Former Braves GM Banned For Life As MLB Delivers Harsh Punishment For Violations
MLB on Tuesday "dealt unprecedented punishment on the Braves, including a lifetime ban" on former GM John Coppolella, in a "lengthy list of sanctions handed down" for rules violations in the international free-agent market, according to O'Brien & Burns of the ATLANTA JOURNAL-CONSTITUTION. The Braves have been the "subject of an extensive investigation since it was announced" that Coppolella and former Int'l Scouting Supervisor Gordon Blakeley "resigned last month amidst the scandal." Blakeley received a one-year ban from baseball. Additional penalties handed down by MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred including the Braves losing 13 prospects, a "third-round draft pick and have heavy spending limitations in future international spending periods." Among the "primary areas of investigation were the past two international signing periods." O'Brien & Burns write the "severity of the penalties sent a message to the other 29 franchises as MLB attempts to better monitor activity on the international market." Former Braves Senior Advisor John Hart, who stepped down last week, was also "investigated by MLB to determine his role or knowledge of various infractions." A source said that Blakeley during a Nov. 9 meeting with Manfred in N.Y. "discussed how much that high-ranking Braves officials, including Hart, knew about the alleged infractions before and after they were committed." Some believe that meeting "influenced the departure of Hart despite the fact he was under contract through the end of the year" (ATLANTA JOURNAL-CONSTITUTION, 11/22). USA TODAY's Spain & Lacques report MLB also "forbid the Braves from signing any international player for more than $10,000" during the '19-20 signing period, and "reduced by 50% their international signing bonus pool" for '20-21. The 13 prospects the Braves have lost were also "declared free agents." It is "clear that with those penalties and the actions against the Braves that Manfred will have little tolerance for those aiming to circumvent MLB's repressive international signing structure" (USA TODAY, 11/22).
BASEBALL STRIKES DOWN: SI.com's Jon Tayler wrote the punishment and Coppolella’s lifetime ban show Manfred and the league "will no longer tolerate the flouting of international rules." This "isn’t exactly a death penalty" for the Braves, even with SS Kevin Maitan, the No. 1 ranked prospect in the '16 international class, among the prospects granted free agency. The Braves' farm system is "still one of baseball’s best, and the punishment won’t affect the team’s international crop for a couple of years anyway -- but it’s as harsh a warning as can be given." Meanwhile, Coppolella’s ban "gives Manfred a head on a stick he can use to put other GMs on notice" (SI.com, 11/21). THE RINGER's Zach Kram wrote the announcement "isn’t a death blow for the Braves’ ongoing rebuild." It "hurts, to be sure, and Atlanta won’t recover" the $20M-plus it spent to "acquire Maitan et al., but the franchise still boasts a bevy of top prospects." It is instead a "warning that, at least in one instance, the days of lax treatment of prohibited international behavior are over" (THERINGER.com, 11/21). YAHOO SPORTS' Jeff Passan wrote the "loss of the draft pick, the international sanctions and the free agency of the dozen players" will erode the organizational depth the Braves had "fostered during its rebuild." The Braves’ farm system "remains one of the game’s best nonetheless," led by 19-year-old CF Ronald Acuna. While the Braves’ future under new GM Alex Anthopoulos "remains bright because of their cache of prospects, the stain of improprieties on an organization that long prided itself on running its operations the right way is indelible" (SPORTS.YAHOO.com, 11/21).
WORSE THAN THEY THOUGHT: In Atlanta, Mark Bradley writes the punishment was a "punch in the nose." Bradley: "I thought it would be bad. It was worse." The Braves' future in the international market has been "restricted if not choked off." Even those "who’d braced themselves for the worst were knocked backward by this," as MLB "hammered the Braves to the extent that the consensus No. 1 farm system won’t be the consensus No. 1 anymore, and maybe not in the top three." The Braves will be "severely restricted in the international market" from '19-21. That is a "huge blow" to Anthopoulos, whose Blue Jays were "among the most ardent suitors of international talent." Bradley: "If you want to call Tuesday the darkest day in franchise history, I won’t rise to object" (ATLANTA JOURNAL-CONSTITUTION, 11/22).
FALLOUT MIGHT NOT BE OVER: In Atlanta, Jeff Schultz writes Braves Chair & CEO Terry McGuirk "amazingly ... escaped punishment," but this "might not be over yet." Liberty Media officials are "steaming about this saga." McGuirk is "culpable for the team/corporation wasting" $15-17M in signing bonuses to players that "can’t be recouped." Schultz: "What’s the argument for McGuirk surviving all that? He’s the link between the Braves and their corporate owners and the one who signs off on the budgets" (ATLANTA JOURNAL-CONSTITUTION, 11/22). THE ATHLETIC's Ken Rosenthal wondered how Hart could "escape punishment." But the frustration over the non-punishment is "not universal." Still, the "entire affair is a black mark" for the Braves, "especially Hart, McGuirk" and Braves Vice Chair John Schuerholz. That trio of execs "empowered Coppolella, then failed to provide oversight, creating an environment that enabled the inexperienced GM to run wild" (THEATHLETIC.com, 11/21).