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).
LMP HITTING LEADERS
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.
LMP PITCHING LEADERS
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.