Atlanta Braves general manager John Coppolella, who oversaw the construction of baseball’s top-rated farm system, was forced to resign Monday after an investigation by Major League Baseball revealed serious rules violations in the international player market.
The Braves announced Coppolella’s resignation Monday, citing a “breach of Major League Baseball rules regarding the international player market.”?Gordon Blakeley, a special assistant to the GM who was the team’s international scouting chief, also has resigned.
Coppolella’s surprising resignation came just two years and one day after he was promoted to GM and signed a four-year contract. John Hart, the Braves’ president of baseball operations, will perform GM duties until the team hires a replacement for Coppolella.
Sources confirmed to ESPN’s Jerry Crasnick that multiple team executives have filed complaints with the commissioner’s office recently over Coppolella’s conduct, and that MLB is investigating Coppolella for a number of infractions in areas beyond the international realm.
One source told Crasnick that the breach of etiquette regarding the international player market could be just “the tip of the iceberg.” Yahoo! Sports, which first reported the scope of the investigation Monday, also reported that the probe includes Atlanta’s domestic draft practices.
Hart said during a news conference Monday that the Braves cooperated with MLB when they first learned of the investigation “in the past couple weeks.” He wouldn’t reveal details of the rules violations but he did say they did not involve criminal activity.
Hart didn’t know if the Braves would be penalized by MLB, but he acknowledged there was no agreement for lesser organizational penalties in exchange for Coppolella’s resignation.
“We didn’t bargain, if you will, on that,” Hart said. “The decision that was made here internally was it just wasn’t right and it wasn’t going to fit for what worked with the Braves going forward.”
Added Hart: “It didn’t pass MLB muster, but at the same time it didn’t pass Atlanta Braves muster.”
Hart initially didn’t believe the probe would uncover serious violations. He said that changed in the last three days as the team learned more findings from the MLB investigation.
“As we went into the last 72 hours, I think in their investigation they dug up a number of things that were quite serious as far as the MLB rules,” Hart said. “Ultimately, I think because of what they did dig up and what they did have, I think it sort of drove us into the spot we’re in right now.”
Hart also said MLB has “made clear” the investigation “has about wrapped up.” An MLB spokesman would not provide details on an ongoing investigation when contacted by The Associated Press.
Coppolella, 38, was promoted to GM on Oct. 1, 2015, after spending three seasons as the Braves’ assistant GM. He?declined comment “at this time” to The Associated Press.
Under Coppolella’s stewardship, the rebuilding Braves completely overhauled their farm system through the domestic draft, the international signing period and a series of trades involving high-profile veterans. ESPN’s Keith Law recently ranked Atlanta’s farm system as the best in baseball.
According to Yahoo! Sports, the Braves organization recently has been engulfed in infighting and chaos involving Coppolella. The Braves went 72-90 this year, their fourth consecutive losing season.
Hart said the search for a new GM wouldn’t affect the team’s decision on whether to exercise its 2018 option on manager Brian Snitker. Hart said that decision could come this week.
“Obviously that will be my call as we move forward,” Hart said. “I think we’ve got a good feel for where we are with our club and what we’re doing.”
The Braves have been very active in the international market in recent years. More teams have increased their emphasis on international scouting, making the competition for top prospects intense.
In 2016, the Braves signed a group of 13 international prospects led by Kevin Maitan, a 16-year-old Venezuelan shortstop. Maitan, the consensus No. 1-rated international amateur prospect, signed for a $4.25 million bonus, a record for a player from Venezuela.
Coppolella replaced Frank Wren as GM in 2015 and, like most GMs, had a mixed record in trades.
Perhaps his most successful deal came in late 2015, when the Braves traded right-hander Shelby Miller and prospect Gabe Speier to Arizona for outfielder Ender Inciarte, right-hander Aaron Blair and shortstop Dansby Swanson. Inciarte and Swanson are cornerstones of Atlanta’s rebuilding effort.
Also in 2015 came perhaps Coppolella’s worst deal. Cuban infield prospect Hector Olivera was the biggest name obtained by Atlanta in a three-team trade that sent left-hander Alex Wood and infielder Jose Peraza to the Dodgers. Olivera hit .245 in only 30 combined games with Atlanta in 2015 and 2016.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.