Monday, July 29, 2019


Saltillo infielder Juan Perez

The Saltillo Saraperos have put together a nine-game winning streak to vault into a race with Tijuana and Monclova for the Mexican League’s North Division second-half championship.  Saltillo began their skein with a July 19 win at Aguascalientes and went on to sweep the Rieleros, cop three wins in a midweek home series against Durango and then topped Aguascalientes in a trio of home games to run their second-half record to 21-10.

As 6,275 looked on at Estadio Francisco I. Madero, Manny Rodriguez’ grand slam in the bottom of the eighth broke open Sunday’s contest with the Saraperos clutching a 4-3 lead.  Rodriguez, now 37, has had a very quiet year with only six homers and a .249 average after 89 games, the first 25 with Quintana Roo before the Tigres loaned the four-time LMB All-Star to Saltillo on May 7 after he’d hit just .202 for the Tigres, who retain his rights.

The Saraperos were just 28-32 in the first half, finishing fifth in the LMB North and collecting just 4.5 playoff points.  Beyond Rodriguez, they’re not a star-studded team. Former Reds minor league infielder Juan Perez is batting .335 with 20 homers and 63 RBIs, outfielder Rainel Rosario has a .319 average with 19 homers and 61 ribbies and veteran first baseman Jorge “Chato” Vazquez homered four times in six games last week to reach 17 for the year. He’s hitting .313 with 56 RBIs in 60 games as the injury-prone, 37-year-old slugger shows he can contribute when healthy.

Tijuana won two of three weekend games at Dos Laredos to stay two games behind Saltillo at 20-12.  The Tecolotes won Sunday’s game, 9-5, at Laredo’s Uni-Trade Stadium as catcher Arturo Rodriguez had a solo homer and three RBIs on three hits.  Monclova (19-13) is in third after beating Monterrey, 6-3, at home Sunday as Chris Carter belted his 41st homer and Alex Mejia, Francisco Peguero and Ricky Rodriguez each singled, doubled and drove in a run.  Monterrey and Dos Laredos are virtually tied for fourth: The Acereros are 16-16 while the Tecos are 15-15.

While Saltillo, Tijuana and Monclova duke it out for LMB North supremacy, Durango and Aguascalientes are in freefall at the bottom of the division.  The Generales (11-16) have been swept in four straight series for 12 losses in a row, changing managers and apparently being put up for sale in the process (more below) to fall to 11-21 and out of playoff contention for all intent and purposes.  Durango and Union Laguna (11-16) are fighting to stay out of last place but while the Generales haven’t won for two weeks, the Algodoneros have helped themselves by winning four in a row and eight of their last ten under new manager Jonathan Aceves.  For their part, the Rieleros (9-23) have the worst record in the league while turning into a train wreck, so to speak.  

The perpetually cash-strapped team’s trading of star third baseman Jose Vargas to Monclova removed one of their larger salaries and likely netted then some money in return, but at the cost of goodwill with remaining Aguascalientes players and fans.  Puro Beisbol editor Fernando Ballesteros writes that he received an email from several Rieleros claiming owner Armando Medina threatened to “freeze” them if they didn’t sign for what he was offering, called sports manager Leo Clayton an “agent” and accused team president Eustacio Alvarez of corruption.  Ballesteros says sources tell him the franchise is for sale and that businessmen in San Luis Potosi have shown interest. Other than that, everything’s fine in Aguascalientes.

Quintana Roo pitcher Wilfredo Boscan
Meanwhile, in the LMB South, Quintana Roo and Yucatan have separated themselves from the pack to make it a two-team race for first place.  The Tigres pounded Tabasco, 11-0, Sunday night in Villahermosa to bring their record to 23-9, giving them a one-game lead over idle Yucatan in the battle for those eight playoff points.  In Sunday’s rout, Eric Aguilera went 2-for-5 for Quintana Roo with a run scored and three RBIs while Brian Hernandez had three hits to score once and drive in two more. Ex-Pittsburgh pitcher Wilfredo Boscan tossed seven shutout innings for the Tigres, allowing five hits and striking out eight to lift his season record to 6-3.  Like Saltillo, the Tigres are a surprise team in the second half after they went 25-35 in the first half to finish sixth in the LMB South with 4.0 playoff points.

Yucatan is right behind the Tigres at 22-10 and carried a five-game winning streak into Monday’s travel day.  The Leones swept a midweek road series in Tabasco and won the first two games of their weekend set in Campeche before Sunday’s tilt was rained out.  Cesar Valdez won his LMB-leading 13th game Saturday in a 6-2 Yucatan victory. Mexico City is third at 18-15 and Tabasco holds forth with a 15-16 mark in a decent second-half showing.  Oaxaca (15-17), Campeche (13-16) and Puebla (13-17) are all less than two games behind the fourth-place Olmecas. Last-place Leon (10-21) won in Oaxaca Sunday, 7-2, as Felix Pie went 3-for-5 with a double and two RBIs for the Bravos.

