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Baseball Analysis   Bruce Baskin 

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            One-time major league All-Star outfielder Yasiel Puig has signed a one-year contract with the Veracruz Aguilas of the Mexican League for the 2021 season. Puig verified the signing via Twitter last week and has already reported to the Aguilas' spring training camp. Terms were not disclosed, although it's believed the Cuban product had been seeking $25,000 per month in talks with LMB teams in Veracruz, Guadalajara, Tijuana and Monclova. The maximum salary for Liga players is said to be $10,000 per month.


            On his Twitter account, Puig's translated statement read, “Thank you Mexico for being here once more in my life. Thank you Aguilas of Veracruz for this opportunity and for opening your arms to me. This wild horse is grateful and happy to play the field once again!” Puig was nicknamed Wild Horse by longtime Dodgers radio announcer Vin Scully during his time with the Los Angeles team.


            Puig did not play in 2020 but had a productive MLB season in 2019, when he swatted 24 homers and drove in 84 runs while batting a combined .267 for Cincinnati and Cleveland (where he landed in a midseason three-way trade that netted the Reds future Cy Young Award winner Trevor Bauer). He was ready to sign a free agent deal with Atlanta last year, but a positive test for the Wuhan virus scuttled his 2020 season.


            The 6'2” 240-pounder from Cienfuegos has hit 132 homers and hit .277 over 861 MLB games in a career dating to his 2013 debut with the Dodgers. He finished second to the late Jose Fernandez of the Marlins in Rookie of the Year balloting that season and appeared in the All-Star game in 2014.


            Puig burst on the baseball scene as a 17-year-old member of Cuba's bronze medal team at the 2008 World Junior Championships. After a couple winters playing with his hometown Elefantes in the Cuban National Series, he attempted to defect in the Netherlands while playing in the 2011 World Port Tournament. Instead, he was caught and forced to sit out the 2011-12 CNS season.


            According to Wikipedia, Puig attempted to defect to Mexico no fewer than 13 times between 2009 and 2012 in order to become a legal resident and sign with an MLB organization. That journey included an arrest at a Cuban safe house, interception by a U.S. Coast Guard cutter near Haiti and one “successful” defection to Mexico that resulted in his detention there by the Zetas drug cartel. Puig was finally able to stay in Mexico long enough to be signed by the Dodgers as a free agent for seven years and $42 million in 2012.


            The volatile 30-year-old has been as controversial as he is talented since his arrival in the big leagues. While most involve actions on the playing field, his latest controversy is of the off-field variety. He's been accused of sexually assaulting a woman during a 2018 Lakers basketball game in a Staples Center bathroom in Los Angeles. Although the alleged incident (after which the Dodgers traded Puig to the Reds) has been investigated by MLB, no police report was ever filed. The woman in question has subsequently filed a lawsuit against him in civil court but Puig is seeking to have the case thrown out. His attorneys claim she'd sent him text messages with heart emojis days after the encounter occurred, in which Puig says the two had a consensual sexual encounter.


            Puig's legal issues have made him radioactive among MLB teams and apparently no offer was made by any team in Asia, so now he's set to play with Veracruz as the latest in a number of relatively high-profile signings of former big leaguers by Mexican League teams. Prior to Puig, Monclova inked infielder Addison Russell and pitcher Bartolo Colon (for a second time), Tijuana agreed to terms with reliever Fernando Rodney and Guadalajara made a deal with first baseman Adrian Gonzalez.


            El Rincon Beisbolero's Jose Carlos Campos notes that only a handful of the LMB's wealthier clubs are bringing in big names, highlighting the gap between rich teams and underfinanced ones, and speculated that they're able to do so by using money not spent on salaries during last year's canceled season during the abbreviated, 66-game schedule to be used this summer.





            The Mexican League announced its playoff format for 2021 last week and it'll be one very familiar to past winterball fans of the Mexican Pacific League. The LMP's old “Lucky Loser” system, which was discarded when the Mex Pac postseason field was expanded from six to eight teams in 2019-20, will be used for the first time in the summer circuit.


