by Bruce Baskin
March 9, 2020 - Mexican League (ML)
WILL PROBEIS TAKE OVER ACADEMY FROM LIGA?
According to Hector Bencomo of the Hitazo website, a proposal has been made to the organization charged by Mexican president Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador with building baseball interest and participation throughout the country, asking that organization (known by the acronym Probeis) to take the reins of the Mexican League's academy in El Carmen, Nuevo Laredo (near Monterrey) from the LMB. Bencomo reports that rumors of the academy's "disappearance" have grown stronger since the last LMB Assembly of Presidents Meeting. The facility was the brainchild of Mexico City Tigres owner Alejo Peralta, Mexico City Diablos Rojos team president Roberto Mansur and Mexican League president Petro Treto Cisneros and inaugurated on March 25, 1996.
Since then literally thousands of homegrown prospects have lived in the dormitories and played on the academy's diamonds, many of whom moved on to long careers in Major League Baseball or the Mexican League, including current Houston Astros closer Roberto Osuna, longtime MLB reliever Joakim Soria, Monterrey infielder Ramiro Pena (who spent time in both MLB and Japan), Diablos Rojos slugger Japhet Amador and shortstop Heber Gomez, who parlayed his academy stint that first year into a 22-year Liga career, mostly with Monterrey.
The Mexican League's 16 franchises have traditionally shared the costs of housing and development of academy prospects, typically with eight teams supplied with players from two LMB teams each playing a spring schedule after months of on-site training. Since the fine print in a new agreement between MLB and the Liga agreed to last year all but ended the past practice of big league organizations compensating LMB teams for the rights to young players, the expense of keeping the academy operational has become too burdensome on cash-strapped Liga clubs with little to no prospect of recouping some of those costs through player sales. Annual expenses are between 8 to 12 million pesos (US$400,000-US$600,000) per LMB franchise, bearable for wealthier organizations like Mexico City or Monterrey but a real burden for the likes of Aguascalientes and Campeche.
A team of Tijuana prospects ran away with last year's Academy League title, sporting a 42-16 record to finish 8.5 games ahead of a squad of teenagers owned by Monclova and Saltillo. Unsurprisingly, two top Liga Academia players to emerge were both Toros property: Jared Serna hit .367 with seven homers and 52 RBIs in 52 games while pitcher Victor Sepulveda went 5-1 over seven starts (saving two more games) with a 2.31 ERA and 54 strikeouts in 39 innings pitched).
What happens now is anyone's guess. Bencomo says sources have told him a formal proposal has been made to former MLB and NPB infielder Edgar Gonzalez, now director of Probeis, asking that the AMLO-created agency take over operation of the academy. In return for expenses related to housing, feeding and developing top young Mexican ballplayers, Probeis would have the authority to sell them to MLB organizations and keep the proceeds. Whether the same conditions preventing LMB teams from selling players with less than one year on a Liga roster would apply to Probeis because they were not a party to the agreement may be a legal gray area that would have to be addressed.
Bencomo says another suggestion was that Probeis broker a deal in which MLB itself takes over the El Carmen facility, which includes four baseball fields with adjacent batting cages and practice pitcher's mounds, a 79-room dormitory for players and coaches, a kitchen and dining room, separate housing for umpires (who also train for future LMB work), two meeting rooms, an administrative offices and a guardhouse at the entry.
The LMB is hoping for a response from Probeis by no later than the April 6 Liga regular season opener. A later answer would likely mean a delay in reporting to El Carmen by young players for this year's session.
MLB, UNION TO ALLOW SOME 40-MAN ROSTER PLAYERS IN OLYMPICS
The World Baseball and Softball Confederation (WBSC) has reached an agreement with Major League Baseball and its players union allowing players on MLB 40-man rosters to participate in this summer's Olympic Games in Tokyo. Previously, nobody on a 40-man roster was eligible for Olympic baseball but the new deal allows such players to take part as long as they are not on their big league team's 26-man active roster. The change means up to 420 more players belonging to an MLB organization will be eligible to play in Japan this July and August.
After an absence of twelve years from Olympic competition (South Korea beat out seven other national teams to win the 2008 gold medal in Beijing), baseball is returning as a demonstration sport with six teams competing. Japan is an automatic entrant as host nation and will be joined by Mexico, South Korea, Israel and two undetermined teams in Yokohama and Fukushima Azuma stadiums. Mexico qualified as the highest-finishing Americas team in last winter's Premier12 tournament, South Korea was the highest-placed Asian team not named Japan in the same competition and Israel was the surprise winner of last fall's Africa/Europe qualifying tournament. The final two teams will be determined at an Americas qualifier tourney in Arizona later this month and a Final qualifier in Taiwan in June. Both events will feature teams that didn't make it past either the Premier12 or Africa/Aurope tournaments last year.
