The Wingnuts have officially become a victim of their own success.
After Wichita beat St. Paul 7-3 on Thursday night at Lawrence-Dumont Stadium to improve to 30-9, all signs pointed to first baseman C.J. Ziegler, second baseman Jake Kahaulelio and reliever James Hoyt leaving to join the Mexican League.
Kahaulelio said he was "50-50" about leaving, but Ziegler essentially confirmed his departure and manager Kevin Hooper was resigned to all three heading to Mexico.
Those departures are added to the season-ending injury to third baseman Juan Richardson, who needs surgery on his arthritic right elbow, as well as injuries to pitchers Nate Robertson and Ben Graham.
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Wichita lost three-fourths of its infield and 40 percent of its starting rotation, along with Hoyt, who recently joined the team but was in line to become a relied-upon short reliever. Relievers Josh Dew and Edgar Martinez left for Mexico earlier this season, though Martinez is expected to return soon.
"It’s just tough," Hooper said. "You work so hard to build a team, then a team from Mexico can just come take them and we don’t get anything in return. We need to do something about it, because that’s five guys now that we’ve got taken — quality guys that can help our team. Even if it’s a little money, we’ve got to work something out where we get something from those guys."
The Wingnuts, along with the American Association, receive payment from major-league organizations when a player from the team is sold to one. When the Mexican League, which doesn’t have an MLB affiliation, signs a player, the league and the team get nothing.
Hooper stopped short of saying he discouraged the trio from heading south, but he said he told them that the Mexican League isn’t a path to success in affiliated ball. The team from Tabasco is reportedly offering the three Wingnuts significant pay raises to play there, and the trio could return to Wichita when the Mexican League season ends in August.
"We had a long conversation about it," Hooper said. "They wanted my opinion, they wanted (general manager Josh Robertson’s) opinion, I gave them my opinion. If your ultimate goal is to play in the big leagues, I don’t think it’s the place for you to go. I’m just being honest, that’s not trying to keep them here or anything, but nobody gets signed out of Mexico.
"If you’re further along in your career or something and you don’t think you’ve got a shot or something … I know it’s a lot of money, but what are your goals? What do you want to do? There’s a chance they could be back in a month, but it’s too bad. We’ve got something special going here, and obviously that’s going to put a dent in things."
Kahaulelio is among the league leaders with a .381 average, and he previously reached Double-A in the Cincinnati Reds organization. Ziegler leads the league with 13 homers and 44 RBIs; his affiliated experience is limited to two seasons in the low levels of the San Francisco Giants system.
Kahaulelio was a major part of Thursday’s win, collecting three hits and driving in two. He teams with shortstop Ryan Khoury to give the Wingnuts a dynamic double-play combination that will be difficult to replicate.
"I sat down with the staff and I talked to them one-on-one, and I’m just weighing my options right now," Kahaulelio said. "Seeing what’s going to help me. Right now it’s 50-50. I don’t want to leave this place because I really like this place — the staff, the fans, the atmosphere is something that, if I do go, I’m going to miss."
The losses would leave the Wingnuts with eight position players and a need to sign at least one before tonight’s game. With Graham and Robertson out of the rotation, Wichita signed former Fort Hays left-hander Shawn Lewick to start tonight against Winnipeg.
Richardson has been playing with a severely injured elbow for about two weeks and will likely be shut down. Wichita will likely have holes at second, third and first as well as in the Nos. 2, 4 and 5 spots in the batting order.
Hooper will work quickly in signing replacements, but he doesn’t have the luxury of time as he did in the offseason.
"It might take a little while," Hooper said. "We have to get some bodies in here right now just to survive. We’ll go to work. I’ll do my best and we’ll all do our best as a staff to get the best possible options in here. It’s going to be tough, though. Those are three pretty good bats in the lineup. We’ll eventually get that right mix, I hope, and make things work."
|Frost ss||5||1||3||0||Khoury ss||3||0||2||1|
|Hernandez rf||4||2||2||2||Kahaulelio 2b||4||2||3||2|
|Rapoport cf||4||0||1||0||Rodriguez dh||5||0||2||1|
|Sheldon dh||4||0||0||0||Ziegler 1b||2||0||0||0|
|Bourquin 1b||4||0||1||0||Peralta rf||5||1||3||0|
|T. Townsend 3b||4||0||1||0||Carrillo 3b||5||1||1||0|
|Costa lf||1||0||0||0||Tellam c||3||2||1||0|
|Krause lf||3||0||0||0||McDonald lf||3||0||1||1|
|J. Townsend 2b||4||0||1||0||Conroy cf||4||1||1||1|
LOB—St Paul 7, Wichita 11. DP—St Paul 1, Wichita 1. 2B—Frost (5), Hernandez (9), Kahaulelio (11), Peralta (9). 3B—Frost (1), Rapoport (3). HR — Hernandez (4). SB—Conroy (9). CS — Khoury. S — McDonald. SF — Khoury.
|Rolon L,2-3||5 2/3||10||6||5||5||2|
|Hinson W,6-1||6 2/3||9||3||2||0||4|
HBP — by Rolon (Khoury). PB — Garabedian, Tellam. Umpires — home, Rich Gunton; first, Bryan Childe; second, Andrew Carroll. T — 2:33. A — 1,875.