Braves penalized for int'l signing violations

November 22nd, 2017

ATLANTA -- After spending the past two months investigating infractions committed by the Braves in the international market and in relation to the domestic Draft, Major League Baseball announced its finding and the resulting sanctions late Tuesday afternoon.

The Braves' penalties include the forfeiture of 13 international prospects, strict restrictions on the international market over the next three years and the loss of their third-round pick for the 2018 Draft.

Commissioner's statement regarding Braves' violations

Most of the prospects lost, including shortstop Kevin Maitan (the No. 38 ranked prospect in baseball according to MLB Pipeline), were part of the much-hyped 2016 international class signed by former general manager John Coppolella and his former special assistant, Gordon Blakeley.

MLB also placed Coppolella on the permanently ineligible list and Blakeley has been given a one-year suspension. Both men resigned from their roles with the Braves on Oct. 2, when it was revealed MLB was in the midst of what proved to be a very thorough investigation that revealed significant wrongdoing.

As part of the shakeup that was set in motion by this investigation, John Hart stepped down from his role as president of baseball operations and left the Braves organization last week after team CEO and Chairman Terry McGuirk chose Alex Anthopoulos to serve as the club's general manager.

"The senior Baseball Operations officials responsible for the misconduct are no longer employed by the Braves," Commissioner Rob Manfred said in a statement. "I am confident that Terry McGuirk, John Schuerholz, Alex Anthopoulos and their staffs 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."

Braves officials chose not to speak about the ruling, but the team issued a statement that included: "The Braves cooperated fully throughout this investigation and we understand and accept the decision regarding the penalties that have been handed down."

Atlanta will be prohibited from signing any international player for more than $10,000 during the 2019-20 signing period and its international signing bonus pool for the 2020-21 signing period will be reduced by 50 percent.

The reason for these penalties is that MLB found the Braves circumvented the international signing rules during each of the past three signing periods.

When the Braves exceeded their international bonus pool by more than $11 million in 2016, they gained what was considered to be that year's top signing class. They have now been forced to forfeit nine players from that class, including Maitan, a highly-regarded 17-year-old infielder who had been ranked the Atlanta's fifth-best prospect by MLB Pipeline, and catcher Abrahan Gutierrez, who had ranked as Atlanta's 30th-best prospect. At the time, Maitain received a bonus of $4.25 million and Gutierrez and bonus of $3.53 million.

During the 2015-16 international signing period, the Braves submitted signing bonus figures that were lower than the agreement that had been reached with the signed player. The players received the additional money via the inflated signing bonus given to another player exempt from the signing pool because he qualified as a "foreign professional."

If the Braves would have signed the five players to contracts including their actual bonuses, they would have exceeded their signing pool by more than 5 percent and thus would have been restricted from signing a player for more than $300,000 during either of the next two signing periods.

As a result, MLB determined that each of the nine players who signed for more than $300,000 should be declared free agents. This included Maitain; Gutierrez; pitchers Juan Contreras, Yefri del Rosario and Guillermo Zuniga; outfielder Juan Carlos Negret; and infielders Yenci Peña, Yunior Severino and Livan Soto.

MLB also nullified the signings of Brandol Mezquita, Angel Rojas and Antonio Sucre after finding they were part of "package deals." Within such agreements, a player receives a reduced signing bonus and the additional money is filtered to the player's agent via inflated bonuses given to other clients.

There is some precedent for this type of penalty, as the Red Sox lost five prospects when they were found guilty of circumventing the bonus pool regulations during the 2015 signing period.

All of the international prospects affected by Tuesday's announcement will keep the signing bonuses previously provided and now could land another lucrative payday as free agents. The Braves were not fined, but they also can't recoup the approximate $15 million in signing bonuses provided these players who will likely soon land with other organizations.

The Braves announced the signing of Korean shortstop Ji-Hwan Bae in September and there is a good chance he could have soon been listed among their top 30 prospects. But MLB has disapproved the contract based on the findings of extra-contractual compensation.

The loss of the third-round selection in next June's Draft came as a result of MLB finding an offer made to a player in an attempt to persuade him to sign for a lower bonus. While there have been reports that this year's second-round selection Drew Waters was offered a car, the penalty did not necessarily relate directly relate to this infraction.