Monday, September 26, 2016

2016 BBM Summer Awards Manager of the Year: Willie Romero, Yucatan Leones

This may end up being the most difficult of all five 2016 Baseball Mexico Summer Awards to determine.  Not because there aren't a lot of worthy candidates, but because only 8 of the 16 Mexican League skippers in April's openers lasted throughout the season.

One could look at Puebla manager Cory Snyder, who led the Pericos to the Liga pennant earlier this month after taking over for Matias Carrillo during the All-Star Break with the team holding the best record in the circuit.  Pedro Mere deserves consideration for succeeding Luis Sojo in Tijuana at about the same time with the Toros in third place in the LMB North, then guiding the Border Bombers through the postseason to the Finals.  Likewise, Felix Fermin did a great job all year taking Monterrey to the best record in the North at 73-29 before being tripped up by Tijuana in the Division Championship Series.  But we're going to go with Yucatan helmsman Willie Romero.

Like Fermin with the Sultanes, Romero was able to avoid the axe (Carrillo's firing in Puebla was evidence that no LMB managerial job is safe) and led the Leones to a LMB-best record of 77-33, winning nine of their final ten regular season games to finish four games better than the Pericos' 73-38 mark. Yucatan then dispatched Campeche in six games to win their opening playoff series before losing to Puebla, 4 games to 2, in the South DCS.  Game Six was a 4-3 heartbreaker that went 13 innings on September 4 to end the Leones' season.

Romero was able to cobble such a strong season out of one of the LMB's lesser offenses, as Yucatan finished tenth in hits (1,042) and batting average (.278), twelfth in homers (66), eleventh in both on-base percentage (.346) and stolen bases (66).  As one may suspect, the Leones got it done with a longtime feature of teams in Merida: Pitching.  Yoanner Negrin went 18-1 to lead a staff that came in second to Quintana Roo in ERA at 3.16 (the next-best finisher, Laguna, clocked a 3.61 ERA in the hitter-firendly loop) with a 1.25 WHIP, also second to the Tigres.  Yucatan hurlers allowed just 47 homers, by far the lowest in the Liga.

The 42-year-old Wilfredo Andres Romero is a native of Maracay, Venezuela.  He signed as an undrafted outfielder with the Los Angeles Dodgers in 1993 and spent six years in their minor league system, topping out in AAA Albuquerque, where he hit .285 with 10 homers and 23 steals for the Dukes in 1998.  His Mexican League debut was two years later with Saltillo, and Romero adapted quickly by batting .334 with 21 homers for the Saraperos in 2000.  The 6'0" right-hander went on to play 13 seasons in the Liga before retiring at 38 after finishing the 2012 campaign as player-manager of the Leones.  Over 19 minor league seasons, Romero was a .318 career hitter, socking 172 homers, stealing 363 bases and either scoring or driving in 2,040 runs in 1,794 games.  He played on pennant-winning teams in both Merida (2006) and Cancun (2011) and represented Yucatan in five All-Star Games, winning the All-Star MVP in 2008.

After going 35-40 as the Leones' player-manager in 2012, Romero moved on to Monclova in 2013 and took the Acereros to a 32-27 record before being let go.  He spent the 2014 season as a coach with Quintana Roo before returning to Yucatan last year, when he managed the Leones to a 66-46 record and the LMB South regular season title.

Romero is a fiery sort who was suspended for two games as a Yucatan player in 2010 after shoving a plate umpire during an argument.  Some of that fire flared up in May when Romero and pitcher Danny Guterrez took a dugout argument into the clubhouse during a game.  Romero later said the two had hugged and made up but Gutierrez was dealt to Laguna in July.