past Mexican baseball greats:
While Miguel Suarez does not immediately leap to mind as one of the great batsmen in Liga Mexicana history, his record indicates that he was consistently productive over his 17-year career. While he had neither power nor great speed on the basepaths, Suarez was nonetheless a perennial .300 batter as one of the best leadoff hitters ever in Mexico.
Miguel Suarez Lopez was born September 29, 1952 in Guasave, Sinaloa.  The tiny 5’4” 140-pounder began his pro career with Tampico in the Class A Mexican Center League as a 16-year-old in 1969.  He played two years in Tampico, batting .314 in 1969, followed by a league-best .393 in 1970.  He showed surprising power, knocking out 26 homers over those two seasons, but the longball was not his style, as Suarez would go on to hit only 23 circuit clouts during his LMB career (and never more than three in one season).
Suarez debuted with the Mexico City Diablos Rojos in 1971, and led the Liga with 188 base hits en route to a .372 average and a selection as the LMB Rookie of the Year.  That would set a pattern for his career, as Suarez only failed to hit .300 once in his first eleven seasons, batting .297 in a strike-split 1980 season for Reynosa and the Mexico City Tigres.  He came back with a .303 mark for the Tigres in 1981 and eventually turned in .320 and .332 campaigns for Tabasco and Nuevo Laredo in the early 1980’s.  After consecutive .259 seasons for Veracruz and Monterrey in 1985 and 1968, he called it quits at the age of 33.
Suarez ended his Liga playing days with 2,444 career hits for a .323 average.  While he only had 63 stolen bases (and was actually caught stealing 96 times), he did swat 86 triples, reaching double figures four times between 1973 and 1979.  Although he never led the LMB in batting, Suarez is the only player ever to top the circuit in hits three times (including a record 227 safeties in 1977 when he hit .370 for the Red Devils) and led the Liga in triples with 13 in 1973.  He was not nearly so successful in the winter, with a career mark of .259 in 14 Mexican Pacific League seasons, mostly with his hometown team in Guasave. He was inducted into Mexico’s Salon de la Fama in 1994.

Monday, November 27, 2017

North wins LMP All-Star Game, MVP to Jose Amador

Cardinals farmhand Randy Arozarena (Navojoa) manufactured a run in the top of the fourth to break up a scoreless game as the North went on to defeat the South, 3-1, last Monday in the Mexican Pacific League All-Star Game in Los Mochis.  The North was comprised of players from Hermosillo, Mexicali, Navojoa and Obregon while the South squad was made up of representatives from Culiacan, Mazatlan, Jalisco and the host Caneros.  

Arozarena led off the top of the fourth by lining a single up the middle off South reliever Luis Rodriguez (Jalisco), moved to second by stealing second and drawing a throwing error on the play by catcher Sebastian Valle (Los Mochis) to advance to third before scoring on Mayos teammate Jovan Rosa’s sacrifice fly.  The North extended their lead to 3-0 in the seventh when Jose Amador (Hermosillo)  socked a solo homer to left off Adrian Ramirez (Mazatlan) and Alan Sanchez (Navojoa) later tripled before being brought in on a Alex Flores (Hermosillo) single.  

The South did post a run in the bottom of the ninth on back-to-back-to-back singles by Yadir Drake (Los Mochis), Joey Meneses (Culiacan) and Amadeo Zazueta (Jalisco), but it was the North’s night as nine pitchers combined to hold the South to one run on nine hits and a walk.  North reliever Jose M. Lopez (Mexicali) was awarded the win while Rodriguez was tagged with the loss.  Amador was named MVP of the game, for which Caneros catcher Valle had received the most votes in fan balloting over 20 days leading up to the game.

Valle was honored before the game, while Caneros veteran slugger Saul Soto, a hometown favorite, was surprised by receiving a jersey from his family in commemoration of reaching his thousandth LMP career game this season.  The opening ceremony also included tributes to past and present greats of Mexican baseball, including pitchers Jose Pena, Teddy Higuera, Roberto Osuna and Hector Velazquez, last winter’s LMP Pitcher of the Year who now plays for the Boston Red Sox.

Earlier in the day, Culiacan outfielder Jose Orozco was the surprise winner of the Home Run Derby, besting Jalisco slugger Japhet Amador and Mazatlan’s Esteban Quiroz before outhomering Fernando Perez of Hermosillo in the final round.  Over three stanzas, Orozco (who has yet to homer this winter for the Tomateros after collecting just Mexican League seven roundtrippers last summer for Tabasco and Saltillo) sent 39 balls into the seats.

The victory marks the second consecutive All-Star triumph for the North after the game was revived last season following an absence of 19 years.  Attendance at Estadio Emilio Ibarra Almada was announced as 7,968, or about 3,000 shy of a sellout.  In contrast, last season’s All-Star Game in Obregon topped the 15,000 mark, although much of that included people as curious to see the new Yaquis ballpark as the game itself.  Still, this year’s edition was generally well-received by fans and media alike.

