In this new series, we’ll be looking at pieces of CBA history that don’t make sense to the natural eye. Diving back in on the olden days (even if they were just eight years ago) this series will look back on the oddities, statistical anomalies, and transaction tales that make the league what it is today.
It’s not every day that a trade has so many implications in a league that you could see the branches stretch out to affect the paths of so many teams’ futures. But, if we’re to look at this honestly, we have to start back at the beginning: the inaugural draft.
Ben Perez was taken 13th overall by DC, and he was the youngest star pitcher available in the draft. At 23 years old Perez put up a WAR of 5.3 on a DC team that went 53-109. You could say that Perez was the difference between Scott Golden and Justin Jordan for DC, but nevertheless Perez performed great for being on such a bad team. Out of the six teams that truly tanked the inaugural season, Perez was the only player who had a WAR higher than 3.3 – beating it by a full two wins. He was destined for stardom, and his next season in the BL should have been a record setting year.
Orlando Burgueno was taken with the 332nd overall pick by LA in the 12th round. OSA listed him as a prospect who could potentially put up some big numbers in the future but wouldn’t set the world on fire. Instead, he would maybe compete for an all star appearance and be a good platoon hitter against right handed starters. The future of LA wasn’t in Burgueno’s hands like Perez’s influence in DC. In the first major trade in CBA history, Burgueno was shipped to Mexico City along with Kamar Alston in exchange for Luis Aguilera, Alberto Villegas, Jeff Kurtz, and both a 1st and 2nd round draft pick. It was the CBA’s first blockbuster trade, but it involved little more than a reliever and a few high picks trading hands. Alberto Villegas retired after playing in 14 major league games with LA, Jeff Kurtz is also retired despite putting up a 3.1 WAR season in Boston (He could make a case for a “Strange case” article). Luis Aguilera is the successful end of the deal, but he never contributed in LA. After being picked in the 27th round, Aguilera was traded after 18 months to Cincinnati in a deal where they netted Jordan Olguin and Troy Pye. Aguilera would last longer in Cincy, including three seasons where he averaged a 68 ERA+ and -0.8 WAR in the majors. After that, Cincy would deal him to Indianapolis in exchange for a 3rd round pick, where he would last a year before being dealt to Wichita on draft night. The return for him was Sergio Avena, now a strong starter in the Indy rotation.
Kamar Alston would go on to be one of the best relievers in the SL, finishing with a 2.67 ERA over 143 games in Mexico City. Despite Aguilera and Alston, the biggest piece in the deal was Orlando Burgueno, considered as the afterthought in the deal. Sure, Mexico City paid a bit more to bring him in, but Burgueno wasn’t the big piece in the deal – Alston was on a flailing LA team and had been on the block for a while. Burgueno went on a torrential tear in the Mexico City system, and found himself as the #1 prospect in the SL.
Ben Perez was two starts into the 2023 season when he heard a large pop from his arm. After 10.2 innings, Perez’s season was done with a torn UCL. He would be on the shelf while DC floundered around in the BL, but would remain an integral part in the DC rotation when the then super rotation of Ben Perez, Aaron Hannah, and William Wille were joined by the rest of their future lineup, developing in the wings after being picked in the inaugural draft.
On the first day of the offseason, the biggest blockbuster in the league’s history (and possibly still today) was announced: Ben Perez would be sent to Mexico City in return for the #1 prospect in the game, Orlando Burgueno. Along with Burgueno DC would get 1st round picks and a flurry of prospects. Along with Perez Mexico City would acquire a 3rd round pick and two prospects.
Mexico City didn’t get the better end of the bargain. Ben Perez, 20 days after the trade, suffered a set back from his TJ surgery and required a second operation, causing him to miss another year. Sent along with Perez was Bobby Stevens, a slugging left handed left fielder selected in the third round by DC, and Mike Frantz, a middle infielder who could run and had the potential to hit at a top of the lineup level. Both of the prospects are still in Mexico City – Bobby Stevens has put up 0.8 WAR with a career 110 OPS+, while Mike Frantz has played in 327 games with 2.8 WAR, a career 72 OPS+ and 94 stolen bases.
DC, for their efforts, got Orlando Burgueno (more on him in a little bit), Rogelio Hernandez, Lorenzo Garcia, Antonio Garcia, Salvatore Gutierrez, and picks. Out of the five players they got in that deal, two remain in DC today. Garcia is still in the DC system but will most likely stay a career minor league player. Lorenzo Garcia was dealt to Bay Area in exchange for a loan of Chris Allen, though Garcia looks like he’s stuck at the reserves level. Rogelio Hernandez was dealt after 9 months in the DC system to Great Lakes along with Mike Parks and Jose de Leon for Neil Hinz, and Hinz was dealt after the season to Portland along with Dennis Jones and Antonio Cruzrivera for Jose Lopez and Juan Garcia. Two years later, Rogelio would be dealt to Austin in exchange for Danny Rivas, and after two more years Rogelio would be sent to Portland for money. There, Rogelio tore his labrum for the second time in his career, causing a career ending injury.
Salvatore Gutierrez was taken from the Mexico City international complex and was added in as a minor piece in the large deal. Instead of being kept in the DC system, waiting to develop, Gutierrez was sent away six months after the large deal took place. Carolina brought him on, along with a 2nd round pick, in exchange for a closer who had no place in a tanking Carolina team: Mac Woolfrey. Woolfrey, whose number could possibly be retired after his career is finished by DC, put up the two most dominant seasons a reliever has ever had in the CBA, both with DC. In two seasons he put together 12.8 WAR (one season with 6.0, another with 6.8) in 126 game seasons. When Alberto Fernandez put up a 5.9 WAR season, the third highest all time amongst relievers, he won the Keith Bush award in the PL. Dante Arias, the current reliever WAR leader in the PL, is third all time even though he got the benefit of a 162 game season. And, in one of the few trades to which both sides won the deal, Gutierrez developed into a star first baseman with Carolina. At the age of 22, he’s already won two Diamond Defender awards at first, and also shows a good bat from the left side. Carolina gets a 25/25 guy with a Diamond Defender defensive ability, DC gets the two most dominant reliever seasons in CBA history. Not bad for both sides.
Now we’re on to the big piece in the DC return: Orlando Burgueno. Burgueno has 18.9 career WAR, has a 140 OPS+ average, and leads the Eagles in career home runs. Burgueno turned 27 to start the 2029 season, and still looks to have a strong career ahead of him. He will get paid big by somebody within the next year.
Today, Ben Perez is pitching for the reserve level Louisville Monarchs, the reserve level affiliate of the Cincinnati Royals. He’s put up a career 6.0 WAR in the majors and doesn’t look to be headed back any time soon.
Think about the possibilities if that trade had not gone through: Mexico City has a middle of the lineup that features Andy Popour, Ryan Wright, and Orlando Burgueno. Salvatore Gutierrez is at first base playing Diamond Defender level defense while providing a top of the lineup bat with pop. Mexico likely keeps more draft capital allowing them to build a PL team with a fearsome middle of the lineup. DC likely never trades away Jose Sanchez but has bullpen issues, causing them to flounder in the SL for another season or two before getting promoted.
But what already happened has happened. Instead of Mexico City getting to the PL with a fearsome middle of the lineup, they’re set for a trip to the Bronze League. DC has the roster to make a deep postseason run, but none of that would have happened if not for the blockbuster and the bust.