The baseball world was taken by storm yesterday as MLB announced the findings of their seven-week investigation into the Braves signing of international free agents. Among the penalties the Braves incurred was the loss of 13 prospects and heavy penalties in upcoming international free agency periods, as well as the loss of the team’s 3rd round pick in the 2018 domestic draft.
The immediate reaction for Braves fans comes over the loss of the prospects. There’s no way to sugarcoat these losses. They’re a big deal. If for no other reason, the Braves don’t recoup the signing bonuses handed out to the players, which in essence, became a fine of around $20 million for the team’s transgressions.
As far as talent goes, losing Kevin Maitan and Yunior Severino stand to be the biggest blows. As painful as it is to lose players with such pedigree, along with the sheer volume of players lost, I don’t think the Braves will feel the effects of losing the players immediately. All of them are so young, and so far away from being impactful players in the Braves system, that it isn’t going to hurt the Braves in 2018. Where I feel it will start to hurt the Braves is a couple years down the road when they have 13 fewer prospects to make up their next wave of talent or to be able to use as trade fodder. When it comes down to it, I feel like Braves fans expected to lose Maitan and some other high profile players from that signing class as rumors began to swirl so we had time to brace ourselves for that reality. Being able to prepare for those losses led me to become more focused on some of the peripheral pieces being thrown about like Cristian Pache, William Contreras, and Drew Waters. It may be an optimistic outlook, but after all the rumors, knowing the Braves got through this with those three guys still in the system feels like a bit of a win to me.
In addition to losing players from previous international signing periods, the Braves were levied a hard cap of not being able to sign a player for more than $10,000 for the 2019-20 signing period and had their 2020-21 signing bonus allotment reduced by 50%. It’s still to be determined how large of a blow that will be, but it effectively takes the Braves out of being a large player in the international scene for five years, when combining that with the penalties already in place for blowing through the bonus budget for the 2016 class that is now essentially gone as result of this investigation.
Next is understanding how losing the 3rd pick in next year’s draft is going to change things for Alex Anthopoulos’s first draft with the Braves. In addition to losing the ability to pick a talented player, the Braves will have to deal with the effects of losing the value of that pick in their bonus pool. In 2017, the 8th pick in the 3rd round was valued at $676,900 toward the team’s slot bonus, which makes for a fairly significant dent in the team’s overall bonus pool. Hopefully, Anthopoulos will be able to swing a deal for another team’s competitive balance pick to help soften the blow of losing that draft pick and bonus assignment.
The big surprise was the lifetime ban given to John Coppolella. While possibly deserved for what he did and how he handled the investigation, I think it carried the largest shock value of the entire report. When it comes down to it, Coppy became too powerful before he was ready and let it do him in. Unfortunately for him, it also ended his career in the sport. I am shocked that John Schuerholz and John Hart were able to get out of the investigation unscathed as I fail to see how they had no knowledge of the things going on in their office. I suppose when you have had such a good relationship with MLB for 30+ years, they’ll turn a blind eye in order to protect your reputation. How would it look for baseball to have its newly inducted executive into the Hall of Fame outed five months later as part of a huge scandal?
So where do the Braves go from here? The best news is that the investigation is now behind them and they can put together a plan to move forward. Braves fans need to trust in Anthopoulos to do that in the best way possible. Through all of this, their front office is in better shape than it was two months ago. With Coppy and Hart out of the picture, and Schuerholz seemingly relegated to a true advisory role, the Braves are going to be able to break away from The Braves Way™ mantra that created this mess in the first place. Anthopoulos was hired with a general manager title but was given full control of baseball operations. He has a bright baseball mind and will find creative ways to get around the mess left behind by the previous regime as well as possible. The Braves will need his strong draft record to hold as they get through their window with a decreased presence in Latin America. On another note, given the number of prospects lost, it’s important to realize that the Braves lost just one of their top 25 prospects. The farm system is still very deep and very strong for the immediate future.
Hopefully, everything that happened to the Braves yesterday will bring a shift toward how the international free agency scene is handled. It is obvious to anyone that pays attention to the scene that it is a corrupt environment. It would be good if MLB decides that this is the tipping point in the discussion toward an international draft or at least raise awareness that they need to do a better job of policing the international market. The Braves aren’t the only team that was looking to cheat the system. They just did it in a more blatant way than other teams and/or were the team with the general manager that other teams were most willing to turn in due to the difficulty they had working with him and his effectiveness at manipulating the system.