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.  

LMP FINAL FIRST HALF STANDINGS
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).
LMP HITTING LEADERS
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.
LMP PITCHING LEADERS
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.