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Baseball Mexico

by Bruce Baskin
June 29, 2020 - Mexican League (ML)

WILL LMP PLAY IN FIVE CITIES, MEXICAN PLAYERS ONLY?

The Mexican Pacific League held a videoconference last week to discuss a number of issues related to their upcoming season. Reports say that the LMP is considering narrowing the number of ballparks used for games from the full ten venues to five while only Mexican players would suit up, both as cost-saving measures. The ongoing saga involving Mazatlan and the Caribbean Series was also taken up.

The El Fildeo website says that the Mex Pac's "extraordinary assembly" last Wednesday included discussion among league president Omar Canizales and representatives of the ten teams about whether to eliminate games in the circuit's more far-flung cities like Guadalajara, Monterrey and Mexicali while Mazatlan may be added to that list (more later). Such a move would greatly reduce travel costs by limiting games to within the states of Sinaloa and Sonora, although field surfaces in ballparks where games were played daily would be placed under extra stress without the usual amount of time between homestands available for groundskeepers to tend to them.

Discussion was also held on whether the season should open in mid-October (the traditional starting time for the Mex Pac) or the first games will be played one month later, as has been considered should the summer Mexican League's belated season stretch into early November. Unsurprisingly, no decision was made because LMP owners instead are taking a wait-and-see attitude about whether the LMB is able to even take the field on its desired August 7 opening date, which is no sure bet.

As with consolidating games to within five ballparks of reasonably close proximity, LMP owners were looking at their ledgers in regards to where their players will come from next winter. Foreign players have been a part of the Mex Pac landscape for decades, but the expected drop in revenues in 2020-21 means the possibility of teams suiting up all-Mexican rosters. It would not be the first time something like that has happened. Back in 1982-83, the LM featured only domestic players as a response to the devalued peso that winter. Culiacan won the pennant that season and imports were allowed to return the next campaign.

This time, the concern is not over the value of the peso, although that currency had fallen to 23.06 per US dollar as of last weekend after years with a ratio of less than 20:1. The larger worry is that extraneros historically take a chunk out of team payrolls, with foreigners drawing much higher salaries than their Mexican brethren. Patriotic pride and greater opportunities for homegrown products to play aside, it would simply cost teams less money to employ only Mexican players. According to Puro Beisbol editor Fernando Ballesteros, LMP owners were split 5-5 on the issue and nothing new emerged from last week's meeting.

One issue that many observers had mistakenly assumed was tentatively been settled was brought back up. It has been reported (including here) that the Mazatlan City Council extended an olive branch of sorts in their ongoing dispute with the LMP Venados with a letter that expressed their desire to work out differences in order for the 2021 Caribbean Series to be played at Estadio Teodoro Mariscal next January as planned. However (as also reported here), the letter included nothing definite and as of last week, no signed agreement had been reached between the City and the Venados allowing the team to regain possession of the ballpark.

The lack of resolution has had an effect that goes well beyond the Pearl of the Pacific. The Pan American Baseball Confederation (or COPABE) has given the Mex Pac a deadline of Tuesday, June 30 for the Venados to have regained control of Estadio Teodoro Mariscal for the upcoming season. Failure to do so could mean the Serie del Caribe might be moved out of Mazatlan and perhaps even the country, although the latter seems less likely given that Mexico now draws the highest attendance by far of the countries involved in the Crown Jewel of Latin Baseball. COPABE president Juan Francisco Puello says the event may be canceled entirely if the Wuhan virus has taken too much of a toll by November.

Of more immediate concern, the imbroglio might mean that Mazatlan would be one of the five teams forced to play the 2020-21 season on the road in the five-ballpark scenario outlined above, if the Wuhan virus lessens enough by then for a winterball schedule to be played.

PEDRO MERE TO RETURN AS SKIPPER IN MEXICALI

Following weeks of speculation as to whether he'd be back, Pedro Mere's return as manager of the Mexican Pacific League's Mexicali Aguilas in 2020-21 has been confirmed.