Pie still leads the batting race with a .406 average but Mexico City teammates Emmanuel Avila (.388) and Jesus Fabela (.384) have closed the gap a bit.  Chris Carter of Monclova leads in both homers and RBIs. Carter homered off Tijuana’s Orlando Lara last Tuesday to become the first player in pro ball to reach 40 roundtrippers this season.  Carter is in the discussion for MVP honors along with Oaxaca’s Alonzo Harris. The former Mets and Cards farmhand is second in homers (33), RBI’s (89), runs scored (100) and stolen bases (38), trailing only Dos Laredos’ Johnny Davis’ 48 in that category to augment a .339 average.  Prior to coming to Mexico, Harris was the Atlantic League’s 2017 Player of the Year playing for York.

Yucatan moundmates Cesar Valdez and Yoanner Negrin are the only two legitimate candidates for Pitcher of the Year.  Valdez’ win in Campeche Saturday gives him a 13-1 mark and league leadership in wins (13), earned-run average (2.38) and WHIP (1.12), microscopic numbers during a season where only five starters qualifying for the ERA title are at less than 5.00.  Negrin (11-3) is second to Valdez in wins (11), ERA (2.85) and WHIP (1.19). Leon’s Yasutomo Kubo leads the Liga with 119 strikeouts. Ramon Mendez is 0-5 for Dos Laredos and the Tecos must accept it as a trade-off for his LMB-best 26 saves in 27 opportunities and 3.47 ERA.  All-Star middleman Jesus Pirela still leads with 24 holds. Pirela also has a 4-3 record and three saves for the Toros.  

Important midweek series opening Tuesday night include Monclova visiting Tijuana and Mexico City hosting Oaxaca.  Yucatan will welcome Quintana Roo Friday for a huge LMB South weekend series while Tijuana heads to Saltillo for three against Roberto Vizcarra’s surprising Saraperos.


Juan Jose Pacho managing in Mazatlan
The Durango Generales made their second managerial change in a two-month span when the Mexican League team fired Efren Espinoza last Monday and brought in longtime Mazatlan Venados skipper Juan Jose Pacho as dugout boss.  Pacho becomes the third manager in Durango this season.  

The Generales began the 2019 campaign with veteran helmsman Lorenzo Bundy running the team, but Bundy was fired May 22 following an 18-9 home loss to Leon and Espinoza, a 14-year LMB outfielder with no prior managerial experience, was named interim manager with Durango holding a 16-25 record.  Espinoza led the Generales to a 21-24 mark but the club had lost six games in a row when the change was made. A Salon de la Fama shortstop who has guided Mazatlan to three Mex Pac pennants and two Caribbean Series titles, Pacho made his Durango debuted last Tuesday with an 8-4 loss in Saltillo.

One day after Durango installed Pacho as manager, the Leon Bravos severed ties with manager Tony Aguilera, making him the ninth skipper fired this season in the LMB.  In comparison, no Major League Baseball manager has been handed his walking papers this year. The firings have happened in two bursts, with five skippers getting pink-slipped between May 9 and 21 while the other four were shown the door between July 1 and 23.  Here is a current list of 2019 managerial changes in the Liga:

May 9:    Quintana Roo fired Jesus Sommers, replaced by Adan Munoz
May 12:  Campeche fired Tim Johnson, replaced by Jesus Sommers
May 18:  Dos Laredos fired Felix Fermin, replaced by Houston Jimenez
May 21:  Aguascalientes fired Joe Alvarez, replaced by Feliz Fermin
May 22:  Durango fired Lorenzo Bundy, replaced by Efren Espinoza
July 1:     Monclova fired Pedro Mere, replaced by Pat Listach
July 20:   Yucatan fired Luis Carlos Rivera, replaced by Geronimo Gil
July 22:   Durango fired Efren Espinoza, replaced by Juan Jose Pacho
July 23:   Leon fired Tony Aguilera, replaced by Luis Carlos Rivera

Monclova manager Pat Listach
All, of course, publicly received thanks from the teams firing them for their hard work and professionalism along with best wishes in future endeavors. 

In case you didn’t notice, Sommers found work in Campeche three days after being fired in Quintana Roo, Fermin landed in Aguascalientes three days after losing his job in Dos Laredos and Rivera was hired in Leon three days after Yucatan jettisoned him.  Bundy caught on in Monclova as Listach’s bench coach but as a longtime figure in Mexican baseball, mostly in the Mex Pac, he may be considered a hot property among other LMB owners looking to make a chance. Mere, who was reassigned to another position within the Acereros organization, would be another while Johnson and Alvarez are potential candidates to manage teams for owners with itchy trigger fingers.


Durango, Guasave owner Alfredo Aramburo
The Guasave Algodoneros have been scrambling to put together a team in time for next winter’s Mexican Pacific League season after joining the loop earlier this year along with Monterrey as the LMP’s two new expansion franchises.  Along with players, coaches, ticket takers and popcorn sellers, the Algodoneros have spent their short existence looking for a team owner after billionaire Alfredo Harp Helu made it clear that while he would foot the bill for renovations at Estadio Francisco Carranza Limon, he has no desire to be the primary owner in the Mex Pac’s smallest market.

The search for an owner of the Cottoneers ended last week when Mazatlan businessman Alfredo Aramburo was introduced at a press conference in Guasave as the man who will sign the paychecks.  At the press conference, Aramburo thanked LMP president Omar Canizales, other team owners and Algodoneros general director Sebastian Sandoval for their support, adding that “we come with great enthusiasm, with a lot of seriousness and a lot of professionalism.”

