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Baseball Mexico

by Bruce Baskin
August 14, 2018 - Mexican League (ML)

ALVAREZ OUT AS OAXACA MANAGER, REPLACED BY GASTELUM

The Joe Alvarez Era in Oaxaca is over after 30 games. After some early success in the Mexican League's Fall season, winning eight of their first 12 games and brief ownership of first place in the LMB South standings, the Guerreros lost 12 of their next 18 games before Alvarez was shown the door last Tuesday with a 14-16 record and the usual platitudes from the people firing him. "The Cuban-born Alvarez achieved the necessary harmony in the dressing room and field of play," a Guerreros press release said, "but unfortunately, the results were not positive for the team. We wish him a lot of success in his next project."

Alvarez was hired June 11 after former Mexico City Diablos Rojos star Jose Luis "Borrego" Sandoval piloted Oaxaca to a 22-35 record and last place in the South for the Spring season. The 62-year-old Alvarez has had some past success in the Liga, leading Puebla to the South championship in 2014 after replacing Alfonso "Houston" Jimenez during the season and piloting Durango to a .500 record over the first month of the 2017 season after the Generales were forced to play the first four weeks of the schedule on the road while belated renovations to their ballpark were being completed. However, Alvarez was sacked in Durango after the Generales faded down the stretch amid player discontent stemming from late paychecks while top talent was traded away for cash so payroll could be met.

Prior to his June hiring in Oaxaca, the three-time pennant-winning manager during his stint in the Dodgers system was preparing for his first winter managing the Mazatlan Venados, where Alvarez will return to another situation in which ballpark renovations are falling behind as the clock ticks toward a season opener. Alvarez will be replaced in the Guerreros dugout by former second baseman Sergio Gastelum, a 39-year-old Sonoran who retired as a player last winter after compiling a .310 batting average with 82 homers and 1,054 runs scored in 22 seasons, the first 12 with the Tigres while they were located in Mexico City and then Puebla.

The Guerreros lost their first six games under Gastelum to see their losing streak drop to nine while sinking deeper in the standings with a 14-22 record, one game ahead of last-place Quintana Roo (13-23). Defending champion Yucatan has won four straight, including a three-game weekend home sweep of Oaxaca, to pull into a virtual tie with Leon at the top of the LMB South standings. The 19-15 Bravos are .003 percentage points ahead of the 20-16 Leones, half a game ahead of 19-16 Puebla and one-and-a-half games up on 18-17 Mexico City. In the LMB North, Monclova (27-9) has won eight of their last ten games to maintain a six-game lead over Dos Laredos (21-15), who have played well since Felix Fermin assumed the reins from former manager Eddie Castro in May near the end of the Spring season. Tijuana (20-15), Monterrey (20-16) and Aguascalientes (18-17) round out the top five teams in the North with Saltillo, Durango and Union Laguna fading out of playoff contention with three weeks left in the abbreviated regular season.

Former Padres shortstop Everth Cabrera has taken over the batting lead, with the Yucatan infielder posting a .423 average to lead teammate Leo Heras (.422) and Oaxaca's Yuniesky Betancourt (.401) at the top of the table. Saltillo outfielder Leandro Castro belted three solo homers last week to bring his season roundtripper total to 12, one ahead of Monterrey's Felix Perez and two up of Francisco Peguero of Monclova. Perez was sent to the Sultanes along with pitcher Gabe Aguilar by Aguascalientes in a five-player trade last Tuesday that netted the Rieleros first sacker Ricky Alvarez, outfielder Francisco Lugo and pitcher Nestor Molina. Puebla outfielder Delmon Young continues to lead the Liga in RBIs with 43 over 35 games. The ex-MLBer had no ribbies in a weekend series in Quintana Roo after driving in five runs in three midweek games at Yucatan. Aguascalientes outfielder Tony Campana stole two bases last week to bring his season total to a Liga-leading 19, five more than Dos Laredos' Johnny Davis.

Leon pitcher Rogelio Martinez won at Tabasco last Saturday in his only start of the week and while the three earned Olmecas runs he allowed brought his ERA up from 1.21 to 1.63, he still leads the LMB in that category. After going 5-13 with an ERA above 5 over six previous seasons for four teams, the 26-year from Jalisco is having a breakout season for the Bravos and a big reason they occupy first place. Another breakout year is coming from Mexico City righty Patrick Johnson, who beat Campeche for the second time in seven days last Friday to run his season record to 6-0 in seven starts and 9-0 since coming to the Diablos from Oaxaca during the Spring season. The former University of North Carolina hurler was 2-3 for the Guerreros before being dealt to Mexico City on May 4 but hasn't lost since. Puebla's Enrique Oquendo struck out three Yucatan batsmen over 1.1 innings last Wednesday before being pulled (he allowed five walks and a hit in that start, a no-decision) to bring his season whiff total to 43, still tops in the loop. Monclova's Josh Lueke and Wirfin Obispo of Monterrey each earned a save last week and both now have 10 for the season to tie for most in the LMB.

There'll be a big midweek series in Leon starting Tuesday when the Bravos host Yucatan in a three-game battle between the top two teams in the LMB South. Next weekend's top series will likely be in Tijuana, when fifth-place Aguascalientes visits for a trio of games with the third-place Toros as two LMB North playoff contenders collide.

