John Coppolella was forced to resign as Braves general manager Monday after an investigation by Major League Baseball revealed serious rules violations in the international player market.
Gordon Blakeley, a special assistant to the GM who was the team’s international scouting chief, also has resigned.
Braves president John Hart will take over GM duties while the team searches for a full-time replacement.
Hart said the Braves cooperated 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 with the league for lesser organizational penalties in exchange for Coppolella’s resignation.
“We didn’t bargain, if you will, on that. 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.”
“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. 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.”
He said MLB has “made clear” the investigation “has about wrapped up.”
An MLB spokesman would not provide details on an ongoing investigation.
Coppolella declined comment “at this time,” when contacted by The Associated Press
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. He said that decision could come this week.
“Obviously that will be my call as we move forward. I think we’ve got a good feel for where we are with our club and what we’re doing.”
The Braves, who finished 72-90 this year, 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. Like most GMs, Coppolella 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 in exchange 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.
AP | Charles Odum