by Bruce Baskin
March 8, 2021 - Mexican League (ML)
FERNANDO RODNEY TO PITCH FOR TIJUANA IN 2021
One of Major League Baseball's most prominent closers of the past two decades will be shooting his virtual arrows south of the border in 2021. Fernando Rodney has signed a one-year contract to pitch for the Tijuana Toros this summer.
Rodney is coming to the Mexican League of the heels of 17 seasons in MLB, although he didn't pitch during the 2020 season. His 2019 campaign (an 0-5 record with two saves and a 5.66 ERA for Oakland and Washington) was nothing to write home about, although the Nats did win the World Series that fall, but the 5'11" right-hander had 25 saves and a 3.09 ERA in 43 outings for Minnesota in 2018 before a trade that August sent him to the A's, who used him as a setup man for Blake Treinan.
Rodney made his major league debut for Detroit on May 4, 2002, tossing the final 1.1 innings of a 3-2 loss at Minnesota. He pitched for the Tigers through the 2009 season, when he was elevated to the closer role by manager Jim Leyland after bouncing between MLB and Class AAA the previous seven years. While his 2-5 record and 4.40 ERA were unimpressive, he posted 37 saves in 72 outings and finally had a foothold in the big leagues at age 31. However, his odyssey was just beginning.
Since signing as a free agent with the Angels for $11 million over two years, Rodney pitched for ten MLB teams between 2010 and 2019. He appeared in three All-Star Games (2012, 2014 and 2016), led the American League in saves with 48 for Seattle in 2014 and averaged 25 saves per season during the decade while appearing in the postseason five times, so there were definitely successes along the way.
However, Rodney and the strike zone have not always seen eye-to-eye (a career 4.5 walks per 9 innings) and breaths in the stands were often held because a Rodney appearance was like Forrest Gump's box of chocolates: Fans never knew what they were gonna get. His saves were accompanied by his pantomime archer's motion sending an imaginary arrow skyward, along with thousands of sighs of relief from home crowds.
Drama and walks aside, Rodney's overall body of work in 951 games as a major league pitcher has been generally positive. He compiled an unimpressive career record of 48-71, but his 327 saves rank 17th all-time among MLB hurlers, his 3.80 earned-run average was creditable and he averaged just under one strikeout per inning (8.8 K's per 9). He won't be landing in Cooperstown, but the Dominican has been of of baseball's most effective and entertaining relief pitchers over the past decade. And now he's taking his talents south of the border.
The Toros open training camp in Tijuana on April 20 while their regular season begins May 21 at Parque La Junta in Nuevo Laredo against the Dos Laredos Tecolotes.
VIRUS "TRAFFIC LIGHTS" TO BE USED FOR UPCOMING LMB SEASON
With the Mexican League season a little more than 10 weeks aways, both league and team officials are keeping close tabs on the federal government's virtual Wuhan Virus-related "traffic light" system to plan game presentations for the 2021 schedule. At this point, only one of the Liga's 18 teams could be considered in the clear to proceed full speed ahead for their home schedule.
According to Miguel Boada Najera of the Septima Entrada website, neither the LMB nor any of its teams have announced whether fans will be allowed in their respective ballparks (or what percentage of seats may be occupied) after the season opens May 20. The silence is understandable, given the fluid nature of the pandemic, but the unsettled situation is making it nearly impossible for teams to make plans moving forward. Instead, each club is having to create several different scenarios to address whatever limitations they'll have to deal with during the season.
The "traffic light" system is based on four stages: A Red light means that only essential activities will be allowed in states or cities with that designation, meaning there will be no baseball played. An Orange light will allow limited non-essential activities, meaning that baseball games might be played but behind closed doors with no fans in ballparks. A Yellow light allows all activities to resume with limited public participation, so a set percentage of seats would be allowed to be occupied in stadiums during games. Finally, a Green light lifts all restrictions on activities and numbers allowed to watch live games, although some precautionary measures would remain in place.
The good news for the Mexican League is that as of March 1, none of its teams are in a Red Light zone, meaning all scheduled games could take place if the season were to start today. The bad news is that only one franchise, the Campeche Piratas, are operating in a Green light zone and able to play at home in front of full capacity at Estadio Nelson Barrera, one of the Liga's smallest facilities with 6,000 seats.
That means the other 17 LMB franchises are within Yellow or Orange light zones. The eleven Yellow light zone teams are Aguascalientes, Dos Laredos, Durango, Guadalajara, Leon, Monclova, Quintana Roo, Saltillo, Tijuana, Union Laguna and Veracruz. The six Orange light zone franchises facing tighter restrictions at home are Mexico City, Monterrey, Oaxaca, Puebla, Tabasco and Yucatan. However, all those franchises are operating in conditions apart from each other and each will have to be evaluated on a case-by-case basis.
Despite the overall uncertainty, the Mexican League has to be somewhat heartened over the possibility of all of its 18 teams playing their full 66-game regular season schedules even if no (or limited numbers of) fans are allowed in the stands, which the LMB says will not prevent games from taking place this year.
In 2020, the LMB said that paying fans were necessary for many, if not most, of their teams to operate without drowning in seas of red ink. While statements from the league office in Mexico City can often be taken with a grain of salt, it's hard to dispute that one. Most Mexican League franchises are unprofitable and without any large-scale sponsorships or media contracts, attendance at home games is critical because such teams generate the vast majority of their revenue from in-park ticket, concessions and merchandise sales. Whether it's opening the gates and not making enough money for expenses or keeping the gates closed and not making any money at all, neither option is an attractive one.