DIABLOS TO RETURN PROSPECT RIGHTS, PAY TIGRES

In what may finally be the closing chapter of the ongoing Rookiegate situation, the Mexican League ha ordered the Mexico City Diablos Rojos to return the rights to five former prospects to Quintana Roo while also paying the Tigres money the Diablos had received from the sale of two of the young players who'd been property of the Cancun team before some reported sleight-of-hand during the February 2017 sale of the Tigres from former owner Carlos Peralta to ex-Dodgers Cy Young winner Fernando Valenzuela resulted in five prospects being moved from the Tigres' protected list to the Diablos. The resulting scandal has been called "Rookiegate" and has reverberated throughout the LMB.

According to reporter Beatriz Pereyra of Proceso, the Liga's Board of Directors (consisting of Monclova and Puebla owner Gerardo Benavides, Tijuana owner Alejandro Uribe, Eustacio Alvarez of Aguascalientes and Dos Laredos owner Jose Antonio Mansur unanimously declared the player transfers null and void, ordering the return to Quintana Roo of Fernando Villalobos, who was 14 at the time and protected from being transferred to another team, while compensating the Tigres for the sale of their former prospects Luis Fernando Medina, Damian Mendoza, Oliver Zepeda and Hansen Lopez to Major League Baseball organizations. Medina was already in the Braves organization at the time of the sale while Zepeda was an infielder in the Blue Jays system, Mendoza was sold to the Texas Rangers for a reported US$1.2 million while Villalobos is said to have sold himself to the same organization for US$1.5 million. The Mexican rights to all five will revert to Quintana Roo and while the Diablos will have to pay the US$1.2 they received from the Rangers for Mendoza, compensation for Villalobos may be tricky since the young catcher was not signed legally.

In fact, the whole Rookiegate affair is murky, depicted by current Diablos GM Francisco "Pollo" Minjarez (who came to Mexico City from Cancun almost immediately after the Tigres were sold, as a "gentleman's agreement" between former Quintana Roo team president Chto Rodriguez and ex-Diablos president Roberto Mansur in which the Diablos supposedly had room on their master roster for the prospects while the Tigres didn't. Minjarez was suspended by the Liga for his role while both Rodriguez and Mansur are both out of baseball. An interesting note is that Dos Laredos president Jose Antonio Mansur in essence voted against his brother as an LMB director.

The imbroglio was denounced loudly and often by Valenzuela and his wife, Linda Burgos, who both claimed to have seen the five prospects' names on a list of players whose rights were owned by the Tigres while the sale was being negotiated. Reports were that if the Liga did not do something to rectify the matter to the Valenzuelas' satisfaction, the Tigres might have gone back on the market. Instead, it appears the sordid matter has been resolved (if not to everyone's satisfaction) and that the Tigres will be five players and at least US$1.2 million richer.

AMADOR SUSPENDED BY NPB AFTER DRUG TESTS

Mexican slugger Japhet Amador of Nippon Professional Baseball's Rakuten Golden Eagles has been suspended for six months after testing positive for two banned substances, chlorthalidone and furosemide, on June 23 ten days after being tested following a game against the Chunichi Dragons in Sendai. Both are on a list of prohibited drugs on the World Anti-Doping Agency (or WADA) website. According to writer Jason Coskrey of the Japan Times, Amador was given a chance to defend himself during a Pacific League meeting on June 30 and while he denied intentionally taking any banned substance, an NPB press release said he did not dispute the actual findings. At Amador's request, the sample was tested again on August 1 but results came back the same.

The suspension means the hulking (6'4" and listed at 310 pounds) Amador will not be eligible to play again in Japan until next February, but concerns exist that Rakuten will not bring him back for 2019 and that his NPB career may be over due to the test results. There was some speculation among Mexican baseball cognoscenti that the so-called "Giant of Mulege" may join the Mexico City Diablos Rojos (who own his LMB rights) for the stretch run of the current Fall regular season and playoffs, he'll more likely cool his heels until his Mexican Pacific League team, the Jalisco Charros, begin winterball play in October. Where Amador goes after the MexPac season may be the larger question.

In a statement released by the Eagles front office, Amador is quoted as saying, "I have never committed an act of doping in my baseball life up to this point. I have never intentionally taken any banned drugs. I haven't used stimulants or anything to increase muscle, or thought about using diuretics or masking agents. I've been given many doping tests in the past and they've all been negative."

Amador had a .269 average in 62 games for Rakuten this season with 20 homers (tied for sixth in the league) and 42 RBIs. Since joining the Eagles for the 2016 season, he's belted 52 homers in 222 NPB games, including 23 longballs in 2017. After his Mexican League debut with Minatitlan as a 20-year-old in 2007, Amador hit .330 with with 167 homers over nine Liga seasons. He had a monster year for Mexico City in 2015, batting .346 with 41 homers and 117 RBIs in 103 games before sending another 14 balls to the street in 58 games for Jalisco in the LMP's 2015-16 season. He hit .248 with six homers in 36 contests for the Charros last winter, but should be much more rested when the 2018-19 MexPac campaign opens.


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