That latter point might be disputed by fans in Durango, where Aramburo is also the owner of the Mexican League Generales.  Shortly after the press conference in Guasave, the Generales fired their second manager in two months, the team is sliding out of playoff contention, attendance ranks in the lower half of the league and Aramburo himself is rumored to want out of Durango, according to Puro Beisbol editor Fernando Ballesteros.

Guasave's Estadio Francisco Carranza Limon
With the Mexican League about to enter into another schism among owners over the agreement with Major League Baseball regarding the signing of domestic prospects making it nearly impossible for LMB teams to recoup the cost of developing them, Aramburo may simply prefer operating in the less-fractured Mex Pac, although he told Durango’s El Siglio newspaper  in June that rumors the league is seeking a new owner for the franchise is speculation.

Although Aramburo is a Mazatleco, he is friends with Venados owner Jose Antonio Toledo, who encouraged him to purchase the Algodoneros and was at the press conference, during which Canizales said, “The philosophy is that the franchise stays here for a long time, but it is clear to us that we cannot force anyone if the city does not respond” with support.

Monday, July 22, 2019


Quintana Roo 1B Reynaldo Rodriguez
Even though the Quintana Roo Tigres saw their eight-game winning streak snapped Sunday in a 3-2 loss at home to the Tabasco Olmecas, the Tigres have gotten off to a hot start in the second half of the Mexican League schedule and now sit alone in first place in the South Division standings with a 20-7 record.  As 3,975 fans looked on at Estadio Beto Avila in Cancun, Tabasco's Daniel Carbonell lofted a sacrifice fly to Quintana Roo centerfielder Yordanys Linares to bring Roel Santos from third to break a 2-2 tie with the game-winning run.  Despite the loss, the Tigres have a three-game lead over 17-10 Yucatan, who topped Campeche, 9-4, Sunday in Merida as Leones starter Yoanner Negrin got the win to go to 10-3 on the season.

It's been an unexpected rise for the Tigres after a tepid first half in which they finished sixth in the LMB South at 25-35 (13-17 at home) and Salon de la Fama member Jesus Sommers was fired as manager 28 games into the season.  New skipper Adan Munoz has seen an entirely different Tigres team since coming back from the All-Star Break for the second half of the season. Quintana Roo has won 10 of 15 home games and gone 10-2 on the road en route to the best record in the LMB in the second half. 

One revelation for Munoz has been Colombian first baseman Reynaldo Rodriguez, a former Yankees and Red Sox minor leaguer who joined the team in late May and has since hit .366 with 14 homers in 40 games.  Third baseman Brian Hernandez is batting .333 with nine homers and 53 RBIs and catcher Francisco Cordoba has 14 homers and 48 homers but the Tigres are not a team that will batter opponents into submission.  The pitching is little better so it remains to be seen how long the team will remain atop the table, but no doubt they're enjoying the ride.

Even though they're in second, things have not been so sanguine in Yucatan, where the defending LMB South champions fired manager Luis Carlos Rivera Friday following a 5-3 home loss to Campeche.  The Leones finished fifth in the division for the first half with an uninspiring 26-32 mark but the Merida squad began the second half by winning eight of their first nine games and was second in the standings at 16-9 when the axe fell for Rivera.  Geronimo Gil, who was hired as a bench coach during the All-Star Break at Rivera's request, was named interim manager. 

While the Tigres and Yucatan are 1-2 in the South (surprising Tabasco and Mexico City are virtually tied for third at five games behind Quintana Roo, things are a bit murkier in the LMB North, where two games separate the top four teams and two more sides are less than four games out of fourth.  Tijuana is in first at 17-10 but another surprise team, Saltillo, is hot on the Toros' heels at 16-10 after sweeping a weekend road series in Aguascalientes.  It was a good weekend for road teams in the North as Monclova (16-11) took all three big games at defending champion Monterrey (12-13) while Dos Laredos (15-12) won two of three at Tijuana to pass the Sultanes into fourth place.   Even moribund Union Laguna staggered into Durango with a 3-20 ledger and managed to post 35 runs in three wins over the Generales.

Oaxaca's Alonzo Harris (r) joins the 30-30 Club
Leon's Felix Pie went 4-for-28 over his last ten games before going on the 7-day injured list July 9 (he still hasn't reappeared), but still leads the Mexican League in batting with a .410 average.  Mexico City's Emmanuel Avila is second at .388.  Chris Carter of Monclova has socked five homers in nine games to bring his season total to 39, eight more than the 31 of Oacaxa's Alonzo Harris, who also has 36 stolen bases over 86 games in what is becoming an MVP-style season.  He has become the third member in the LMB's 30-30 Club, joining James Steels (1991) and Luis Terrero (2011).  Harris is second in steals, trailing only Dos Laredos' Johnny Davis, who has 48 swipes.

Yucatan's Cesar Valdez has won three games since suffering his lone loss of the season June 28 at Durango, bringing his season record to 12-1.  Yoanner Negrin of Yucatan and Monterrey's Edgar Gonzalez (both 10-3) are tied for second in wins.  Valdez also leads the LMB with a 2.32 ERA.  Yasutomo Kubo of Leon's 116 strikeouts top the whiff list and Dos Laredos closer Ramon Mendez' 25 leads the league after the Dominican converted his last eight save opportunities beginning July 4.