Of course, the breakout of the coronavirus has put many public events either on hold, in doubt or on the cancellation list because of public health concerns. Since the virus first appeared in Wuhan, China and has begun to spread across borders, NPB exhibition games in Japan have been held virtually behind closed doors. The New York Times reports the World Health Organization held a discussion with doctors from various sports federations recently about continuing the policy during the Olympics as a precautionary measure.
If Olympic baseball is played with or without fans, the El Fildeo website claims a preliminary 24-man Mexican team roster has been discovered. Without attributing a source, El Fildeo says the following is the so-called "shortlist" of 24 eligible players targeted to play for the Verdes Grande this summer (with two more players allowed for Tokyo):
PITCHERS (11): Manny Barreda (Tijuana), Brennan Bernardino (Tijuana), Jordan Guerrero (Tijuana), Carlos Hernandez (Tijuana), Kyle Lobstein (Tijuana), Vidal Nuno (Tijuana), Juan Pablo Oramas (Tabasco), Jose Samayoa (Tijuana), Gerardo Sanchez (Tijuana), Teddy Stankiewic (Tijuana), Edgar Torres (Durango). CATCHERS (2): Xorge Carrillo (Tijuana), Gabriel Gutierrez (Tijuana). INFIELDERS (6): Japhet Amador (Mexico City), Daniel Castro (Tijuana), Luis Alfonso Cruz (Tijuana), Philip Evans (Pittsburgh), David Jack Mayfield (Houston), Isaac Rodriguez (Tijuana). OUTFIELDERS (5): Carlos Figueroa (Mexico City), Fabricio Macias (Pittsburgh), Efren Navarro (Tijuana), Juan Perez (Saltillo), Nick Torres (Tijuana).
Nothing against any of the players listed above, who are no doubt good ballplayers and fine fellows one and all, but the presence of nine pitchers and seven position players from Tijuana on this 24-man roster but nobody from Mexican League champions Monclova makes it appear dubious at best. Just because Baseball Mexico is reporting this doesn't mean you should buy it...or even rent it.
PROCESO'S PEREYRA TALKS WITH NEW LMB PRESIDENT DE LA VEGA
One of Mexico's best sportswriters, Beatriz Pereyra of Proceso, recently sat down with new Mexican League president Horacio de la Vega and talked about some of the problems he inherited when he was hired by the LMB last November to replace Javier Salinas.
It's a very long read (the original is posted at www.proceso.com.mx) and BBM is posting it in excerpted form with as little editing as possible, but the issues discussed are vital as the Mexican League approaches its 96th season of operation with a myriad of issues that De La Vega and the Liga's 16 owners will face in 2020:
Horacio de la Vega will begin his tenure as president of the Mexican Baseball League (LMB) with empty coffers, which means that the owners of the 16 clubs will once again have to solve - temporarily at least - the operating expenses while signing trade agreements that allow for the consolidation of finances.
In addition to payroll, the owners of the teams will be responsible again for the payment of baseballs with which the 2020 season will be played, the operating expenses of the Academy of El Carmen, and the air tickets, lodging and travel expenses of the umpires.
In a January interview, de la Vega explains that he had no room to operate because his appointment was at the end of the year (last November 26), when there was no time to manage sponsorships.
"We have guaranteed the operation of the LMB the first three months of the year. We have no risk of stopping but we definitely have to look for trade agreements soon. I trust that we will not stop operating because I have other types of agreements that are not sponsorships to get resources and free the teams from those expenses," he says. "Javier Salinas did a great job in the commercial end because the LMB for years generated nothing. He started very well, had ups and downs, but failed to make commercial projects that integrated with those of the teams. That did not allow for growth."
De la Vega says that in the desire for clubs to stop making economic contributions and the LMB to become self-sustaining, former president Salinas took away the commercial assets from the teams and was in charge of selling them to raise that money. This means that, for example, in a baseball stadium there are spaces that can be marketed, such as the mound. Before Salinas was president, each team sold those spaces.
"When you take away the commercial assets, you harm them," said de la Vega. "On the other hand, if you do not do so, then the LMB does not have to sell and they have to contribute the money to operate the league.
