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MEXICAN LEAGUE, ESPN 3-YEAR DEAL FORMALIZED
With days to go before the 2021 season opens, the Mexican League has reached an historic agreement with ESPN which includes the 2021, 2022 and 2023 seasons. ESPN's carriage of LMB games will reach millions of fans in Mexico, Latin America and the Caribbean, according to a joint press release. Terms were not announced and there was no mention regarding availability of of Mexican League games to viewers in North America. ESPN gave exposure to Korea Baseball Organization games last year while Major League Baseball's season was placed on hold until late July due to the Wuhan virus.
LMB president Horacio de la Vega said, “We are very proud to have reached this agreement so that the Mexican League can be seen on ESPN's multi-platform screens, which will bring us closer to the most fervent fans and will also allow us to conquer new followers and (why not?) inspire the next generation of baseball players in Mexico.”
The head of the LMB highlighted the visibility that ESPN gives to the largest baseball league in Latin America, where hundreds of Mexican, American, Dominican, Venezuelan, Puerto Rican, Panamanian, Colombian and many other nationalities take the field.
"At ESPN, we are very happy to be part of this new stage of baseball in Mexico," said Gerardo Casanova, Head of Sports for the Walt Disney Company in Mexico. "We are proud to expand our relationship with the LMB, home to many of the best players in Mexico and Latin America, and as a brand, ESPN is leading the way in bringing baseball content from the region to fans across the continent."
ESPN's coverage will include both regular season and playoff matchups. In all, 150 regular season games will be broadcast on ESPN's signal, including 14 games per week: Two on “online channels” every Thursday and Saturday, and 12 carried digitally via the ESPN app during the regular season. In the final phase of the campaign, there will be full series of Playoffs, including the opening rounds, Division Championships and the Serie del Rey in September.
“Our alliance with ESPN is a home run with the bases loaded because today, it is essential to reach beyond people television,” concluded de la Vega. “The way of consuming sports content has evolved and that's how we've understood it. We want to reach a large audience through the different platforms that ESPN offers us.”
The Mexican League season opens Thursday night when the defending champion Monclova Acereros host rival Monterrey in a single game. The rest of the LMB will begin play on Friday.
ROBERTO OSUNA, OLIVER PEREZ TO PITCH IN LIGA
A number of players with years of MLB experience will be playing in the Mexican League this summer, and two more veteran pitchers have come to terms with LMB teams while a former All-Star infielder may also appear south of the border in 2021.
Right-handed closer Roberto Osuna will be back in Mexico City on the team he made his pro baseball debut with as a 16-year-old in 2011. Osuna appeared in 13 games for the Diablos Rojos that year, mostly as a reliever, and went 0-1 with a 5.49 ERA. He was signed by Toronto in September 2011 for $1.5 million, of which all but $375,000 went to the Diablos (the signing bonus rules have since been changed by MLB more in favor of the player).
The nephew of former MLB reliever Antonio Osuna made the jump from Class A to the Jays' 2015 opening day roster as a 20-year-old and went on to be named to the American League All-Rookie team that season. The younger Osuna posted 30 or more saves three times between 2016 and 2019, appearing for the AL in the 2017 All-Star Game and leading the junior circuit in 2019 with 38 salvados.
Osuna was not controversy-free during his six-year MLB career, however. He was unavailable for a game with Toronto in 2017 due to an anxiety disorder, for which he received counseling from a psychologist. One year later, he was arrested and charged in the assault of the mother of his 3-year-old child. MLB handed down a 75-game suspension retroactive to the day of the alleged incident, during which the Jays traded the closer to Houston. Osuna went on to pitch for the Astros in their 2019 World Series loss to Washington, but arm problems shortened his 2020 season and he could not find any takers on the free agent market during the last off-season despite holding a showcase event in the Dominican Republic.
Another reliever born in Sinaloa, Oliver Perez, has signed with the Tijuana Toros after earlier turning down an assignment to Class AAA by the Cleveland Indians. Perez made five appearances from the bullpen for the Tribe this season and allowed no earned runs, although he lost his only decision on April 17 in Cincinnati when he entered a 2-2 game in the bottom of the tenth and gave up an RBI single to Tyler Stephenson that plated automatic runner Sean Doolittle from second base.
The 39-year-old lefty's time with Cleveland marked his 19th season in MLB, a record for Mexican-born players. Like Osuna, Perez cut his teeth in the Mexican League, although his 11 games with Yucatan in 2000 (going 3-2 with a 4.36 ERA for the Leones) came a year after he'd signed a contract with San Diego as a 17-year-old and appeared in 15 games for the Padres' Arizona Rookie League club.