Mazatlan 5-1 (6.0), Mexicali 4-2 (4.0), Hermosillo 4-2 (8.0), Navojoa 3-3 (4.5), Obregon 3-3 (3.0), Los Mochis 2-4 (3.5), Culiacan 2-4 (7.0), Jalisco 1-5 (5.0).
*First-half points for each team are in parentheses following their current record.
Batting-Sebastian Elizalde (CUL) .386, Hits-Sebastian Elizalde (CUL) 61, Runs-Jeremias Pineda (MAZ) 33, Homers-Jovan Rosa (NAV) and Randy Arozarena (NAV) 8, RBIs-Manny Rodriguez (JAL) 38, Stolen Bases-Jeremias Pineda (MAZ) 24.
Wins-Mitch Lively (MAZ) 6, Earned Run Average-Rolando Valdez (MXI) 2.01, Strikeouts-Tyler Alexander (JAL) 41, Saves-Manny Acosta (OBR) 13, Holds-Edgar Gomez (MXI) and Miguel Mejia (OBR) 11, WHIP-Mitch Lively (MAZ) 1.03.

Ayala awarded US$325K in suit against Yaquis, LMP

Former major league pitcher Luis Ayala has been awarded US$325,000 in damages stemming from an unpaid bonus he earned while a member of the Obregon Yaquis during their run of three Mexican Pacific League pennants earlier this decade.  The award was made by a Board of Conciliation and Arbitration in Culiacan, which heard the labor dispute originally filed by Ayala at the conclusion of the 2012-13 LMP season.

The suit was brought after Ayala was denied a previously agreed-upon US$1,500 bonus from the Obregon club for his part in winning the 2012-13 LMP title.  According to the 39-year-old Ayala, who went 38-47 with 19 saves and a 3.34 ERA over all or part of nine MLB seasons between 2003 and 2013, he was one of six Yaquis players who were denied promised bonuses by the Yaquis (the others were Agustin Murillo, Marco Carrillo, Iker Franco, Hugo Castellanos and Mario Mendoza Jr.), but Ayala is the only one who pursued the case.  Such bonuses are considered illegal by the LMP, which was named as a co-defendant with the Yaquis.

One result has been an effective blackball from LMP competition for Ayala, who has since toiled in the Atlanta, Toronto and Baltimore organizations before spending the past three summers in the Mexican League without pitching an inning of winterball.  According to Mazatlan’s El Debate newspaper, one of the conditions of the ruling was that Ayala was released from the Yaquis’ 70-man roster on November 15, effectively making him a free agent.  The award amount is meant to cover Ayala’s lost Yaquis salary from the 2013 Caribbean Series forward, including taxes.  The board suggested that Ayala settle for half the US$325,000 award, but Yaquis team president Rene Arturo Rodriguez countered by offering to pay 25 percent of the amount in installments, stating that the team (which opened a new ballpark last winter) lacks the money to pay the 50 percent suggested.  Ayala and his attorney both refused.  The LMP has been ruled responsible for the $1,500 bonus but no comment has been issued from league offices in Hermosillo.

This is considered a landmark ruling in Mexico, where pro baseball players are not unionized and typically have little to no leverage in negotiations with their teams, a situation similar to what MLB players faced in the years before Marvin Miller arrived in the late 1960’s and free agency arrived in the mid-1970’s.  However, the Yaquis are expected to appeal the amount of the fine, if not the ruling itself.

Esteban Quiroz signs 2018 contract with Red Sox

Second baseman Esteban Quiroz has been signed to a minor league contract by the Boston Red Sox.  The versatile 25-year-old Obregon native, who becomes the second Mexican player to join the Bosox organization after pitcher Hector Velazquez inked a deal earlier this year, can also play shortstop, third base and the outfield.  He was joined at a press conference in announcing the signing by Red Sox scout Marcos Cuellar and Erick Arellano, owner of the Mexican League Yucatan Leones (who hold Quiroz’ Mexican playing rights).

The 5’7” Quiroz, whose nickname is “El Pony,” has been likened by some to another diminutive second sacker, MVP Jose Altuve of the world champion Houston Astros, and has become one of Mexico’s top players over his seven-year playing career.  After breaking in with a .120 batting average for Quintana Roo as a 19-year-old in 2011, Quiroz has built a cumulative .293 LMB average with 48 homers and 176 RBIs in 437 contests.  After he was dealt by the Tigres to Yucatan as a cost-cutting move last winter, Quiroz hit .293 with 11 homers while showing much more patience at the plate by drawing 64 walks in 89 games for a .428 on-base percentage.  He’s currently batting .294 in the Mexican Pacific League for the Mazatlan Venados.