Among the more important midweek series opening Tuesday night will be when Monterrey visits Dos Laredos while Oaxaca hosts Mexico City in a big LMB South matchup.  Next weekend will see Monclova at home for three against the Sultanes and Tijuana on the road at Dos Laredos.


Brandon Phillips playing for another Rojos team
A pair of recent major players transactions have strengthened two Mexicna League teams battling for playoff seeding within their respective divisions.  The Mexico City Diablos Rojos signed three-time MLB All-Star second baseman Brandon Phillips as a free agent on July 15 while the Monclova Acereros traded with Aguascalientes for All-Star third baseman Jose Vargas three days later.

Now 38, Philiips was drafted by Montreal in 1999 and played in the Expos system before he was traded to Cleveland in June 2002 as part of a six-man swap that also sent Cliff Lee, Grady Sizemore and Lee Stevens to the Indians for Bartolo Colon and Tim Drew.  After limited success with the Tribe, with a .206 average in 135 MLB games over four seasons mostly spent in AAA, Cleveland traded Phillips to Cincinnati in April 2006 for a player to be named later (pitcher Jeff Stevens).  The Reds gave the Stone Mountain, Georgia product their starting job at second base and Phillips' fortunes turned.

Over the next eleven years, Phillips would be awarded four Gold Gloves and play in the 2010, 2011 and 2013 All-Star Games, garnering MVP votes in 2007 and 2012 (ironically, neither were All-Star seasons).  Between 2006 and 2016, he played 1,616 games for Cincinnati and batted .279 with 191 homers and 194 stolen bases while leading National League second sackers in fielding percentage three times. 

However, the Reds traded Phillips to Atlanta prior to the 2017 season.  He hit .291 for the Braves in 120 games before he was dealt to the Los Angeles Angels, for whom he batted .255 the rest of the season. Phillips was released that November.  Boston picked him up last year and he played nine games in September for the Red Sox, batting .130, but was left off the eventual World Series champion's postseason roster and granted free agency after the season.  In his first four games with Mexico City, Phillips was 2-for-15 with a double while handling 19 chances flawlessly at second.

New Oaxaca DH/1B/3B/RF Jose Vargas
Vargas was in the middle of an MVP-worthy season for Aguascalientes before the financially-strapped Rieleros shipped him to Monclova for pitcher Juan Carlos Perez and two players to be named later on July 18.  A 2008 White Sox 22nd round draft pick out of Ventura (CA) College, Vargas hit .255 with 25 homers over three years in the Chisox system, then spent six years with Traverse City in the independent Frontier League (belting 29 homers with 110 RBIs in 2012) before coming to Aguascalientes in 2017. 

In 59 games with the Rieleros prior to last Thursday's trade, Vargas hit .366 with 29 homers and 70 RBIs before being shelved in late June with a broken hand.  While Vargas is naturally a third baseman, the Acereros have perhaps the best defensive third sacker in the LMB with Rodolfo Amador holding down the position.  First base? Well, there's Chris Carter (who has 38 homers and 90 RBIs, both tops in the Liga) and veteran Jose Amador and ex-LMB Rookie of the Year Ricky Rodriguez, so opportunities are limited there.  Since Vargas has played just 46 games in the outfield during his 12 pro seasons, that's not a likely option but also not out of the question. The Californian's bat has been too hot to keep out of the lineup, so expect Vargas to mostly be in the designated hitter's slot for new Monclova manager Pat Listach, who replaced Pedro Mere at the helm July 1, but he'll also likely fill in at the infield corners and perhaps even right field.


Edgar Gonzalez (l) and LMP prez Omar Canizales
Mexico's Office of the President for Development and Promotion of Baseball, aka ProBeis, has created a new league for promising players age 14 through 17. The Mexican Prospects League opened play earlier this month in Guadalajara, Jalisco and will continue through August 22.

"It will be eight intense weeks," said ProBeis commissioner Edgar Gonzalez, "with daily workouts and two games daily at 4 and 7 from Thursday through Sunday.  Four teams will be formed with 28 players each plus reserves."  Each team is carrying the name of former Mexican major league players while jerseys will contain elements of the MLB team to which each player belonged. 

LPM players will be evaluated over the course of the short season to determine their ability to land pro contracts or college scholarships.  "We are very happy to start this great project that will be one of the pillars of the new way to promote Mexican youth talent of excellence, "Gonzalez explained, adding that this marks the first time in history that there will be a showcase of international stature with the scope and support of the Mexican government.  "The key to this project is inclusion, in which we have invited young people from all over the country with diverse backgrounds and histories. It's the jewel in the crown of ProBeis." Players were recruited in part via invitations to different professional and semipro leagues, private academies, and both MLB and local scouts.

