International Reviews: Atlanta Braves
Total 2017 signings: 39.
Top 2017-18 signing: Several at $300,000.
In our annual international reviews for each club, we typically write a scouting report on every player who signed for at least $125,000 during the previous calendar year. In the draft, we provide a scouting report on every player picked in the top 10 rounds, where the slot value of every pick last year was at least $125,000. Our objective is to mirror that comprehensive coverage for international signings. However, given the extraordinary circumstances specific to the Braves’ international program in 2017, we have decided to hold off on publishing player reports on their signing class.
Major League Baseball hammered the Braves with penalties that centered around international signing violations, with sanctions that included removing players from the organization, future signing restrictions and disciplinary measures for executives. The Braves’ penalty essentially boiled down to engaging in multiple package deals over multiple years to sign players in bundling arrangements that the league determined to be bonus pool circumvention. Those package deals included players signed in previous years and players whose bonuses were inflated as an arrangement to secure at least one 2019 player, Dominican shortstop Robert Puason, who now will be unable to sign with the Braves. MLB also determined that the Braves illegally offered “extra-contractual compensation” to sign Korean shortstop Ji-Hwan Bae; as a result, MLB did not approve his contract with the club.
MLB also declared 12 players in the organization free agents. Those players were mostly the top signings from the Braves’ 2016-17 class, including infielders Kevin Maitan, Yunior Severino and Livan Soto, catcher Abraham Gutierrez, righthander Yefri del Rosario and outfielder Juan Carlos Negret. While MLB did not say the Braves did anything illegally specific to those signings, the league removed the players under the justification that the Braves had engaged in a package deal to circumvent their bonus pool in the previous signing period and thus should not have been able to sign those players in the first place.
Braves Paid High Price For Little Reward In International Signing Scandal
In the end, those involved in the Braves international violations paid a very high price for very little reward.
Commissioner Rob Manfred placed former general manager John Coppolella on the permanently ineligible list, effectively banning him from baseball for life. Former Braves special assistant Gordon Blakeley, who was in charge of the team’s international operations, was suspended for one year. Former Braves president John Hart left the team shortly before Manfred announced his sanctions against the club but was not disciplined by MLB. Hart now works for MLB Network.
The Braves won’t face any additional penalties for the 2018 signing period that opens this year on July 2, aside from being limited to bonuses of no more than $300,000 because they went over their bonus pool in 2016-17. For the 2019-20 signing period that opens on July 2, 2019, the Braves’ bonus pool will be reduced to $0, meaning the Braves can’t sign any players that period for more than $10,000 (deals of $10,000 or less are exempt from the pools), while their 2020-21 pool will be reduced by 50 percent.