A member of the Tigres’ 2014 LMB champions, Quiroz has also represented Mexico in the World Baseball Classic (drilling two homers in last February’s first round games in Guadalajara) and was the MexPac’’s Rookie of the Year with Mazatlan in 2015-16 after hitting .315 with seven homers for the Venados, who went on to win the Caribbean Series that season.  Quiroz hit .400 and scored seven runs in six CS games before singling and scoring twice in the title game against Venezuelan champion Aragua.

Although Quiroz may be ticketed by the parent club for a year in AAA Pawtucket, as was Velazquez, he may be invited to the team’s major league camp next February and given a look as a potential replacement for veteran Dustin Pedroia, who is expected to miss the first two months of next season after undergoing knee surgery at the conclusion of the 2017 campaign.

Monday, November 20, 2017

Hermosillo wins LMP first half title; Vizcarra, Sojo both fired

Roberto Vizcarra in happier times with Mexicali
The Hermosillo Naranjeros have won the Mexican Pacific League’s first-half championship, picking up eight playoff qualification points in the process, after beating last-place Obregon twice in a three-game weekend home series. Managed by longtime Mexican baseball figure Lorenzo Bundy (a Philadelphia native), the Orangemen were in a three-way tie at the top of the LMP standings with Culiacan and Mazatlan after going 20-15 in the half, but got the nod for first based on their record against the Tomateros and Venados, respectively.  

Culiacan was awarded second (7 points) while Mazatlan takes third (6 points).  In one of the tightest races in recent LMP seasons, Jalisco finished one game out of first at 19-16 to place fourth while 18-17 Navojoa finished two games back in fifth place.  The final first half standings and points are posted below this story.  Playoff seedings in the MexPac are based on points accrued over the two halves of the schedule.
Meanwhile, Mexicali has fired the man who led them to the pennant last winter.  Manager Roberto Vizcarra was cut loose Sunday after the Aguilas finished a disappointing sixth in the first half with a record of 16-19.  It’s the second time Vizcarra has felt the axe in 2017 after he was fired by the Mexican League’s Quintana Roo Tigres, a team he led to the 2014 pennant, late in the regular season.  Vizcarra will be replaced in Mexicali by Pedro Mere, skipper of current Mexican League champion Tijuana who’d been managing the Moroleon Toros Bravos in the Mexican Winter League with players assigned from both the Toros and Leon.

The Los Mochis Caneros didn’t wait until the end of the first half to fire manager Luis Sojo, who was let go last Thursday.  The former Yankees utilityman, who was a member of five World Series champions (including the 1993 Toronto Blue Jays), had the Caneros at 13-18 when he was canned.  Sojo managed a Yankees team to the Rookie Gulf Coast League title last summer.  He was replaced in Mochis by another former longtime Liga infielder Ramon Orantes, who led Union Laguna to a 60-49 record in his first stint as a manager this year but missed the LMB North playoffs.  Like Mere, Orantes was managing in the LIM with the Maravatio Leones, an affiliate of both Laguna and Yucatan.  The Caneros are 1-3 under Orantes and were swept by Mazatlan over a three-game weekend home series.

The LMP All-Star Game is slated for Monday night at Mochis’ Estadio Emilio Ibarra Almada. The All-Star contest, which will be preceded by a Legends Softball Game and Home Run Derby, was revived last winter after an absence of 19 years when the North defeated the South, 4-3, on a walkoff single by Obregon’s Olmo Rosario in the bottom of the ninth in front of 15,145 fans at Nuevo Estadio Yaquis in Obregon.  Attendance won’t approach that figure this time, as Emilio Ibarra Almada holds just 11,000.  Ironically, the two managers who’d been slated to head the All-Star teams were Vizcarra and Sojo, whose teams met in last winter’s finals.  

Hermosillo 20-15 (8.0), Culiacan 20-15 (7.0), Mazatlan (20-15) 6.0, Jalisco 19-16 (5.0), Navojoa 18-17 (4.5), Mexicali 16-19 (4.0), Los Mochis 14-21 (3.5), Obregon 13-22 (3.0).
Batting-Sebastian Elizalde (CUL) .382,  Hits-Sebastian Elizalde (CUL) 52, Runs-Randy Arozarena (NAV) and Jeremias Pineda (MAZ) 29, Homers-Jovan Rosa (NAV) 8, RBIs-Manny Rodriguez (JAL) 32, Stolen Bases-Jeremias Pineda (MAZ) 22.
Wins-Mitch Lively (MAZ) 5, Earned Run Average-Edgar Gonzalez (CUL) 1.80, Strikeouts-Cesar Vargas (HM) 35, Saves-Austin House (HMO) 11, Holds-Edgar Gomez (MXI) 10, WHIP-Edgar Gonzalez (CUL) 1.09.