Gonzalez thanked the Mexican Pacific League and Jalisco Charros owner Salvador Quirarte for their support, including the use of Estadio Charros for games and training. He also cited the Mexican League's role in coordinating the nascent league, which is an outgrowth of new president Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador's desire to raise the profile of his favorite sport.  Gonzalez is a former MLB and NPB second baseman who more recently managed LMP teams in Mexicali and Jalisco before being tabbed by AMLO to oversee the development and growth of baseball on a national level.  The longterm goal inludes the creation of several government-subsidized academies throughout the country.

Mexican Prospect League doubleheaders began July 10 and will continue four times per week until the 32-game season concludes on August 22.

Monday, July 8, 2019


Fernando with family, Salinas and Chacho
Former Los Angeles Dodgers pitching sensation Fernando Valenzuela's jersey number was retired by all 16 Mexican League franchises on Sunday.  Valenzuela's 34 becomes the second number retired on a leaguewide basis by the LMB, joining legendary slugger Hector Espino's 21 as digits that will never again be worn on a Liga diamond.  Currently owner of the Quintana Roo Tigres along with wife Linda Burgos, Valenzuela was feted in a pregame ceremony Sunday in Cancun's Estadio Beto Avila, with league president Javier Salinas on hand while similar festivities took place in seven other LMB ballparks, all showing highlights of the laft-handed hurler's storied career on their respective scoreboards.

Prior to bursting on the big league scene with the Dodgers, Valenzuela signed a contract at age 16 with his hometown Navojoa Mayos of the Mexican Pacific League in 1977.  He eventually reached the Mexican League with Yucatan in 1979, going 10-12 with a 2.79 ERA in 26 starts for the Leones, good numbers for a 19-year-old in a AAA circuit notorious as a hitter's league.  LA scout Mike Brito attended a Leones game that summer to scout an opposing shortstop but after Fernando whiffed the shortstop on three straight pitches after falling behind 3-0 in the count, Brito's focus shifted and the Dodgers bought Valenzuela's contract from Yucatan for $125,000.  He finished the year with Class A Lodi of the California League, going 1-2 with a 1.12 ERA.  During training camp the following spring, Dodgers pitcher Bobby Castillo taught Valenzuela how to throw a screwball.

Fernando Valenzuela at 19
After looking good in a late-season call-up that year, Valenzuela's meteoric rise to stardom in 1981 begat an All-Star game start, an MLB strikeout title, Rookie of the Year honors, a Silver Slugger award, the NL Cy Young Award and a World Series title.  Attending all this was Fernandomania, during which he captivated baseball fans much as Mark Fidrych of Detroit had five years earlier.  Unlike the tragic Fidrych (whose arm went bad his second year and lost his pitching mojo), Valenzuela went on to pitch in five more All-Star Games and toss a no-hitter in 1990 during a 17-year big league career in which he went 173-153 with a 3.54 ERA and 2,074 strikeouts.  While those numbers won't get him into Cooperstown (he was inducted in Mexico's Salon de la Fama), they also don't reflect what a cultural phenomenon he became, especially among millions of Mexicans on both sides of the border.

Valenzuela had two more one-year stints in the Mexican League in the 1990's, both with the Jalisco Charros.  He went 10-9 with a 3.86 ERA over 22 starts in 1992; after spending time in Baltimore the following year, El Toro was back in Guadalajara in 1994, going 10-3 and 2.67 in 17 starts for the Charros.  He retired from baseball three years later, although Valenzuela would continue to work sporadically in the Mexican Pacific League before tossing his final pitch for Mexicali on December 20, 2006 at the age of 46.

After his playing days ended, Valenzuela coached at several levels, serving the Mexican National Team in four World Baseball Classics, before buying the Tigres with wife Linda in early 2017 and installing son Fernando Jr. as general manager.  El Toro's time in the front office has not been accompanied by the same glory that surrounded him on the mound.  The Tigres have found the sledding tough since the Valenzuelas bought them, both on the field (141-149 overall record through Sunday, no division titles) and at the gate (an average attendance of 3,266) while being at the center of the Rookiegate scandal, in which five Tigres prospects were transferred to Mexico City while the couple was buying the franchise from former owner Carlos Peralta.  Fernando was said to be mad enough about Rookiegate at one time to think about selling the team.

Although everyone made nice over the weekend, it's not known whether the Diablos ever gave the Tigres the more than two million dollars the former received for subsequently selling two of the prospects to the Texas Rangers, money the Valenzuelas could use to cover the Tigres' operating expenses.  Having your number retired on a leaguewide basis is a wonderful gesture but it doesn't help you meet payroll.


Estadio Alfredo Harp Helu in Mexico City's Raul Ochoa reports that a contractor involved with building the Mexico City Diabos Rojos' new ballpark has filed a lawsuit against the franchise.   Dünn Arquitectura Ligera is suing the Alfredo Harp Helu Sports Center organization for breach of contract in connection with costs of construction and installation of the futuristic roof above the main grandstand at 20-564-seat Estadio Alfredo Harp Helu, which sits within Mexico City's Magdalena Mixuca Sports City complex.

The facility was financed by team owner Harp, who had originally expected to spend 800 million pesos (or about US$42 million) for the stadium.  Instead, project delays and cost overruns more than quadrupled the cost of Mexico's newest ballpark to 3.5 billion pesos (US$184 million).  Harp and the Diablos have since balked at paying for many of the cost overruns, causing the architectural firm to seek payment in court.