"The question is how do we make it so that the clubs do not continue financing the LMB, it is strengthened, collects more money and can be self-sufficient. Right now there are few commercial assets. If the LMB had five spaces per team, the dugout or the mound in the fences, I would have more to sell. Right now I can't do it."
One of the most urgent issues to address is the famous clause of the agreement for the sale of Mexican baseball players that the MLB office signed in March 2019, with the LMB teams receiving an additional bonus equivalent at 35% of the amount each player will receive. The objective of that percentage was to financially compensate the clubs that invested in the development of the prospects, but Clause III.C contravenes the nature of the agreement and, because of its deceptive wording, refuses to hand over compensation to Mexican teams. The signing of this agreement, among other factors, triggered the departure of Salinas as president.
"I do not rule out making a renegotiation specifically of that clause so as not to have to give away to our players," states de la Vega. "The agreement is in force for this year and we must comply with it, but I don't see it as a one hundred percent loss. I will travel to New York (headquarters of the MLB office) to make a proposal. The position of club owners is that you have to unlock this," he says.
Horacio de la Vega details that he wants to improve that agreement because there is a legitimate interest to continue exporting players to the majors. However, that cannot undermine the finances of the teams. He says he intends to reach a broader agreement that allows more regular season games to be held in Mexico and for the fan base to grow.
The president of the LMB was asked whether in this scheme the only winner is the Big Leagues, a business that generates around 10 billion dollars annually, and that has no interest in helping the development of Mexican baseball or in growing the LMB, but it is obvious that there can be no distancing or conflict with such a powerful entity?
"I agree," de la Vega replied. "The autonomy of the Mexican League must be protected. You're right: Here there are no options of where to sell players, the most viable is the MLB. It is monopolistic. The strategy cannot be such a negotiation. You have to understand that they are a business and have their interests. The LMB wants more Mexicans in the majors."
It is abusive that there is a clause that goes against the payment of a percentage for the clubs that develop the players. Should we make MLB see what they are doing?
"Totally. You have to face it like this. It is not a subject of interpretation of the clause. The international players' signature is a business for them. Period.
"We cannot fight with a giant of that size. That is why the negotiation will be interesting. We aim to sell, not to give players away. We are in a position of openness and understanding."
If you fail to cancel that current agreement, and MLB offers to pay less than 35%, as they did at the beginning, would you accept it?
"When you have nothing, to rescue something is a breakthrough. That contract has a direct impact on the teams and that cannot happen again."
The most important project that de la Vega says he will promote will be to standardize the production of baseball games, in order to sell them to all those interested in transmitting them, insisting that it is essential to improve the lighting in the stadiums. All parks must have the same light intensity. In addition, he will generate a production notebook that clubs must agree on together, such as how many cameras there should be, where they should be placed and what angles or shots they should cover.
"I am very clear that it is urgent to achieve the standardization of production," de la Vega insists. "If we don't have a homogeneous product, I can't sell it."
How can it be achieved if not all teams have money to invest in that facet?
"It is part of my job to see how to get public resources. Most of the stadiums are owned by state or private governments with local or foreign entities. I have to generate that system.
"I am not convinced to sell it to a single television station. I am skeptical of that. I prefer a model with many outputs for content distribution. You will remember that last year Facebook had a contract (the social network paid 500 thousand dollars and not the 2 million dollars that were announced), made its selection of games and stayed with the best. That type of system must be changed. I don't know, give Facebook one day and that day only they broadcast. "
Can you confirm that 2020 will see continued transmissions on Facebook?
"The contract is not signed yet, but we are very advanced. This year will be trial and error. There are also Twitter, Twitch and other social networks. We are going to analyze what suits the league in economic terms, scope and penetration.
"We must also insist that people go to the stadiums and have the best experience. We have to turn out children and young people, because we are interested in them being fans of the LMB clubs. We have to provoke that. How do we do it? By massing baseball with the children in the schools. One strategy is the world championships that we will have in Mexico this year, one of them is Baseball 5, and baseball being promoted in schools."
The president of the league sets out the example of skateboarding as an Olympic sport: "I would never have imagined seeing skateboarding as an official sport in the Olympic Games, but I understand that it is a youth sport, which is very attractive for television coverage and there are a lot of people who consume that product.
"You have to turn into that or you die."
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Mexican League Stories from March 9, 2020
- Baseball Mexico - OSC Original by Bruce Baskin
- Baseball Mexico - OSC Original by Bruce Baskin
- Baseball Mexico - OSC Original by Bruce Baskin
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