Forged passport, prospect sale kickback, Rookiegate on LMB plate

Ex-Pirates farmhand Luis Heredia
It’s been anything but a quiet offseason for the Mexican League even when you don’t factor in the franchise move from Veracruz to Nuevo Laredo or the creation of two 57-game seasons with playoffs between late March and early October 2018.

The LMB has fined the Yucatan Leones 5 million pesos (about US$263,000) for registering Cuban outfielder Ronnier Mustelier with a fake passport.  That discussion at the LMB’s recent Assembly of Presidents meeting was led by a claim from Tabasco Olmecas president Jose Luis Dagdug that Campeche had done something similar with another Cuban outfielder, former international star Alfredo DeSpaigne, who is now playing in Japan.  The topic swung to Mustelier’s passport, which the Mexico City Attorney General’s office investigated and found to be falsified.  

Mustelier was brought into Yucatan as one of six allowed foreigners in 2017 and hit .318 with one homer in 48 games for the LMB South regular season champs but went 4-for-27 in the playoffs as the Leones lost to Puebla in the Division Championship Series.  The 33-year-old Mustelier, who won’t face an LMB suspension in 2018, was released by Yucatan in early October.  He’s hitting .337 with 16 RBIs and 14 runs scored in 28 games for Culiacan in the MexPac.

Then there’s the matter of Luis Heredia’s 2012 signing with Pittsburgh for a reported $2.7 million.  That transaction appears to have been the final straw for the Pirates, who fired Latin America scouting director Rene Gayo after it was determined that he received a kickback in the signing of Heredia, who was 16 at the time.  

Ken Rosenthal of The Athletic reports Gayo was compensated by a Mexican League team for delivering Heredia to the Pirates.  Since Veracruz held his rights in Mexico, all signs seem to point at owner Jose Antonio Mansur, who moved the team to Nuevo Laredo last month although there are questions as to whether his is the franchise’s legal owner.  Heredia was released by the Pirates after never rising above AA ball and is expected to pitch for Mazatlan this winter.  Venados GM Jesus Valdez has been the Bucs’ top scout in Mexico for years and was instrumental in landing Heredia.

Finally, the LMB has made a statement regarding their investigation into the transfer of five prospects from Quintana Roo to Mexico City last winter just before the Tigres were sold to former Cy Young winner Fernando Valenzuela and his wife Linda Burgos.  Two of those teenaged prospects were subsequently sold by the Diablos Rojos to the Texas Rangers for over $2.5 million last summer.  The common thread appears to be current Diablos GM Francisco “Pollo” Minjarez, who was an assistant GM in Quintana Roo when the deal allegedly occurred, then moved to the nation’s capital and the Diablos after the sale.  

The Liga says they are working on the restructuring of their player transfer protocols but added nothing about the transaction in question between the Tigres and Diablos, which means the Valenzuelas, who took a financial beating in Cancun this summer, will be calling Major League Baseball commissioner Rob Manfred’s office in New York soon, if they haven’t already.

Dodgers, Padres to play May 2018 series in Monterrey

Estadio Monterrey
There WAS some good news for the Mexican League last week, when it was officially announced that the National League champion Los Angeles Dodgers will meet the San Diego Padres for a three-game series in Monterrey early next season.  The set will take place May 4 through 6 at Estadio Monterrey, Mexico’s largest ballpark with a capacity of 27,000.

This will mark the third time the Padres have hosted MLB games in Monterrey.  San Diego played a set against the New York Mets in August 1996 and then battled the Colorado Rockies in their April 4, 1999 season opener.  The last time MLB teams ventured south of the border was in March 2016, when the Padres and Houston Astros played two games at Mexico City’s Estadio Fray Nano.  This will be the first-ever Dodgers regular season foray into Mexico.

The upcoming Dodgers-Padres series had originally planned for Mexico City’s new 13,000-seat ballpark, but the facility was already behind schedule even before September’s devastating earthquakes exacerbated some pre-existing structural problems.  Citing uncertainty over whether Estadio Alfredo Harp Helu will be ready by May, both Major League Baseball and the Monterrey Sultanes announced the series would be moved to the northern city, as had been speculated for weeks.  The Sultanes, who led Minor League Baseball in attendance this year, are already linking tickets to the series with season ticket sales for the 2018 Mexican League season.
Besides stars like Clayton Kershaw,  Dodgers players who might make the trip are first baseman Adrian Gonzalez, pitcher Julio Urias and outfielder Alex Verdugo.  Gonzalez was thought to be joining the Jalisco Charros for the second half of the Mexican Pacific League season, but the LA front office may want him to rest after an injury-plagued 2017.  The Padres lineup is expected to include Guadalajara-born third baseman Christian Villanueva, who hit .344 with four homers in 12 games for San Diego in a September call-up.  Villanueva was BBM’s Winter MVP in 2015-16 after a .322/9/38 LMP season for Obregon.