Dünn lawyer Luis Villasenor told Proceso that the cost went up because Harp's company was making modifications that affected where and how the ballpark's columns and roof were installed, and that the resultant price increase was caused by Harp and associates, whose property administrator countered that the prices were raised by Dünn.  In January, Alfredo Harp Helu Sports Center prevented Dünn from continuing their ongoing work readying the ballpark for its late March opening, arguing the costs had risen well above the agreed amount.  In response, Dünn filed a complaint before a Mexico City civil court demanding to be allowed to complete the work and payment of related wages.

Harp's company claimed that Dünn had abandoned the project three years after signing the contract.  A document provided by Dünn to Proceso countered that the entire project was ill-defined by the team from the outset, the numerous design changes submitted by Harp's group kept altering design calculations and that there is now concern about the roof's stability.  The civil court judge awarded Harp and the team a so-called counter guarantee, which was then earmarked to a new contractor for taking over the project from Dünn and completing the work (which Dünn says was 95 to 97 percent complete) in less than three weeks prior to the venue's March 23 opener.

The Dünn suit is, among other things, calling for expert appraisals to be carried out to determine whether the structural design calculations "are correct and, where appropriate, establish the measures that must be adopted to guarantee the security operation of the same before the well-founded fear that this structure collapses."
Diablos Rojos owner Alfredo Harp Helu

Writer Ochoa describes a tour of the ballpark involving a number of Diablos officials, including executive president Othon Diaz, found cracks to the finish of the main hall of the stadium, an auxiliary power system that had been operating the facility for over a month because official approval for standard electricity had not yet been approved by the Secretary of Energy, a lack of direct drinking water for patrons and an inadequate water pump system in the basement of the Sports City.  In addition, workers were spotted a week after the ballpark's inauguration doing some welding on lower and upper parts of columns.

Another issue brought up has been the quality of soil the structure was built on.  When asked about whether there were concerns about building atop a clay-laden surface in which a true "bottom" was never found on which to set a foundation, stadium operations director Alicia Andonegui replied, "Never. If you hire experts who know about the subject, you can build whatever you want in the area you consider it."

Stadium administrator Jose Ortiz defended the quality of the work.  "There is no problem, we assure you," Ortiz said.  "The property is operating perfectly and in excellent condition."  However, Mexico City Head of Government (similar to a mayor) Claudia Scheinbaum, who took office in December and accompanied president Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador to Estadio Alfredo Harp Helu's March 23 opener, now says it was a "mistake" to build it in the Sports City.


Caborca Rojos celebrating a win at home
With less than a week remaining in the regular season, the Caborca Rojos are hoping to hang to their two-game lead over the San Luis Algodoneros in their battle for the Mexican Northern League second half crown and the eight playoff points that accompany first place in each half.  Caborca finished the first half with a 13-17 record and fourth place in the five-team circuit, but they went in to last weekend's series in San Quintin with a 17-8 mark.  The Freseros entered the set with a 12-13 record, five games behind the Reds and three games behind 16-11 San Luis.

The Rojos have represented Caborca in Mexican Class AA baseball since 1948, winning Northern Sonora League pennants in 1966, 1975 and 2004 and a Liga Norte flag in 2011, playing their home games in 5,000-seat Estadio Heroes de Caborca.  While there have been other strong Red nines over the years, Caborca has not been one of the traditional powers in the regional loops of northwest Mexican states (and baseball hotbeds) of Sonora, Sinaloa and now Baja California Sur.

Caborca's current season was chugging along as usual in the middle of the short-circuit pack until two things conspired to happen simultaneously: The Rojos got hot in the second half while first half winners (and defending champion) Ensenada stumbled out the game and have yet to recover.  The Marineros took the crown with an 18-12 record to edge San Luis by a game in the first half but stand fourth at 11-16 under first-year manager Ramon Esquer while expansion team La Paz, who surprised many with a third-place finish in the opening half at 15-15, are in fifth and last with an 8-16 mark.

 The Rojos, who receive players from working agreements with Yucatan and Union Laguna of the Mexican League, have led the Liga Norte in batting under manager Gilberto Sotomayor with a .295 average while their pitching staff's ERA of 4.14 also tops the LNM.  Caborca has four batsmen among the league's top seven hitters: Juan Manuel Kirk is third with a .366 average, Brayan Quintero is fourth at .351, Yadil Mujica ranks fifth with a .340 mark and Adan Velazquez (.333) is seventh.  Osniel Madera of San Quintin leads with a .381 average.  The versatile Velazquez, who can play either second or third base as well as the outfield, topss the LNM with 50 RBIs and is tied with La Paz' Maikel Serrano for fourth in homers with seven, four behind Serrano's Delfines teammate Rene Reyes' 11.  Caborca pitcher Misael Silverio Meza leads the Liga Norte with eight wins and is third in ERA at 2.83, trailing San Quintin moundmates Porfirio Lopez (2.20) and Alejandro Arteaga (2.75).  Lopez leads Meza in the strikeouts race, 90 to 87.

