Monday, February 19, 2018

Dodgers-Padres series in Monterrey sells out in two hours

Fans waiting to buy Dodgers-Padres tickets in Monterrey
If any question remained as to whether the May series in Monterrey between the National League champion Los Angeles Dodgers and their NL rivals from San Diego is a big deal, those doubts should be dispelled by the fact that only two hours were required to sell out 22,000-seat Estadio Monterrey for all three games. 

According to Puro Beisbol's Hector Bencomo in his Imparable column on Saturday, ducats went on sale Friday via Ticketmaster and were quickly snapped up, with a few seats to be offered to Padres VIPs reportedly the only tickets remaining.  Although ticketbuyers were required to purchase a three-game package, there's no doubt that a large number of single-game tickets will be made available through secondary sellers like StubHub (at a premium, of course).  Bencomo says that while ticket sales at the offices of the host Monterrey Sultanes was fully staffed, only about 800 walk-up fans were able to buy tickets before the series was sold out, with another frustrated 700 would-be ticketbuyers still standing in a line that stretched through the parking lot.

The so-called Mexico Series will mark the first regular season appearance of Major League Baseball teams south of the border in 19 years, when the Padres and Colorado Rockies opened the 1999 campaign with a single game in Monterrey on April 4.  Three years earlier, San Diego and the New York Mets competed in the first-ever MLB series in Mexico, also at Estadio Monterrey in August 1996.  The ballpark, which opened in July 1990, is currently undergoing a retrofit that will lower the capacity from 27,000 to 22,000 seats but make the facility (Mexico's largest baseball stadium) more user-friendly.

The series will feature a number of marquee names among the playing ranks, mostly among the Dodgers, who'll bring Clayton Kershaw, Cody Bellinger, Justin Turner, Corey Seager, Chase Utley and Yasiel Puig.  San Diego will have notable performers Wil Myers, Hunter Renfroe, Clayton Richard and likely Christian Villanueva, a third baseman from Guadalajara who impressed the Padres during a September callup last year by batting .344 with four homers in 32 at-bats over 12 games.


Heras fails to reach terms on loan to Monclova, returns to Yucatan

Yucatan (for now) outfielder Leo Heras
Close observers of Mexican baseball have no doubt noticed the practice of teams "loaning" players to each other.  It's a decades-old system in which one franchise facing a surplus of players at one position will loan a player to another league club with a need at that position for the season, with the loaning team holding the player's rights while the receiving team often picks up the salary of the player being transferred. 

Sometimes such deals can reach ridiculous proportions when the two teams involved are under the same ownership, creating a situation where clubs like Union Laguna and Puebla serve roles with Yucatan and Monclova (respectively) similar to how the old Kansas City Athletics were considered a de facto "farm team" for the New York Yankees in the late 1950's.  Players usually have no recourse, but there are exceptions to the rule and outfielder Leo Heras is the latest to buck the system.

Heras is a 27-year-old Tijuana native who will be entering his twelfth year of pro ball after debuting with his hometown Tijuana Potros in 2007 at age 16.  The 5'9" lefty hitter has built a reputation as a reliable batsman with gap power, some speed and good enough with a glove to be able to play all three outfield slots and fill in at second in a pinch.  He's a career .313 batter over eleven Liga seasons and collecting 67 homers and 115 stolen bases in 741 LMB games, appearing on four All-Star Games along the way. 

Last summer, the one-time Astros farmhand hit .293 with three homers in 95 games for Yucatan after a March trade from Mexico City to the Merida club before turning in a .253/0/19 winterball campaign for Obregon.  While he was toiling for the Yaquis last December, the Leones shipped him on loan to Monclova and the status quo appeared to be undisturbed (with Heras even appearing at an Acereros press conference announcing his arrival) until Heras did the unusual: He balked at the deal.

The issue appears to be money, as Heras and the Steelers were unable to reach an agreement as to how much the outfielder would earn for the 2018 season.  Puro Beisbol's Hector Bencomo weighed in on the subject, speculating that Heras considered the move from Yucatan to Monclova a sale and not a loan, and that the veteran flychaser wanted a percentage of the sale price.  The reason for the fallout and Heras' subsequent return to Merida has never been broached by either side, but the issue of a player seeking compensation when he's sold dates back to the days of legendary slugger Hector Espino. 

Espino's disputes over salaries and sales, mostly with the Monterrey Sultanes, are legendary among Mexican baseball cognoscenti.  A very quiet man by nature, Espino was also every bit as proud and aware of his value as both a player and a man and not afraid to dig in his heels against ownership.  That's something almost unheard of among ballplayers south of the border even today, so Heras' stance ensured his return to Yucatan last week and has likely punched his ticket to another LMB franchise who'll be willing to meet his price.


Diablos GM Minjarez suspended for role in "Rookiegate"

Francisco Minjarez (while a Tigres employee)
Several months after Quintana Roo Tigres owners Fernando and Linda Valenzuela lodged a complaint with the Mexican League over the suspicious transfer of five Tigres prospects to the Mexico City Diablos Rojos while the Valenzuelas were purchasing the Cancun franchise, there has been a response from the LMB office.  Diablos general manager Francisco "Pollo" Minjarez has been suspended indefinitely by the Liga office after having been employed in the Tigres front office prior to last February's sale before moving to Mexico City to serve as the Red Devils GM, and is believed to have played a pivotal role at both ends in the prospect transfer.

Minjarez was working in the Cancun front office under longtime Tigres GM Chito Rodriguez while owner Carlos Peralta was in the process of selling the franchise to the Valenzuelas in a deal finalized a year ago.  Shortly after the Tigres changed hands, Rodriguez retired and Minjares took the GM job in Mexico City under Diablos team president Roberto Mansur, who retired after last season, stating health concerns.  During this timeframe, five Tigres prospects on a master player roster the Valenzuelas claim they had in January 2017 became property of the Diablos in February in what Minjarez told Proceso reporter Beatriz Pereyra was a "gentleman's agreement" between the two sides.  He did not specify whether the agreement was between Peralta and Red Devils owner Alfredo Harp Helu or between Rodriguez and Mansur, two decades-long powers within the LMB, or any combination thereof.

That deal exploded in importance last June when the Diablos sold two of the five former Tigres prospects, 15-year-old infielder Fernando Villalobos and 16-year-old pitcher Damien Mendoza, for US$1.5 million and US$1.2 million, respectively.  The bone of contention with the Tigres and the Valenzuelas is that since they were not informed of the transaction, the rights to the five prospects (including Villalobos and Mendoza) still belonged to them and that they should receive proceeds from the two sales.  For his part, Minjarez told Pereyra that the transfer of the prospects is common among some LMB teams and that the deal had already consummated before the sale of the Tigres was finalized.

There's speculation that Minjarez may return to his former GM position in Obregon, now that a five-year suspension he received from the LMP in 2013 after not paying players promised bonuses after winning their third straight pennant has ended.  The Diablos are not taking this quietly, however, as new team president Othon Diaz wrote a letter to Mexican League president Javier Salinas protesting Minjarez' suspension and a formal protest is not being ruled out.  That would put Salinas in the difficult position of a first-year league president going head-to-head with his league's richest owner and be a real test of his leadership and power.

As for the Valenzuelas, they're still waiting to hear how much of that US$2.7 million they'll be getting.  While Fernando may be a better known figure in Mexico and the USA than Harp (he's no doubt more popular), baseball has always been a tough sell in Cancun, the once-proud franchise may face some difficult times ahead.