ATLANTA (AP) — The Braves lost 13 prospects and former general manager John Coppolella was banned for life by Major League Baseball on Tuesday for circumventing international signing rules from 2015-17.
Former Atlanta special assistant Gordon Blakeley, who was the team’s international scouting chief, was suspended from baseball for one year by Commissioner Rob Manfred.
Sanctions imposed by Manfred will leave the Braves unable to bargain at full strength for a top Latin American prospect until 2021.
Manfred said MLB’s investigation determined the Braves moved international signing bonus pool money from one player to boost another player’s contract.
Most notable among the players the Braves will lose is Kevin Maitan, an infielder from Venezuela who signed for $4.25 million in 2016.
Other “high-value” players the Braves will lose include Juan Contreras, Yefri del Rosario, Abrahan Gutierrez, Juan Carlos Negret, Yenci Peña, Yunior Severino, Livan Soto and Guillermo Zuniga.
Three more international signees — Brandol Mezquita, Angel Rojas and Antonio Sucre — were declared free agents. The team’s contract with prospect Ji-Hwan Bae, which was not yet final, was disapproved. Finally, the Braves were banned from signing prospect Robert Puason in the 2019-20 signing period.
The 13 players will be free to negotiate as free agents with other teams.
Also, the Braves will forfeit their third-round selection in the 2018 draft as punishment for offering “impermissible benefits” to an unnamed draft pick in an effort to convince him to sign for a lower bonus.
The investigation showed the players signed by the Braves in 2016-17 would have been unavailable if the team had not circumvented the rules by moving bonus pool money.
Manfred said stripping the Braves of the 13 players was not sufficient punishment. He said “additional sanctions are warranted to penalize the club for the violations committed by its employees.”
Therefore, the Braves will be prohibited from signing any international player for more than $10,000 during the 2019-20 signing period. Also, the team’s international signing bonus pool for the 2020-21 signing period will be reduced by 50 percent.
The Braves already cannot give an international signing bonus of more than $300,000 for 2017-18 and 2018-19 as penalties for exceeding their signing bonus pools under baseball’s previous labor contract.
And there is still more discipline to be handed down.
Manfred said he intends “to discipline other Braves international baseball operations employees who participated in the misconduct.”
Coppolella was forced to resign after the season. Former team president John Hart was moved to a senior adviser role when a new general manager, Alex Anthopoulos, was hired on Nov. 13. Hart left the team on Friday.
“The senior baseball operations officials responsible for the misconduct are no longer employed by the Braves,” Manfred said. He also said the Braves “cooperated throughout the investigation.”
Coppolella did not immediately respond to a request for comment from The Associated Press.
The Braves braced fans for the sanctions when team chairman Terry McGuirk apologized to fans “on behalf of the entire Braves family” for the rules violations at the news conference to introduce Anthopoulos.
The Braves said in a statement released Tuesday they “understand and accept the decision regarding the penalties that have been handed down.
“As we expressed last week, our organization has not lived up to the standard our fans expect from us and that we expect from ourselves. For that, we apologize. We are instituting the changes necessary to prevent this from ever happening again and remain excited about the future of Braves baseball.”
Manfred said he is confident the Braves management team led by McGuirk, Anthopoulos and vice chairman John Schuerholz “have and will put in place procedures to ensure that this type of conduct never occurs again and which will allow the club to emerge from this difficult period as the strong and respected franchise that it has always been.”
The Braves are not the first team to be found guilty of violating rules in signing international players.
In 2016, the Boston Red Sox lost five players and were banned from signing international amateur free agents for one year as punishment for rules violations on signing bonuses.
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