Eagles sports manager Luis Alfonso Garcia made the announcement at a virtual press conference on June 18. "It's a pleasure for the Mexicali Aguilas club to work again with a leader on and off the field of play," Garcia said. "We are convinced that Pedro Mere will be an important piece to fly towards the goal that we have year after year: the championship."

Mere's history with the Aguilas dates back to November 2017, when he took the reins of the club from Roberto Vizcarra, who was fired after leading Mexicali to a 16-19 first-half record. Vizcarra had led the Aguilas to the Mex Pac pennant and the Caribbean Series title game in Mexicali the previous winter, but memories are short in the front offices of Mexican teams. Mere turned the team's fortunes around in the second half as the Aguilas went 26-7 (setting a franchise record for wins in one half) and reached the playoff semifinals, where they were swept by eventual champion Culiacan. That was enough for owner Dio Alberto Murillo to send the Veracruz native packing.

Act II for Mere in Mexicali opened last November after he replaced Bobby Dickerson, who was 9-16 when Murillo decided to make a change less than a month into the season. The Aguilas went 25-17 the rest of the way before losing in the first round to Culiacan, who again went on to the LMP pennant under Benji Gil. Given how things ended his first time in the border city, Mere express gratitude that he will be able to open a season with the team. "Mexicali is my team, my home and a great institution where I have had the fortune to work," he deadpanned during the press conference. "I feel very identified with the team and with the fans."

Born in 1970, Mere broke into the Mexican League as a 17-year-old infielder with Dos Laredos in 1988 and went on to a 22-year playing career before retiring in 2009 as a member of the Minatitlan Petroleros after batting .280 with 186 homers. His managerial career began three years later when he took over for Orlando Merced at the helm of the Veracruz Rojos del Aguila on June 10, 2012 after Merced was ejected from a game. The move became permanent two days later when Merced was suspended for the year after an altercation with LMB orations director Nestor Alva Brito, and Mere took Veracruz to the pennant with a thrilling seven-game win over Aguascalientes in the Serie del Rey.

He has since led Tijuana to the 2017 LMB title after a dominant regular season before being fired after the Spring 2018 season when the Toros only finished second with a 33-23 record and lost to Monterrey in the LMB North final. Mere was eventually signed by Monclova and while the Acereros lost to the Sultanes again in the Fall 2018 LMB North title series after a resounding 42-14 regular season record (in what seemed a bizare move at the time, Mere replaced former Pittsburgh All-Star Carlos Garcia with the Acereos in first place at 14-5),

Monclova owner Gerardo Benavides brought Mere back for 2019 but apparently thought the Acereros' 44-25 record at the end of June wasn't sufficient, so he fired Mere and brought in former American League Rookie of the Year Pat Listach as new manager. The move worked, as Listach went on to lead Monclova to its first pennant.

Mere was hired last October to run the Tabasco Olmecas, a perpetual also-ran who present the biggest challenge of his managerial career. The Villahermosa team has some recognizable veterans on the roster like Ronnier Mustelier, Jesus Arredondo, Paul Leon, Andres Meza, Juan Pablo Oramas and Derrick Loop but a lack of offensive firepower doomed the Olmecas to an LMB South-worst 45-72 record.

Prior to his LMP experience as a dugout boss, Mere had a remarkable winterball run as manager of the Las Tuxtlas Brujos, winning five Veracruz Winter League pennants and a Latin American Series crown in seven seasons between 2008-09 and 2014-15.

JORGE CANTU'S LMP RIGHTS ACQUIRED BY MONTERREY

The Mexican Pacific League last week held a player exchange of sorts in which the loop's two 2019 expansion teams, Monterrey and Guasave, were able to select three unprotected players apiece from rosters of the eight remaining established teams. A similar process is planned for July 7. While five of the chosen players are not well-known even within Mexico, Monterrey picked a familiar name among followers of Major League Baseball.