Sunset at La Paz' Estadio Arturo C. Nahl
The LNM was formed in 2008 and has served as the Mexican League's top feeder loop, but it's been a turbulent year for the Liga Norte.  First, the Tecate Indios requested (and received) a year off after a poor financial showing in 2018.  They were replaced by the new La Paz Delfines, marking the debut of professional baseball in Baja California Sur after interests in the peninsular city had first explored entry in the winter Mexican Pacific League.  La Paz' entry kept the LNM at six teams until the Puerto Penasco Tiburones followed Tecate's suit and dropped out shortly before the April 2019 opener over money issues.  The league has since muddled its way with a five-team lineup, ensuring at least one idle team every night of the campaign.

Another blow was dealt in the offseason when the Mexican League withdrew its formal support and the pesos that came with it after LMB president Javier Salinas cited financial irregularities, although he delined to elaborate.  The move meant a cutoff of needed cash from the AAA Liga, with LNM president Francisco Ochoa talking with Mexico's national baseball coordinator, Edgar Gonzalez, to seek restoration of funding via pro-baseball president Andres Manuel Lopez (who took a very hands-on approach to his favorite sport shortly after assuming office in December, but has quieted down somewhat since).

Salinas did say that while the LMB was withdrawing structural and financial support, individual Liga teams were free to cobble together their own affiliation agreements with Liga Norte clubs and now all five teams in the latter have at least two Liga affiliates (San Quintin has set ties with Tijuana and Campeche but the Freseros roster also contains many Saltillo AA players).

The LNM regular season will conclude when Caborca visits Ensenada in a series of top teams from each half and La Paz hosts San Quentin in a three-game midweek set.  San Luis will be the bye team.  The four-team playoffs will open next weekend.

Monday, July 1, 2019


Monclova ace P Josh Lowey is done for the year
It's never good for a team to lose a pitcher many consider the best in their league, especially during a season in which batters are having a field day against most hurlers in the circuit, but that's the slice of reality that's been handed to the Monclova Acereros, who lost ace Josh Lowey to a knee injury during a May 24 game at Campeche.  Lowey's injury ended his season and has left Mere scrambling to fill an unfillable void ever since.

A 34-year-old right-hander, Lowey was cruising along after five innings in his last start, holding Campeche scoreless on one hit (an Oscar Williams single) while striking out six Piratas, whiffing the side on ten pitches in the second.  However, in the bottom of the sixth, he injured his knee after throwing one pitch to leadoff hitter Jose Guadalupe Chavez, who popped out to third baseman Rodolfo Amador.  According to the Piratas' website, Lowey had run over to the third base line to field the pop-up and nearly collided with Amador, catching his spikes on the grass and wrenching his knee in the process.  Wilmer Rios relieved the Floridian and although the Acereros went on to win, 8-2, raising Lowey's season record to 8-0 while lowering his ERA from 4.34 to 3.91, it couldn't have been a celebratory clubhouse afterward.

So how DOES one replace a two-time LMB Pitcher of the Year and three-time strikeout champion who'd gone 63-24 with a 3.04 ERA over 112 starts since joining the Acereros in 2014, whiffing 710 batsmen over 693.1 frames?  So far, Mere hasn't found an answer.  A Monday travel day after Lowey's Friday injury allowed the Monclova skipper to buy a little time but subsequent attempts to fill the slot have met with mixed success.

Former MLBer Darin Downs was brought in, gave up five runs without escaping the first inning in a June 7 home loss to Monterrey, and was released three days later.  Reliever Geno Encina has had three starts since Lowey went down and although the 2017 Midwest League All-Star (while pitching in the Jays system) has won two of them, he hasn't been particularly impressive.  Another reliever, ex-Rangers farmhand Adan Quintana, earned a June 12 win at Dos Laredos by allowing two runs in five innings but Mere returned him to his set-up role.  Former Brewers and Royals minor leaguer Jon Perrin arrived June 25 and was rocked one night later in Oaxaca for five runs in 5.1 innings of an 8-5 Monclova win, so his status is tenuous.  No word on whether Mere or Acereros owner Gerardo Benavides have contacted Lowey's twin brother Jason, who spent eight seasons bouncing between the Braves' system and indy leagues as a reliever before throwing his last pitch in anger five years ago.

Monclova 1B Chris Carter
Although the remaining Acereros staff (including starters Danny Rodriguez, Romario Gil, Andre Rienzo and Jaime Lugo) has been cuffed around a bit, showing a collective 5.08 ERA without Lowey, the team has continued winning.  Mere has had the good fortune of penciling in lineup cards for a team standing second the league in hitting (.322) with 115 homers while averaging nearly eight runs per game.  Monclova is 44-25 for the regular season and sits two games behind Tijuana in third place for the second half lead in the LMB North at 5-4.  Reigning MVP Francisco Peguero is fifth in the loop at .382 with 16 homers and 65 RBIs while Amador has 13 homers and 70 ribbies to augment a .336 average, but it's been former National League home run champ Chris Carter who's caused the most fear among Liga pitchers.

