Friday, February 24, 2017
One of those is Gerardo Benavides, the owner of the 2016 Mexican League champion Puebla Pericos who completed the purchase of the Monclova Acereros earlier this month. Although Benavides can't yet be compared to the Robison brothers, he's taking a similar path in transferring players from his pennant-winning team to Monclova, located in his home state of Coahuila. No less than four key members of the Pericos, all former big leaguers, were released by Puebla during the offseason, only to re-emerge with the Acereros: Outfielders Nyjer Morgan and Willy Taveras, first baseman Daric Barton and closer Chad Gaudin will all be performing under new Acereros manager Wally Backman this summer. A hyper-competitive sort who undoubtedly bristled regularly at edicts from farm directors telling him to to play (and for how long) during his seasons managing in the Diamondbacks, White Sox and Mets organizations, Backman should have no such problems as long as he lasts with the Acereros.
The most recognizable of the four, the 36-year-old Morgan (pictured) hit .306 with 11 homers and 22 steals in 101 regular season games for Puebla last year. Morgan was a career .282 batter in seven MLB seasons for four teams between 2007 and 2014 before a ten-game stint in Korea in 2015. Taveras batted .274 over seven big league seasons, leading the National League with 68 steals for Colorado in 2008. The 35-year-old hit .325 for the Pericos in 2016, stealing 16 bases. Barton, 31, hit .247 (with a .356 on-base percentage) in 551 games for Oakland from 2007 and 2014 and topped American League batters in walks with 110 in 2010. Although he was never regarded as a power hitter before coming to Mexico, Barton swatted 20 homers for Puebla last season after hitting a total of 30 over eight MLB campaigns. Like Barton, Gaudin spent time in Oakland during a somewhat nomadic 11-year stretch in the majors, compiling a 45-44 record and a 4.44 ERA for nine teams between 2003 and 2013. The 33-year-old righty came out of retirement last year to post a 1.64 ERA with 33 saves for Puebla, striking out 48 of the 185 batters he faced.
One of the top pitchers in the Mexican League the past two seasons, Josh Lowey, is back in Monclova after having a rough time of it following a midseason move to Korea's KT Wiz. Lowey was the Liga's Pitcher of the Year in 2015 for the Acereros, going 13-6 with a 3.06 and leading the circuit with 145 strikeouts in 142.2 innings. He was off to an even better start last year, leading the LMB in all three pitching Triple Crown categories with 13 wins, a 1.65 ERA and 131 whiffs in 16 starts for Monclova before leaving for the Far East in early July. Things didn't go as well for the 32-year-old Floridian in the KBO, where he ended up with a 3-5 mark and a 6.22 ERA in eleven starts for the Wiz. He'll be rejoined in the Monclova rotation by fellow All-Star pitcher Jose Oyervides, who finished at 10-2 with a 2.78 ERA for the Acereros in 2016, striking out 120 batsmen in 102.2 innings. Needless to say, Monclova is an early LMB North favorite this season.
As for the Pericos? Besides losing the four aforementioned players to Monclova, last year's Playoff MVP, Travis Blackley (another ex-MLBer), has signed with Detroit while former White Sox hurler Deunte Heath has hooked on with Cincinnati. Puebla recently signed their first foreign player for 2017, outfielder Cole Gillespie. The 32-year-old Oregon native spent all or part of six seasons in The Show, including 41 games with Miami last year (where he hit .235). In all, Gillespie is a career .251 hitter over 221 MLB games for six teams. There may be more help on the way to the colonial city, but defending their pennant will be awfully difficult with so many important pieces of last year's champions gone.