            With the LMB expanding to 18 teams due to the additions of Guadalajara and Veracruz to the Liga lineup, the number of playoff qualifiers has been likewise increased from four to six teams per division. Rather than giving the top two regular season finishers a first-round bye while the next four teams played for advancement to their division semifinals, all six clubs will take part in the opening stage. All three series winners will move on, as usual, and be joined by the team that won the most games in losing their opening-round series.


            The shortened regular season will open on May 20 when the defending champion Monclova Acereros host the Monterrey Sultanes in a single game, followed by a full slate of action on May 21. The 66-game schedule will conclude on August 6 with the post season commencing one night later. The playoff date parameters are as follows:


First Round: August 7-15

Division Semifinals: August 17-25

Division Championships: August 27-September 4

League Championship (Serie del Rey): September 6-14


            Playoff teams will be seeded according to their regular season won-lost percentage. In the case of a tie in the standings, records involving games between the teams involved will be the first tiebreaker, followed by runs differentials from their head-to-head matchups. The first round “Lucky Loser” will be determined by a similar criterion, with regular season records and run differentials used as tiebreakers.


            The LMB office has also announced pandemic-related health protocols to be used throughout the season by its 18 clubs. The so-called Diamond Plan will involve the usual edicts of constant handwashing, use of alcohol gels and safe distancing but also add a few wrinkles.


            Each franchise will be required to assign a “Covid-19 Officer” to ensure that the Diamond Plan is carried out. Players must have undergone related testing 48 hours prior to reporting to their respective teams, followed by isolation lasting 48-72 hours, after which they will undero another test.


            In addition, the Diamond Plan established three levels of ballpark access: Level 1 is for essential tasks on the field, Level 2 allows limited access to the playing field for managers and coaches while Level 3 allows media and staff members access to ballparks but not the playing surface.


            Players may not use showers, saunas or whirlpools without social distancing, two buses will be used on road trips instead of one and players will not be allowed to interact directly with fans, who will be required to wear masks at all times except while eating or drinking. At those times, fans will be asked not to speak, sing or shout (breathing is optional under those circumstances, with inhaling the preferred choice).





            The Mexican Pacific League held a virtual Assembly of Presidents meeting last week and confirmed some dates for their upcoming 2021-22 schedule as well as the order of selection for July's drafts of non-reserved Mexican and import players.


            The regular season is slated to open on October 5 with the return of the popular reciprocal two-game series in which rival teams host each other on consecutive nights before the usual three-game series formats for the rest of the regular season, which will conclude on December 23.


            The eight-team playoffs will open for the first time on Christmas Day and be played in three stages until no later than January 22, 2022. The LMP's heavily-reinforced championship team will then head to Santo Domingo in the Dominican Republic for the 2022 Caribbean Series.


            This summer's draft of players not on reserve lists of the LMP's ten teams will be held on July 8 in Hermosillo. The draft will be held in two parts: One for Mexican players and one for foreign players. Here is the order of both stages as verified last week by league president Omar Canizalez:



1-Los Mochis Caneros
2-Obregon Yaquis
3-Hermosillo Naranjeros
4-Monterrey Sultanes
5-Jalisco Charros
6-Guasave Algodoneros
7-Culiacan Tomateros
8-Navojoa Mayos
9-Mazatlan Venados
10-Mexicali Aguilas



1-Mexicali Aguilas
2-Los Mochis Caneros
3-Monterrey Sultanes
4-Obregon Yaquis
5-Navojoa Mayos
6-Jalisco Charros
7-Hermosillo Naranjeros
8-Culiacan Tomateros
9-Mazatlan Venados
10-Guasave Algodoneros


            Mexicali will have a new face overseeing their draft picks this summer. The Aguilas last week announced the return of David “Chile” Cardenas to the franchise as “sports advisor” to owner Dio Alberto Murillo. “It is with pride to have David back home,” Murillo is quoted as saying, “a connoisseur of baseball on and off the field...we are sure that he will support us at all times to seek that fifth championship for our fans.”


            Cardenas spent six winters as sports manager in Mexicali between 2010-16 after retiring as a pitcher in 2020 and will presumably assume duties previously held by Luis Alfonso Garcia, who was “separated from the position of Sports Manager” in February after two seasons (and two first-round playoff exits). Cardenas oversaw an Aguilas team that reached the second round of the playoffs all six seasons he worked for them while playing in two championship series.


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