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MLB offseason opens with international intrigue

Atlanta GM signing forced out, allegedly for sketchy conduct that helped build baseball’s top farm system

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MLB: General Managers Meetings Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

It’s the offseason for the majority of Major League Baseball, and it wasted zero time getting to a major story.

Atlanta Braves GM John Coppolella and one of his assistants were forced to resign for reasons that are still emerging. The article gives the official reasoning for the moment:

Coppolella was forced to resign from his position as the Braves general manager on Monday, after an MLB investigation found proof of significant international market infractions. Gordon Blakeley, who served as Coppolella's mentor during their days with the Yankees, was also forced to vacate his role as a special assistant in charge of the Braves' international scouting efforts.

Coppolella had already been under some pressure as the season wound to a close. He gave an awkward interview at the end of the 2015 season in which he said “a 90-plus-loss team “will not happen again.” In the two years since, the Braves lost 93 and 90 games. He pulled off the Dansby Swanson heist, but the Atlanta Journal-Constitution story ended with some of his clunkers:

Coppolella has a couple of high-profile mistake trades on his resume, most notably dealing away left-hander Alex Wood and other young talent to acquire Cuban third baseman Hector Olivera, who turned out to be a bust on the field even before he was suspended after being arrested for domestic assault. He was later traded to the Padres in a swap of bad contracts that has saddled the Braves with injury-prone and overweight outfielder Matt Kemp.

He did build what many consider to be the top-ranked farm system in baseball — either No. 1 or No. 1A — but that’s what’s the subject of the investigation. Braves President of Baseball Operations John Hart said Major League Baseball “dug up a number of things that were quite serious, as far as MLB rules” regarding the international market.

The Red Sox had previously been punished for similar infractions, but Yahoo Sports’ Jeff Passan hears that the scope of the Braves “scheme” is “significantly bigger.”

There’s legitimate baseball stuff, like a rule-flouting pursuit of Kevin Maitan that could make one of baseball’s top international signings a free agent. Ken Rosenthal added that the Braves allegedly reached a verbal agreement with a Dominican teenager who isn’t eligible to sign until 2019.

Passan’s piece includes a number of personal jabs, like:

  • “The dislike for Coppolella extends far and wide – some of it from baseball lifers who wondered how a Notre Dame graduate with no playing experience wound up in a GM chair at 36 years old, some from those who disliked the fashion in which he did it, relentlessly networking and trying to leverage himself into jobs through media contacts.”
  • “Multiple GMs still recoil at the 2,000-plus word text messages he has sent”

Passan isn’t alone, but he has the most detail on Coppolella’s flaws. It seems like the calls are coming from both inside and outside the house.

When the Red Sox were caught packaging signings to skirt spending restrictions last years, all of those signed players were deemed free agents, and Boston was banned from signing any international players the following period. That’s the precedent for this particular facet of this particular era, although the extent of the Braves’ violations is not yet known. They seem to be bad enough to sink the GM, although maybe it’s an excuse to get rid of a guy they didn’t like.

With Coppolella out, multiple reporters have come to the same conclusion — the American League Central’s longest-tenured GM could be on the move: