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Baseball Mexico

by Bruce Baskin
April 24, 2018 - Mexican League (ML)

Dissension in Monclova: Manny Rodriguez leaves Acereros

Team chemistry. It's something that's often overlooked by fans and media alike, especially in an era during which fantasy leagues have placed a premium on a player's statistics at the expense of his humanity, but it's hard to win championships with a roster of unhappy players. As if to provide Exhibit A for how that works (or doesn't), we bring you the Monclova Acereros and their disaffected star second baseman Manny Rodriguez.

Coming off an MVP season of winterball in the Mexican Pacific League, Rodriguez was expected to be a linchpin on a loaded Acereros team that on paper was one of the favorites to win at least one title in the Mexican League's two seasons for 2018. Instead, Rodriguez has left the team out of frustration from repeated player movements between Monclova and the Puebla Pericos (both owned by Gerardo Benavides) and the resulting dissension among players used like pawns in a chess game with the same person dictating moves on either side of the board. The 35-year-old Guasave native was off to a good start for the Acereros, batting .302 with a homer and 16 RBIs over 15 games before deciding enough was enough following an April 8 game (ironically against Puebla) and leaving the club. Rodriguez has since been placed on the Reserve list and is no doubt being shopped around in trade talks.

The problem in Monclova underscores what has been a problem in the Mexican League the past few seasons: Ownership of multiple teams, or what cronistas south of the border are calling "timeshare" franchises. Besides Benavides, Alfredo Harp Helu owns both the Mexico City Diablos Rojos and Oaxaca Guerreros while brothers Juan Jose and Erick Arellano own both the Yucatan Leones and Union Laguna Algodoneros (although the latter team is now for sale). The siblings last year decided to strengthen the Leones down the stretch by "trading" slugger Ricky Alvarez from Laguna to Yucatan for lesser players, effectively killing Laguna's playoff hopes and alienating their fan base in the bargain. Benavides has been far more hands-on with his two teams, deliberately stacking his Monclova club with stars from Puebla's 2016 LMB champions last year in attempt to create a pennant-winner for his hometown Acereros.

Instead, the Pericos reached the title series against Tijuana while the Steelers were knocked out of the playoffs by Monterrey in the first round. Due to Benavides' capricious moves (none of which have been resisted by LMB president Javier Salinas, who's said he's fine with timeshare teams), the Acereros are currently sixth in the LMB North with an 11-15 record and a locker room of ballplayers who would rather be somewhere else in what would serve as an object lesson for an owner who didn't already think he knows it all. Player movement with the Acereros continues in an attempt to create some team harmony but the person who needs to be traded most is also the one signing the paychecks.

While Monclova has clearly been a disappointment during the LMB's Spring season as the halfway mark of the schedule approaches this week, the Monterrey Sultanes have looked sharp under new manager Roberto Kelly and lead the North with an 18-9 mark, two games up on 16-11 Tijuana. The Sultanes are tied for fifth in the league with a .305 batting average and the aforementioned Alvarez (who was dealt to Monterrey from Yucatan in the offseason) leads the loop with 11 homers and is second to Tijuana's Corey Brown with 32 RBIs to augment his .353 average at the plate. Veteran pitcher Javier Solano has definitely benefited from the support, showing a 4-1 record despite an ERA of 6.59 and proving that sometimes it is indeed better to be lucky than good. Aguascalientes is third with a 14-13 record while Durango is fourth at 13-14. The Generales have ensured a nightly slugfest by leading the LMB with a .331 batting average while averaging 6.7 runs per game but allowing 7.9 runs per contest, making converted starter Tiago da Silva's 3.23 ERA a much more remarkable stat than one would think at first blush (da Silva is 4-1 this year).

After fielding only two teams with winning records last season, the LMB South has four squads playing .600 or better ball this spring. The Mexico City Diablos Rojos, who missed the playoffs the last two years with import-free rosters, have abandoned their "Mexican-only" philosophy and are now tied with Yucatan at the top of the table with am 18-9 record. The Diablos are also seeing a rise in attendance after drawing fewer than 3,000 per game to Estadio Fray Nano in 2017, with crowds topping 5,000 all three nights last weekend for their three-game sweep of the Quintana Roo Tigres. The Red Devils overcame a three-homer game by Tigres third baseman C.J. Retherford Sunday to wrap up the set with a 10-6 win over the visitors. However, it seems the Diablos just can't avoid controversy. GM Francisco "Pollo" Minjarez, ostensibly suspended by LMB president Salinas for his role in the Rookiegate scandal (which has apparently been swept under the league office rug), is reportedly still running the team and even regularly appeared in the team's box during the series against the Tigres, who came out on the short end of Minjarez' alleged double-dealing when five of their prospects were transferred to Mexico City while former Dodgers ace Fernando Valenzuela was in the process of buying the Tigres from Carlos Peralta.

