Sunday, February 12, 2017

Puebla owner buys Acereros for reported $2.95 million

The Mexican League has one more owner controlling two franchises in the circuit after Puebla Pericos owner Gerardo Benavides completed the purchase of 90 percent of the Monclova Acereros from Alonso Acira for a reported 60 million pesos (which translates to about $2.95 million in US currency).  The Altos de Hornos manufacturing company owned the Acereros for 33 years until last spring, when it decided to sell the team as part of an overall debt restructuring effort.  Acira has served in a more-or-less caretaker role for the baseball team since.

Benavides joins the LMB's syndicate owners club of Alfredo Harp Helu (Mexico City Diablos Rojos, Oaxaca Guerreros) and brothers Juan Jose and Erik Arellano (Laguna Vaqueros, Yucatan Leones).  The Arellanos purchased 67 percent ownership of the Torreon-based Vaqueros last September.  Monterrey owner Jose "Pepe" Maiz once owned the old Chihuahua Dorados as well as the Sultanes.

The Liga has been embroiled in an internal struggle of existential proportions in the offseason, with factions of longstanding Old Guard owners and younger New Breed owners squaring off most notably over whether there should be limits on the number of Mexican-American players in the LMB (Minor League Baseball president Pat O'Connor recently ruled there will be no limits), but the dispute goes into deeper territory and involves the longterm direction the 92-year-old loop will take in the years ahead.  Acira has been in the New Breed camp, something that will not change with Benavides taking over the team.

Despite the behind-the-scenes financial uncertainty with the Acereros, Benavides takes over a franchise that (on paper, at least) is in better shape than many other LMB teams.  The Acereros won the Northern Division title in 2015 and finished with a 63-50 regular season record last summer before suffering a first-round playoff sweep at the hands of eventual North champs Tijuana.  Monclova was in decent shape at the gate as well, with 353,252 fans attending 55 home games for an average of 6,423 per opening at 11,000-seat Estadio de Beisbol Monclova, good for fourth in the 16-team circuit.  Conversely, Benavides' pennant-winning Pericos finished seventh in Liga attendance, drawing an average of 4.314 in Puebla.

The sale of the Acereros sets a benchmark of sorts for the now-dormant Quintana Roo Tigres of Cancun, whose owner, Carlos Peralta, put the team (but not the Tigres name) up for sale shortly after O'Connor's ruling on Mexican-Americans was handed down.  Peralta was firmly in the Old Guard camp led by Maiz, who called the decision "the worst thing that has ever happened in the history of baseball in Mexico."  Peralta had reportedly been seeking $2.5 million US dollars for the Tigres before the Acereros sale was completed, which may lead to an adjustment in Peralta's asking price.

An emergency LMB Assembly of Presidents meeting has been scheduled for Monday in response to Peralta's shutdown of the 62-year-old franchise that had been established in 1955 by his father Alejo, a major force in Mexican baseball for more than four decades before his 1997 death and a firm believer in hiring Mexican-born players for the Tigres.  Although the team has won six pennants since Carlos ascended to ownership, he has never embraced baseball as a fan and rarely ventured to the ballpark whether his team called Mexico City, Puebla or Cancun "home."