Although he hasn't played winterball in four seasons, the Sultane plucked 38-year-old infielder Jorge Cantu from the Culiacan Tomateros. Cantu played all or parts of eight MLB seasons, mostly with Tampa Bay and Florida, between 2004 and 2011. After laboring six years in the Rays minor league system, he broke in with the big club in 2004 before a breakthrough season a year later, when he belted 28 homers and drove in 117 runs for Tampa Bay in 2005. Cantu cooled down after that, spending time in the minors and with the Cincinnati Reds, he returned to Florida in 2008 and put up two strong campaigns for the Marlins with 45 homers and 195 RBIs in 2008 and 2009. As before, he lost his mojo in 2010 and went on to spend time with Texas and San Diego, where he played his last MLB game in 2011 to finish with a .271 batting average, 105 homers and 471 RBIs over 847 career games. He's also appeared in three World Baseball Classics for Mexico.

Cantu, who was born in McAllen, Texas but grew up across the border in Reynosa, made his Mexican League debut in 2013 with the Quintana Roo Tigres, belting 31 homers and 71 ribbies over 83 games. That was good enough to earn a one-year contract with the Doosan Bears of the Korea Baseball Organization, where the 6'3" first baseman hit .309 with 18 longballs in 111 contests. He returned to the Tigres in 2015 and has remained in the Liga since. "El Bronco" has played for two pennant-winning teams in Cancun and one in Tijuana, and is currently on the Mexico City roster after hitting .283 with 12 roundtrippers for the Diablos Rojos in 2019. He's also spent five winters in the Mex Pac, most recently with Culiacan in 2015-16 when he batted .232 with one homer for the Tomateros in 27 games.

Monterrey's two other selections were catcher Carlos Rodriguez and right-handed pitcher Alejandro Barraza. Chosen from Mexicali, the Hermosillo-born Rodriguez is a longtime veteran receiver who has spent his entire 15-year professional career south of the border. He's played the last eight summers in Aguascalientes, representing the Rieleros in two LMB All-Star Games, for whom he cracked 32 homers and drove in 94 runs in 2012 en route to 172 four-baggers to augment a .272 career average in the LMB. He's also played 15 winters in the LMP, including nine for his hometown Naranjeros before he began bouncing the circuit a bit the past few seasons. He hit .256 in 25 games for the Aguilas in 2019-20.

Taken from Navojoa, Barraza spent three years with the Casper Rockies from 2009-11, going 6-8 with a 6.14 ERA as both a starter and reliever. He's played the last eight summers in the LMB, mostly with Mexico City and Oaxaca as a middle reliever. The Guaymas product has a lifetime Liga record of 24-21 record and a 4.94 ERA after pitching for Dos Laredos last year, where he had a sparkling 1.89 ERA in 22 trips from the bullpen. The 29-year-old has been a reliever in five LMP seasons, showing a 4-7 record and 5.62 ERA in 64 games.

For their part, Guasave took three younger players: Right-handed pitchers Rafael Cordova and Nestor Anguamea plus utilityman Miguel Guzman. Despite only being 25, Cordova has played eight years of minor league ball (three in the Rays system, five in the LMB). Born in Yuma, Arizona, the 6'2" righty has come out of the bullpen in all of his 189 professional appearances, although he did start one Arizona Fall League game for Mexicali last year, giving up two runs in four innings. He's spent the past three summers with Tabasco and is 9-6 lifetime in the Liga with a 4.30 ERA. He last played in the LMP with Hermosillo in 2016-17.

Anguamea hails from Obregon and turned 20 in March. His professional experience is limited to six innings over five relief appearances for Union Laguna last summer, giving up two earned runs for a 4.50 ERA. He did win his lone decision, striking out Aguascalientes' Carlos Rodriguez for the final out in the top of the 12th before the Algodoneros scored twice in the bottom of the frame for a 7-6 triumph.

At 24, Guzman is another experienced youngster with seven years in the LMB behind him. The Leon product has played all infield and outfield positions and has a deceptive career batting average of .323 after batting .412 for Puebla last summer in 178 plate appearances after fewer than 100 opportunities over the previous six years and never hitting over .250.


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Mexican League Stories from June 29, 2020


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