In his first season south of the border, Carter homered against Puebls Sunday to raise his season total to LMB-best 31 for the season and put him on track to belt 54 longballs over the 120-game schedule.  The Mexican League record for homers in a single season is 54 by the late Jack Pierce for Leon in 1986.  Pierce retired the following year but he had married a Mexican and remained in the country as a coach and scout until his 2012 death from a pulmonary embolism in Monterrey at age 63.  Carter is also batting .321 with a league-best 74 RBIs.  The 2005 White Sox' 15th-round draft pick appears to have gotten his groove back following a 2018 season that saw him struggle at the AAA level in the States after his release from the Yankees a year earlier.  Carter is also leading the LMB with 88 strikeouts.


Orix OF Joey Meneses must sit for one year
For a second year in a row, a Mexican-born slugger playing in Japan has been suspended after failing a drug test, but this time the suspension has been doubled.

Last year, designated hitter Japhet Amador (now with the Mexico City Diablos Rojos) was suspended for six months after testing positive for chlorthalidone and furosemide while playing for the Rakuten Golden Eagles.  This time, according to the website, it's Culiacan native Joey Meneses getting the order to sit down for one year after testing positive for stanozolol, a substance considered to be an anabolic steroid by the World Anti-Doping Agency.  Based in Montreal, WADA was formed in 1999 by the International Olympic Committee in response to past substance abuse by Olympic athletes and has since been given authority by over 600 sports organizations to monitor drug use among athletes.

Meneses, in his first year overseas with the Orix Buffaloes, first tested positive for stanozolol on April 9 after belting a homer in a 3-1 home win over Rakuten in Osaka, just eight games into the current regular season. reports that after the initial test result, a second test on Meneses was carried out May 27 that reportedly confirmed the first finding.  The suspension was handed down last Friday by Nippon Professional Baseball and the Buffaloes have asked for authorization to cancel the remainder of Meneses' one-year contract, estimated to be worth 100 million yen (or about US$925,000).  The team says the 27-year-old has violated terms of the contract and NPB has given the go-ahead to move forward with their claim.

Meneses as a National Team member
A first baseman and outfielder, Meneses signed a free agent contract with Atlanta as a 19-year-old in 2011.  He went on to spend seven seasons in the Braves' system, earning All-Star mention in the AA Southern League in 2017 before signing with Philadelphia as a free agent following the season.  Last year with the Phils' Lehigh Valley affiliate, he was both Rookie of the Year and Most Valuable Player of the AAA International League after batting .311 with 23 homers and 82 RBIs to lead the IronPigs to the playoffs, where they lost in the semifinals to the Yankees' Scranton/Wilkes-Barre affiliate.

Meneses signed with Orix in late October.  Hopes in Osaka were that the 6'3" 220-pounder would add power to the middle of the Buffaloes order.  Instead, Meneses (now 27) struggled out the gate and was batting .206 with four homers and 14 RBIs in 29 games when his suspension was handed down.

It is not known whether Meneses will eventually appeal either the suspension or a contract revocation.  Last year, Amador appealed his suspension with tepid support from the Eagles front office and lost.  The Mexican League chose to honor the NPB ban and Amador was barred from playing last Fall for Mexico City, who owns his LMB rights.  The Mexican Pacific League allowed him to perform last winter and he hit .283 with six homers in 27 games for Jalisco.  The 32-year-old, listed conservatively at 310 pounds, is currently batting .312 along with 13 homers and 55 RBI with the Diablos.


Academia de Alfredo Harp Helu in Oaxaca
Earlier announcements that Major League Baseball franchises would give 100 percent of signing bonuses to Mexican prospects, with 35 percent of bonus amounts earmarked for the Mexican League franchise holding the youngster's domestic rights, appear to be inaccurate.  Editor Hector Bencomo of the website says that while technically the 35 percent commission remains intact, certain conditions in the agreement between MLB and the LMB contain elements that will make collecting commissions difficult to impossible.

According to Bencomo, LMB owners meeting during All-Star Weekend in Mexico City earlier this month learned the agreement includes provisos that the prospect in question must A) be 16 years old, B) has lived at least two years in Mexico and C) has one year of experience in the Mexican League.  While the first two conditions are not generally hard for Liga teams to work with, the third has been a sticking point with a number of signings occurring after the pact was signed in March.  Most of the prospects had been playing at either the LMB academy near Monterrey or one of the smaller academies operated by individual Mexican League teams such as Tijuana, Monclova and Mexico City.  The Liga reportedly sought to have the terms of the agreement changed but MLB responded that the deal will remain intact over its two-year life.

While Mexican League teams once held all the cards when selling prospects to Major League organizations, most (if not all) stand to receive nothing when prospects without LMB experience sign with big league teams.  Bencomo says the result will be losses in the millions (of pesos) for Liga teams who historically have depended on selling prospects to MLB teams and likely put a brake on domestic development of talent south of the border, adding that he believes it's the fault of those who negotiated the contract with MLB for not paying attention to the fine print.

Game at LMB Academia near Monterrey
LMB teams are not obligated to sell prospects to MLB teams, Bencomo says, and one potential response would be to register their top prospects on their rosters for one year (whether they actually take the field in a Liga game or not) before selling them and collecting the commission.  Bencomo warns that such an approach could be seen by parents of prospects as taking money out of their son's pockets, which could yield disastrous long-term results for Mexican teams.

Prior to March's agreement, Major League Baseball had prohibited teams from signing Mexican prospects for nearly a year due to "bad or dubious practices" among LMB teams who owned their rights.