Monday, December 17, 2018

REVERSAL: LIGA BACK TO 16 TEAMS FOR 2019 SEASON

Aguascalientes' Parque Alberto Romo Chavez
In a reversal of their decision at an Assembly of Presidents meeting last month in Morelia, the Mexican League has reinstated all four franchised it had previously determined would take next season off.  As a result, the Aguascalientes Rieleros, Union Laguna Algodoneros, Leon Bravos and Puebla Pericos will be back on the playing field in 2019.  The LMB made the announcement during last week's Winter Meetings in Las Vegas, where the Liga also limited each team to seven foreign players each.

The return to a 16-team circuit does not come without complications.  The Rieleros are essentially broke, but arrangements have been made to have the state government subsidize the team.  According to Proceso's Beatriz Pereyra, team president Eustacio Alvarez says that Aguascalientes governor  Martin Orozco has committed the state to spend 17 million pesos (US$840,010) per year to help operate the Railroaders and promised to break ground on a new 10,000-seat ballpark at the end of the 2019 season. The latter will be a welcome replacement for 80-year-old Parque Alberto Romo Chavez, a 6,494-seater that will be demolished in September, but one more government-sponsored team (Saltillo and Tabasco are others) can't provide good optics for a Class AAA league.

In the case of the Algodoneros, brothers Erick and Juan Jose Arellano wanted the franchise put on ice after they couldn't find a buyer for the Torreon-based team.  The Arellanos also own the Yucatan Leones and wanted to concentrate all their attention and resources toward their Merida club, but were somehow convinced to carry on for another year in the Laguna region.  The brothers earned the enmity of local fans in 2017 after they included MVP candidate Ricky Alvarez (who was leading Laguna to a potential playoff berth) in a seven-player swap to Yucatan meant to strengthen the Leones for what would turn out to be a short postseason run.  In the wake of the deal, the then-Vaqueros plummeted both in the standings and at the gate (as some fans boycotted the team in protest) and the franchise has struggled ever since.

Puebla owner Gerardo Benavides, who also owns the Monclova Acereros, likewise wanted the Pericos shut down next year after months of unsuccessfully trying to sell the club for a reported asking price of 55 to 60 million pesos (US$2.7-3.0 million).  A buyer reportedly showed up after the Pericos had closed shop and made an offer Benavides found acceptable.  Puro Beisbol editor Fernando Ballesteros describes new Pericos owner Jose "Pepe" Miguel as "a Mexican entrepreneur who saw his fortune grown the last three years during the administration of president Enrique Pena Nieto, with whom he played golf, according to El Universal columnist Salvador Garcia Soto."

The most stable of the four teams may be Leon, where Grupo Multimedios bought approximately half the Bravos from owners Arturo Blanco and Mauricio Martinez, whose time with the franchise dates back to its inglorious demise in Reynosa. Grupo Multimedios also owns half of the current Liga champion Monterrey Sultanes and the media conglomerate is expected to pump some resources into the Bravos, although there is no doubt concern that Leon will be a de facto reserve squad for the Sultanes the way the Algodoneros have been for the Leones and the Oaxaca Guerreros function for the Mexico City Diablos Rojos (the sale of the Pericos dissolves a similar Puebla-Monclova shuttle). Syndicate ownership is not allowed in Major League Baseball but permissible south of the border.

The four teams will need to find managers.  Union Laguna is definitely in the hunt for a new dugout boss after Ramon Orantes, who led the Algodoneros to a last-place finish in the LMB North for the Fall 2018 season, has signed to pilot the Tabasco Olmecas, who finished last in the LMB South (that transition should be seamless).  Liga rights to dozens of players have reverted to their original teams, although the Bravos had been allowed to auction some off to other clubs in order to pay off outstanding debts.  All this with training camps less than three months away from opening.

Both Pereyra and Ballesteros (among other baseball writers) cite the influence of incoming Mexican president Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador as a major factor in the return of the four LMB teams to the playing field.  The so-called "AMLO" is a staunch baseball fan who reportedly brokered both deals involving the Aguascalientes and Puebla teams and has called for a return of the Mexican Pacific League to Guasave (which lost its LMP team to Guadalajara in 2014).

Other LMB announcements at the Winter Meeting involved introducing Mazatlan businessman Alfredo Aramburo as the new owner of the Durango Generales, setting the limit of foreign players per team in 2019 to seven apiece and the awarding of the 2021 All-Star Game to Laredo, Texas.  Next year's All-Star Game is slated for Mexico City while the 2020 midsummer classic had already been awarded to Monclova.


HERMOSILLO TAKES NARROW LEAD IN MEXPAC STANDINGS

Hermosillo Naranjeros pitcher Dennis O'Grady
Hermosillo scored three runs on four consecutive two-out hits in the top of the first inning and never looked back as the visiting Naranjeros went on to clobber host Mazatlan, 6-1, Sunday in front of 7,900 onlookers at Estadio Teodoro Mariscal.  The win pushed the Orangemen into sole possession of first place in the Mexican Pacific League's second half with a 14-7 record, one game ahead of Obregon (12-7), whose home game against third-place Jalisco (12-8) was rained out.