Perez eventually reached the majors with San Diego in 2002 and went on to a star-crossed career in which he's pitched for eight teams, reaching the double-digit mark in wins three times, going 2-0 over 11 games in four postseasons and earning over $67 million during his MLB career (including a three-year, $36 million contract with the Mets signed in 2009). However, he's also battled control problems and injuries and was unconditionally released by the Mets before the 2011 season despite having another year and $12 million left on his contract. At that point, Perez' career was at a crossroads and he signed a minor-league deal with Washington and essentially started over with Class AA Harrisburg that year.
At the suggestion of Nats' pitching coordinator Spin Williams, Perez reinvented himself as a relief pitcher after having been a starter in 196 of his 205 MLB games. He worked his way back to MLB with Seattle in 2012 and has exclusively been a middleman ever since. Perez is expected to come out of the bullpen for Tijuana manager Omar Vizquel and is being mentioned as a potential candidate for Mexico's Olympic team at the Tokyo Summer Games this year.
One more former big leaguer who may play in the Mexican League is three-time All-Star second baseman Brandon Phillips, who recently uploaded an image of the Oaxaca Guerreros presenting him as a new team member on his Instagram account. Phillips spent part of the 2019 LMB campaign with the Guerreros' “big brother, the Mexico City Diablos Rojos, for whom he hit .267 with three homers and 15 RBIs over 36 games.
A Georgia native, Phillips debuted in MLB with Cleveland in late 2002 after spending several seasons in the Montreal system. He played sporadically with the Indians and spent much time in the minors before being traded to Cincinnati at the beginning of the 2006 campaign. He became a mainstay in the Reds lineup for the next eleven seasons, averaging 17 homers and 17 steals and batting .279 en route to All-Star Game selections in 2010, 2011 and 2013 as well as four Gold Gloves at second base.
The Reds traded Phillips to Atlanta prior to the 2017 season, picking up $13 million of the $14.5 million he was owed on the last year of his contract. Phillips was dealt that September to the Angels and signed as a free agent with Boston in February 2018. However, he only played nine games with the Red Sox, spending most of the year in the minors, and was let go following the season. After playing with the Diablos in 2019, he played eight games last year with the Baseball Brilliance team in something called the Yinzer Baseball Confederacy (a four-team collection of players from independent leagues playing all games in Washington, Pennsylvania) as well as a trio of exhibition games with the Frontier League Lexington Legends.
PIONEER LEAGUE TEAM TO CARRY ACEREROS PROSPECTS
A Pioneer League team in Colorado Springs, the Rocky Mountain Vibes, has entered an agreement with the Mexican League's Monclova Acereros to host some Acereros' minor leaguers this season. The Pioneer League was initially formed in 1939 and operated continuously operated from 1946 until last year, when the pandemic caused the suspension of the schedule. During the offseason, Major League Baseball decided they'd be better off without 42 minor league teams as affiliates, after which the Pioneer League (which had been a Rookie circuit since 1963) being forced into Independent status, although they have the dubious honor of being an MLB “partner.”
The Vibes were created by an earlier shakeup of minor league teams owned by the Elmore Sports Group in 2019, who shifted the AAA Colorado Springs Sky Sox to San Antonio after 30 years in the Pacific Coast League and then moving the Helena Brewers to Colorado Springs to fill the void in the city of 478,221. A Name the Team contest was held, but “Rocky Mountain Vibes” was chosen despite not being one of the five finalists (among which were Rocky Mountain Oysters, Colorado Springs Happy Campers and Colorado Springs Punchy Pikas). The Vibes went 32-43 their first season in 2019, drawing 137,296 to finish second to Ogden in the PioL attendance derby.
Acereros owner Gerardo Benavides called the player-sharing arrangement with the Vibes a necessary step. “From the moment I made the decision to buy a Mexican League team, I knew what was needed to maintain it,” he said. “It was very clear to me that to win championships, it was necessary to develop talent. That is why we bet and trust in this challenge of exporting our prospects to a high-level league such as the Pioneer League.”
Monclova sports manager Jose Melendez echoed Benavides' sentiments. “We as a club always have the vision of growth and of supporting prospects in their development,” said Melendez. “With the break of last season and the current one in our development leagues, we were fortunate to find the opportunity to play them in this renowned league partnered with Major League Baseball.”
For his part, Vibes team president Chris Jones said in a press release, “We are beyond excited to begin a historic and what we all hope to be a very long affiliation and relationship with the Acereros of Monclova. Big thanks to Jose Melendez with the Acereros, the Elmore Sports Group and the great Colorado Springs community.”
The Pioneer League will serve as a laboratory for MLB in 2021 with experimental rules in place for the coming season, including a home run derby to decide winners of games that are tied after nine innings.