The situations in Monclova, Torreon, Mexico City and Cancun indicate that while Salinas has been successfully proactive in raising his league's image through an increased social media presence and the LMB's innovative two-season approach, he has a long way to go before proving that he is a leader of the men who operate Mexican League franchises. While the so-called New Breed of owners have won the battle with the Old Guard for control of the Liga's Assembly of Presidents, what has not changed is the impression that the LMB is still essentially a fiefdom for the Haves over the Have-Nots...only the names have changed and it serves neither the league nor Mexican baseball well if both are to be taken seriously and grow.

MEXICAN LEAGUE STANDINGS (as of Monday, April 23, 2018)

LMB North: Monterrey 18-9, Tijuana 16-11, Aguascalientes 14-13, Durango 13-14, Dos Laredos 12-15, Monclova 11-15, Union Laguna 9-18, Saltillo 9-18.

LMB South: Mexico City 18-9 Yucatan 18-9, Puebla 16-10, Quintana Roo 16-10, Tabasco 12-15, Campeche 11-15, Leon 11-16, Oaxaca 10-17.

LMP to allow 12 foreigners in 2018-19, but All-Star Game dropped

The Mexican Pacific League held a meeting last week in Mazatlan, where team presidents had a chance to tour Estadio Teodoro Mariscal, where a massive retrofit is underway in preparation for next winter's schedule. Renovations have been moving along at a decent pace but the possibility exists that the Venados will need to spend their first few series on the road for the 2018-19 season to ensure the ballpark is fully ready for occupancy. Both the Durango Generales and Leon Bravos spent the first month of the 2017 Mexican League season living out of their suitcases while their respective ballparks were being brought up to standard. The Venados are not expected to wait that long, but one never knows for sure in these instances.

Besides looking over Teodoro Mariscal's modernization effort (which leaves Navojoa as the only LMP franchise site with an outdated playing facility), the LMP governors made a couple of important decisions that point directly toward the effect the Mexican League's extension of their schedule into October with the latter's two-season format with month-long playoffs for each. One decision was to raise the limit of foreign players allowed on a MexPac team's active roster from eight to twelve next winter. The reason given is a practical one, since there will be so little turnaround time for players between the end of their LMB seasons and the beginning of the LMP schedule and Mexican League teams (who own the players' rights in Mexican ball) are expected to hold some players on their protected lists out of the winterball season, citing fatigue. The result is a shortage of domestic talent for LMP clubs at the beginning of their season, which led to the increase of imports. The LMB's no-limit policy on Mexican-American ballplayers, as mandated last year by Minor League Baseball president Pat O'Connor, does not exist in the MexPac (which does not fall under MiLB auspices) but it may need to be considered as October draws closer and homegrown players start becoming unavailable.

Another change brought on by LMB schedule encroachment was the demise of the LMP All-Star Game, which was revived two years ago after an absence of nineteen winters. The event has drawn well in both Obregon and Los Mochis since it was resumed, but the window for selected players and coaches to take part was already a narrow one even before the Liga extended their calendar by a month, and LMP leaders determined that holding an All-Star Game (along with the popular Home Run Derby) this winter wasn't practical from a logistical standpoint. The MexPac regular season is presently set to open on Friday, October 12, less than a month after the Mexican League's second-season playoffs will conclude.

New Mexican Baseball Hall of Fame nearing completion, opening

After being closed for several years, with its contents boxed in storage during the interim, the Mexican Baseball Hall of Fame (or Salon de la Fama) is expected to reopen in a new building in Monterrey, where the museum existed in an existing facility on the Cuauhtemoc brewery ground from 1973 until 2011, when the brewery decided to shut it down.

The new Salon de la Fama is being erected on the banks of the Paseo Santa Lucia, an artificial canal running through Monterrey's Parque Fundidora, and will be a stand-alone facility. Mexico City Diablos Rojos owner Alfredo Harp Helu is bankrolling the new Hall with construction overseen by former Monterrey Sultanes team president Jose "Pepe" Maiz, an engineer by trade. BBM has been critical of both men in the past but they deserve all the credit for reviving what should be considered a pantheon for Mexican baseball rather than just one more occupant in one more storage facility.

Puro Beisbol's Enrique Kerlegand, now arguably the dean of Mexican baseball writers following the passing of Tommy Morales, toured the new Salon last week and wrote glowingly of its progress in his Tiempo de Beisbol column. Kerlegand says Harp is currently spending about 300 million pesos (or approximately US$17 million) to build the Salon, expected to open this summer, and will include several viewing rooms, restaurants and a dome under which a Precinct of Immortals constructed of marble, bronze and glass will highlight the nearly 200 members. There will also be a mini-ballpark named after Hector Espino at the site, which Kerlegand says should serve well as a temple of Mexican baseball.

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Mexican League Stories from April 24, 2018

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