All the damage in the first frame was done to Venados starter Daniel Guerrero, who was two strikes away from a 1-2-3 inning when he gave up a single to Francisco Peguero, followed by a Domonic Brown triple that scored Peguero, a Dustin Geiger single that brought in Brown and Fernando Perez' two-bagger scored Geiger (who had scampered to second on a Guerrero wild pitch). Hermosillo took a 4-0 lead with one run in the second when Sergio Burruel singled in Cesar Salazar before tacking on a pair of tallies in the third as Jose Cardona doubled in Brown, then crossed the plate on a Salazar line single up the middle to make it a 6-0 Naranjeros advantage.

Mazatlan finally scored in the bottom of the sixth when Justin Greene singled home fellow greyhound Jeremias Pineda (could you imagine any fly ball falling between those two in the outfield?), but the contest was well in hand by then. Naranjeros starter Dennis O'Grady, a former Padres farmhand who was 8-4 last summer for Long Island of the indy Atlantic League, won his fourth game in five decisions after tossing seven innings of one-run ball, allowing two hits and striking out nine.

The Venados dropped into a fifth-place tie with Navojoa at 8-13, three games behind Los Mochis and Culiacan (both teams are tied for fourth at 11-10 after the Caneros clobbered the defending champs, 7-2, Sunday as Esteban Quiroz belted a two-run homer.  Mexicali owns the cellar with a 6-14 mark after losing seven of their last ten games, including a 7-3 home Sunday loss to Navojoa as Jorge Flores went 3-for-5 with five RBIs for the Mayos, including a three-run homer in the opening inning off Javier Solano.

Hermosillo will open the week by defending their top position on the table with a three-game road series against Jalisco in Guadalajara while Obregon will open a home set with los Mochis Tuesday.  Looking ahead, the biggest series next weekend may be in Culiacan, where the Tomateros will welcome Jalisco.

MEXICAN PACIFIC LEAGUE Standings as of December 16
Hermosillo 14-7, Obregon 12-7, Jalisco 12-8, Culiacan 11-10, Los Mochis 11-10, Mazatlan 8-13, Navojoa 8-13, Mexicali 6-14.
LMP HITTING LEADERS
Batting Average: Jasson Atondo, Hermosillo (.372)
On-base Percentage: Ramon Urias, Los Mochis (.432)
Slugging Percentage: Jovan Rosa, Navojoa (.576)
Runs Scored: Alonzo Harris, Navojoa (42)
Home Runs: Jovan Rosa, Navojoa (13)
Runs Batted In: Manny Rodriguez, Jalisco (46)
Stolen Bases: Alonzo Harris, Navojoa (22)
LMP PITCHING LEADERS
Earned Run Average: Elian Leyva, Jalisco (2.24)
Walks+Hits per 9 Innings: Manny Barreda, Culiacan (1.13)
Wins: Manny Barreda, Culiacan; Elian Leyva, Jalisco; Jaime Lugo, Navojoa; Juan Pablo Oramas, Hermosillo; Jose Samayao, Hermosillo; Konner Wade, Mazatlan  (5)
Shutouts: Orlando Lara, Jalisco (1)
Strikeouts: Elian Leyva, Jalisco (56)
Saves: Casey Coleman, Culiacan (20)
Holds: Jose Isidro Marquez, Navojoa (13)


MEXICAN NATIONALS TO PLAY TWO IN JAPAN NEXT MARCH

Edgar Gonzalez, umpire discuss the weather
The Mexican National Team will travel to Japan next year for a pair of games against their Japanese counterparts from Nippon Professional Baseball.  The ENEOS Samurai Japan Series will be played March 9 and 10 in Osaka at the 36,500-seat Kyocera Dome, part-time home of the Pacific League Orix Buffaloes, who have split their games between Osaka and the Kobe Sports Park Baseball Stadium since the 2005 merger between the Kintetsu Buffaloes (former team in Hideo Nomo) and the Orix Buffaloes (who employed future Hall of Famer Ichiro Suzuki for nine seasons).

The two-game set is sanctioned by the governing World Baseball Softball Confederation, which was established in 2013 after the merger of the International Baseball Federation and the International Softball Federation.  The WBSC has 208 National Federation members in 141 countries and is based in Switzerland.  The organization oversees all international competitions involving national teams, including the Olympics, and has organized an event called the Premier 12, a tournament held every four years between national teams from the top 12 ranked nations in baseball.  Host Japan defeated Mexico, 11-1, in the third-place game in the inaugural Premier 12 in 2015 as Juan Perez' solo homer in the sixth inning provided the lone Verdes Grande run.  The event was won by South Korea, who shut out the United States, 8-0, in the title game.

The 2019 Premier 12 will be held in Japan and South Korea next year as a qualifier for the 2020 Olympics.  Japan is currently ranked second in the world behind the USA while Mexico is sixth, behind third-place South Korea, Cuba ranking fourth and Taiwan in fifth.

The Mexican National Team manager has been former big league infielder Edgar Gonzalez, older brother of five-time All-Star first baseman Adrian.  Gonzalez (whose father David once played for the National squad) represented Mexico as a second baseman in both the 2009 and 2013 World Baseball Classics and managed his fatherland in last year's WBC.  He was recently appointed by incoming Mexican president Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador as the country's National Baseball Coordinator.  While the position does not include running the FEMEBE national baseball federation, it will involve overseeing dozens of academies throughout Mexico and the assembly of national teams for all international competitions.

The choice of the San Diego native is an interesting one, given that a baseball academy his family operated outside the southern California city was once embroiled in a lawsuit with the Mexican League over the right to represent prospects at their privately-owned academy in negotiations with Major League Baseball organizations.