MEX PAC ANNNOUNCES 2020-21 SEASON GOLD GLOVE WINNERS
The Mexican Pacific League office in Guadalajara has announced the nine winners of its Gold Glove Awards for the recently-concluded 2020-21 season. Three of the players played for Hermosillo while two others toiled for two-time champions Culiacan. Mexicali, Obregon, Guasave and Monterrey each placed one member among the LMP's leading leather men.
Pitcher: JAVIER SOLANO (Mexicali)
To look at him, few would expect veteran Javier Solano to be a top fielder. Although he's been one of the Mex Pac's most effective pitchers for years, Solano bears a physical resemblence to former Detroit Tigers hurler Mickey Lolich or Salon de la Fama member George Brunet (neither of whom were considered svelte).
Still, Solano helped himself by handling all 23 chances that came his way over 12 starts last winter for a perfect 1.000 fielding percentage. Three other pitchers were flawless as well, but Solano got the nod by leading the quartet with 86 innings pitched.
Catcher: ALEXIS WILSON (Culiacan)
The Los Mochis native spent six years in the St. Louis organization and was invited to the Cardinals training camp last spring, but was never a starter before his release from Class A Peoria last May. When the 24-year-old Wilson took over for injured vet Ali Solis last winter, there were questions as to whether he was up to the task.
Although Wilson only hit .231 for Culiacan in 46 games, he turned in a .997 fielding percentage with one error in 352 chances behind the plate while reportedly earning interest from MLB organizations, so at least some questions were answered.
First Base: EFREN NAVARRO (Culiacan)
A former MLBer who appeared with the Angels, Tigers and Cubs between 2011 and 2018 (as well as NPB's Hanshin Tigers) after some solid minor league seasons in which he was a PCL All-Star in 2013, Navarro gave the champion Tomateros a .246 average with 13 doubles and six homers last winter.
He gave Culiacan solid defense at first base over 50 games as well, with just two errors in 426 chances for a .996 fielding percentage. Navarro also won a PCL Gold Glove in 2011 while playing for Salt Lake.
Second Base: CARLOS SEPULVEDA (Obregon)
Sepulveda is a former Cubs farmhand who was signed by the Dodgers and assigned to AA Tulsa heading into spring training this year. The Monclova native has not been a strong hitter north of the border but hit .305 with 13 doubles and 12 steals for Obregon last winter.
However, it was his glovework that garnered him the most attention in the Mex Pac. Sepulveda committed only one error in 231 chances over 51 games for the Yaquis for a .996 fielding percentage, turning 35 double plays along the way, after eight miscues with a .964 percentage in 2019-20.
Third Base: EMMANUEL AVILA (Guasave)
Avila spent his first four years of pro ball in the White Sox farm system before debuting with his hometown Los Mochis Caneros in 2009-10. He's since been an infield mainstay in both the LMP and LMB, where he topped the .300 mark every year between 2013 and 2019 and played in four All-Star Games during that span.
Avila hit .279 last season for Guasave, his fourth Mex Pac stop. In the field, the 32-year-old led all LMP third sackers with a .964 fielding average, handling 134 of 139 chances cleanly. He's also a proficient shortstop and played second base early in his career.
Shortstop: JASSON ATONDO (Hermosillo)
Ever since debuting at 19 with Campeche of the Mexican League in 2015, Atondo has been a guy who can be plugged in at second, third or shortstop and give his team a good performance. After playing sporadically for Hermosillo over three winters, he hit .351 and was the LMP's Rookie of the Year in 2018-19, then batted .331 for the Piratas in 2019.
Playing 52 games at shortstop for the Naranjeros in 2020-21, Atondo had four errors in 228 chances for a .982 fielding percentage to augment his .268 batting average.
Left Field: NORBERTO OBESO (Hermosillo)
Obeso was an outfielder in the Blue Jays system for five years (and a 2015 All-Star pick with Toronto's Dominican Summer League affiliate), but elected free agency earlier this winter.
He became a starter for his hometown Orangemen in 2018-19 and had his best winterball season yet last season, batting .329 with 10 doubles under manager Juan Navarrete.
Able to play both corner outfield slots, Obeso had a .994 fielding percentage in 81 chances over 44 games in left field for the Naranjeros.
Center Field: JOSÃ CARDONA (Hermosillo)
Cardona turned a lot of heads for his play in the Caribbean Series with Culiacan last month, but he'd been playing well all season before the Tomateros picked him up as a reinforcement. The speedy ex-Rangers minor leaguer hit .279 for Hermosillo and stole 16 bases in 17 attempts during the regular season.
He was just as good in center field, with just one bobble in 154 chances over 52 games for a .994 fielding percentage. Possessed with a good arm, Cardona added five assists and took part in three double plays. He'll play for Leon in the LMB this summer.
Right Field: PAULO ORLANDO (Monterrey)
One of five Brazilians to appear in MLB, the member of the 2015 World Champion Royals is better known for his hitting (.302 with 24 doubles for Kansas City in 2016) and backed that up with a .308 average and eight homers this winter, including a .323 mark for the Sultanes after coming over in a trade with Obregon.
Orlando, a former soccer player who began playing baseball at 12, turned in a solid season on defense as well. He played 50 games in right field and went 120-for-121 on total chances to finish with a .992 fielding percentage. He'll play for Dos Laredos this summer.
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