by Bruce Baskin
November 2, 2020 - Mexican League (ML)
YAQUIS AT 15 WINS IN 17 GAMES, SWING A PAIR OF DEALS
Recent arrival Felix Perez socked a pair of homers, including a two-run bomb, while Moises Gutierrez added a solo blast as the Obregon Yaquis outlasted the Navojoa Mayos, 4-3, Sunday in Mexican Pacific League action before empty seats at Estadio Yaquis in Obregon. The Yaquis are one of three LMP teams (along with Hermosillo and Navojoa) ordered by Sonora's Secretary of Health Enrique Clausen to disallow fans in the stands after pandemic-related health protocols were ignored in several ballparks on opening weekend.
The win extended Obregon's record to 15-2 for the first half as the Yaquis stayed three-and-a-half games ahead of second-place Hermosillo (11-5) and third-place Monterrey (11-6), who both won their games on Sunday. Obregon features a strong pitching staff paced by starter Octavio Acosta (3-0 with a LMP-best 2.12 ERA) and closer Miguel Aguilar (7-of-7 in saves and a 2.35 ERA). While the Yaquis batting order won't remind anyone of the 1927 Yankees, they're hitting well enough to win while catcher Sebastian Valle (.339, 4 homers) and outfielder Roberto Lopez (.306/3/12) have been the timeliest hitters.
Defending LMP home run and RBI champion Dariel Alvarez is off to a hot start for Jalisco, as the Cuban outfielder leads the circuit with a .400 average. Culiacan's Sebastian Elizalde, who hit .308 with 10 homers and 21 steals last winter, leads the Mex Pac with seven homers and 22 ribbies after 17 games while Alonzo Harris has been Obregon's (and the loop's) best base stealer with 10 swipes in 12 tries. Besides the Yaquis' Acosta and Aguilar, the early pitching leaders include Hermosillo starter Juan Pablo Oramas with four wins and 23 strikeouts plus Oramas' Naranjeros moundmate Heriberto Ruelas, who has five holds in nine appearances and has yet to allow a run in 7.2 innings pitched.
With the season only two weeks old, teams are already making deals to strengthen their rosters. One of the most noteworthy saw Monterrey loaning holdout outfielder Felix Perez to Obregon. A Cuba native who played three winters for his hometown Isla de la Juventud Toronjeros before spending five years in the Cincinnati Reds system, the 35-year-old also played in Japan and has put in five summers in the Mexican League with both the Sultanes and Aguascalientes.
Perez was a member of Monterrey's first Mex Pac team last winter and one of the club's top hitters, leading the team with a .270 average, 48 RBIs and 36 runs scored while finishing second with 10 homers. However, Perez decided to sit out this LMP season after failing to come to terms with the Sultanes. He decided to report to Obregon and is already making an impact, belting a pair of homers and driving in three runs Sunday in their 4-3 win over Navojoa.
Not content to coast on their league lead, Obregon also traded veteran utilityman Maxwell Leon to Mazatlan for journeyman infielder Issmael Salas. Son of former MLB reliever Maximino Leon, the younger Leon played five years (2006-10) in the Detroit system before embarking on a nine-year run in the Mexican League with Minatitlan in 2011. This will be his 15th winter in the LMP, where the 36-year-old has played every position but catcher and pitcher while batting .280 over 532 games. He had yet to appear for the Yaquis.
Salas primarily plays third base but is proficient at all four infield positions. A former Cubs farmhand who has played solely in Mexico since 2009, the Tijuana-born 38-year-old made his LMP debut with Guasave in 2005-06. Obregon will be his eighth team in the loop. Salas has a career .267 winterball average and was batting .400 after six games with the Venados prior to the trade.
And in Guadalajara, the likelihood of Roberto Osuna finally pitching in a game for the Jalisco Charros increased dramatically after the 25-year-old closer was waived by the Houston Astros last week. Osuna appeared in just four games for the defending American League champions before an elbow injury shelved him for the rest of the shortened 2020 season. There had been concerns that he'd require Tommy John surgery but instead has chosen to rehab in the MLB offseason. After clearing waivers, the righty is now a free agent who will likely need to pitch in the Mex Pac to demonstrate his recovery to potential big league employers. Osuna is reportedly due to begin pitching for the Charros on November 20.
TIGRES, VALENZUELAS TO REMAIN IN CANCUN FOR 2021
After weeks of speculation that the Quintana Roo Tigres were on their way out of Cancun (with the border city of San Luis Rio Colorado, Sonora thought to be the legacy franchise's destination), the Mexican League announced over the weekend that the 12-time champions will stay put in Cancun.
