Major League Baseball is in the early stages of its most serious effort yet to aid Mexico’s development as a baseball market. And now a former MLB infielder from a highly influential baseball family has accepted the job as manager of the Mexican national team.
Edgar Gonzalez, brother of Los Angeles Dodgers star Adrian Gonzalez, will manage Mexico in its World Baseball Classic qualifier on home soil in March.
"Baseball in Mexico is really big right now, and it’s getting bigger," Gonzalez told FOX Sports this week in a telephone interview from Mexico, where he’s managing the Aguilas de Mexicali of the Mexican Pacific League.
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"The fans here in the winter league are great. We averaged around 16,000 per game [in the first half]. I played here five years ago, and every year since then, the fan base has gone up."
The Gonzalez brothers played together on the San Diego Padres in 2008 and 2009, and for Team Mexico in the ’09 and ’13 World Baseball Classics.
So is Edgar, 37, ready to manage his younger brother?
"He’s on the team," Gonzalez said, laughing over the phone. "I’ve thought about what it’s going to be like. We have a really good relationship.
"It’ll be perfect: Every good manager has to have a good captain, who understands everything you’re trying to do. He’s going to make my job a lot easier, being the captain who can communicate to the other players with how he thinks the game."
Mexico participated in the first three WBCs but must re-qualify for the 2017 edition after finishing last in its pool in 2013. But Mexico will have the advantage of hosting the qualifier in Mexicali from March 17-20 and will be favored to win a tournament that includes the Czech Republic, Germany and Nicaragua.
Mexico must submit a 50-player interest list to MLB and MLB Players Association officials by Thursday, at which point intrigue surrounding roster composition will intensify.
Mexico’s preliminary roster will be especially deep in pitching, with Yovani Gallardo, Marco Estrada, Roberto Osuna, Aaron Sanchez, Miguel Gonzalez and Dodgers prospect Julio Urias among the notable arms certain to be included on it. Pitchers Jorge De La Rosa, Joakim Soria and Olivez Perez also are eligible to play for Mexico, as is Dodgers outfielder Andre Ethier, who is Mexican-American.
Once Mexico’s 50-player list is finalized Thursday, MLB clubs will receive formal requests for their players to participate; their approval is not guaranteed, particularly at a time when clubs are protective of their pitchers.
Still, officials from the commissioner’s office and union likely will encourage MLB general managers to allow players to participate — particularly for Mexico, given the parties’ shared interest in developing the country as a market for the sport. MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred has said in interviews that he’s interested in having an MLB franchise based in Mexico; a strong showing by the Mexican team on home soil could help nudge forward that nascent possibility.
Mexico’s final 28-man roster, which is due Feb. 17, is certain to include many minor leaguers; among 12 Mexican-born players to appear in the majors this year, 11 are pitchers.
In theory, Gonzalez could tap into talent from the Triple-A Mexican League, which operates during the summer months and has a relationship with MLB (albeit without direct club affiliations). However, a longstanding rift between executives at Mexico’s national federation and their counterparts with the Mexican League has prevented many Mexican players from participating in the WBC; Edgar Gonzalez said outfielder Eduardo Arredondo was barred from the Mexican League for one season after playing in the 2013 WBC.
"It’s a personal feud, and they’re still fighting about it," Gonzalez said of discord between officials at the national federation and Mexican League.
Even if that continues, Mexico should be able to win in March with pitchers obtained from MLB rosters. And then in 2017, Mexico can make an even grander statement about its place in the baseball world.