An announcement from the LMB office in Mexico City says that Liga president Horacio de la Vega met last week with "the directors of the Tigres de Quintana Roo, the Government of the State of Quintana Roo and the Municipality of Benito JuÃ¡rez to ensure the team stays in Cancun." Jose Alfredo Otero of El Fildeo writes that both de la Vega and team owner Fernando Valenzuela verified at an Assembly of Presidents meeting last Friday that the Tigres will stay put in the resort city for the 2021 season.
Ever since buying the Tigres from Carlos Peralta in February 2017, Valenzuela and his wife, Linda Burgos, have seemingly been beset by one issue after another while struggling to keep the franchise viable on the field and at the gate as well as with the banks. Three rocky years were followed by 2020's canceled season, which seemed to tip the scales toward the Valenzuelas seeking to relocate the team in greener pastures.
There have long been calls to return the Tigres to their original home of Mexico City, where their longstanding rivalry with the Diablos Rojos would be revived in closer quarters, and there were rumors that there was interest in Veracruz as a possible landing spot. Instead, San Luis Rio Colorado emerged seemingly out of the blue as the team's destination. The city of 200,000 sitting on the Arizona border would be one of the Mexican League's smallest markets while never having hosted a team in either the LMB or the winter Mexican Pacific League.
On the other hand, San Luis is a baseball hotbed in which the city's ballpark has undergone a refurbishing that more than doubled its capacity to 7,000 spectators. Local and state governments pledged their support for the team moving there, San Luis' closer proximity than Cancun to the Valenzuelas' home in Los Angeles was seen as a positive, as was a natural travel partner for the Tijuana Toros, the Liga's most geographically-remote franchise. As recently as Friday, Puro Beisbol editor Fernando Ballesteros wrote that the Valenzuelas were working to move the Tigres to San Luis, although nothing was official.
Instead, it appears that Cancun will have another chance to better support Class AAA baseball after being a tepid host over the previous 14 years. The Tigres moved to the resort city from Puebla in 2007. While there's nothing to indicate that local interest will increase enough for the club to break even financially at the gate, state subsidies expected to disappear in 2021 may have been revived during talks involving de la Vega and the Valenzuelas with government officials. Money talks, whatever the source.
It was a momentous week for the former National League Cy Young Award-winner. Besides deciding the fate of his ballclub, Valenzuela (who celebrated his 60th birthday Sunday) was given a National Sports Award for his contributions to Mexican baseball, both inside and outside the country. President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador will make a formal presentation on November 20 as part of events commemorating the Mexican Revolution, in which hostilities officially ceased on November 20, 1920.
LMB: RIELEROS TO STAY PUT, EXPANSION TEAM TO VERACRUZ
Another team that will be staying put is the Aguascalientes Rieleros. After word came out that the Tigres were hoping to move to San Luis Rio Colorado, rumors heated up that the Railroaders would be making a one-way trip to Veracruz for the 2021 season. An LMB team first appeared in Aguascalientes in 1975, when (ironically) the Veracruz Rojos del Aguila moved west from the port city. While it took just three years to win a Liga pennant, that remains the only title the city has ever won and the current franchise is the third incarnation of the Rieleros after the first two versions moved to Puebla in 1999 and Nuevo Laredo in 2008.
The current iteration dates to 2012 (when the Tecolotes returned to the city of 800,000) but none of the three Rieleros teams have had much money to work with and crowds at 6,500-seat Parque Alberto Romo Chavez were never large enough to create enough revenues to build a contending team there since the earliest days. The cancellation of the 2020 Mexican League season meant no revenues coming in for a team already swimming in a sea of red ink, making them a target for potential buyers.
Veracruz has seen its own share of Liga teams come and go since the circuit started in 1925, although the city and state could be considered Mexico's version of Florida in that baseball players are historically more plentiful than baseball fans. Still, business owners there have wanted to bring a team back to the Gulf Coast city ever since owner Jose Antonio Mansur moved the latest version of the Eagle Reds to Nuevo Laredo in 2018. The league office announcement that no team will move anywhere prior to the 2021 season put an end to a Veracruz pursuit of the Rieleros or any other vulnerable LMB franchise (and there are several).
However, a surprising announcement from the LMB put Veracruz at the front of the line in the future. De la Vega's office said that a letter of intent has been "successfully submitted" by a group of Veracruz investors seeking an expansion team. While no timetable has been given for such a move, that would increase the number of Liga teams from the current 16, the announcement said the LMB is "enthusiastic about the possible new addition of the Veracruz Aguilas as an expansion team in such an important and historic city for Mexican baseball." The original Rojo del Aguilas were formed in 1903 and teams using that name have won six LMB pennants over the years, with Hall of Famer Martin Dihigo hitting and pitching Veracruz to back-to-back titles in 1937 and 1938.
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