Yesterday afternoon news broke that Atlanta Brave General Manager John Coppolella had resigned. Special Assistant to the General Manager Gordon Blakeley also resigned. Why did they resign? Major League Baseball began looking into more than a few accusations of rules tampering. Coppolella allegedly is being investigated for skirting international signing rules, domestic amateur signing rules, player tampering and more.

When the news first broke it was simply stated that Major League Baseball was investigating John Coppolella, but nothing beyond that had come out. Within a few hours all kinds of details began to emerge. And it got wild, quickly. The biggest international free agent in 2016, Kevin Maitan, may have been signed by working around the rules? He was living in the United States with another player the team would sign months before either would sign? Offering a player a car on top of his signing bonus to make up the money he wanted to sign but that would have put the organization over their allowed spending pool? Calling a potential free agent’s representation during the regular season to talk about things?

The international free agent market has always been a bit of a wild west situation where there are rules, but generally speaking, everyone is breaking them a little bit. Teams aren’t supposed to have agreed to deals with players before they are actually eligible to sign, but every team does. Before teams were limited on how much they could spend, teams would sign players from the same buscon just as a way to maintain a good working relationship with him and keep access to the higher end players that he would eventually have in the future. They may not have necessarily overpaid for them, though that did happen at times. Major League Baseball has tried cracking down on that, especially since those signing bonuses could be funneled to one player to work around bonus limitations. This is what the Boston Red Sox were busted for last year which led to them facing harsh penalties – including all of the signed players involved being declared free agents.

Major League Baseball is still investigating, but it appears that there is a chance that it could mean that Kevin Maitan could become a free agent. That would get rather interesting. Just guessing here, but I’d guess that he would still be subject to the signing rules and bonus limitations. The bigger question could be whether the teams eligible to sign him in 2016 would be eligible still, or if a team like the Reds who could have signed him in 2017 but is now facing the penalty phase for their spending, would be ineligible to offer him more than $300,000.

While there may have been some General Managers in the past who were a little bit different, in the last two years we have seen multiple punished and several other front office members face penalties or worse. The St. Louis Cardinals hacked the Houston Astros. The Boston Red Sox working around signing limitations. The San Diego Padres AJ Preller was suspended for 30 days for failing to disclose medical information during a trade.

The old saying is “if you ain’t cheatin’, you ain’t tryin'”, and it seems that maybe a few General Managers around baseball have taken that to heart. Two months ago the New York Yankees were apparently using the Yes Network television cameras to steal the Boston Red Sox signs. Some teams are going above-and-beyond the rules to try and gain a competitive advantage right now. While there seems to be cheating in other sports, it seems to show up in baseball more.  Perhaps because it’s the only league where there isn’t a salary cap and allows for vast discrepancies in spending, making it more difficult for teams to truly compete on the same level as some others.

24 Responses

  1. Greenfield Red

    The easy way to punish them would be to confiscate draft picks in future years. In this case their #1 and #2 picks in June of 2018 or some other combination of high picks in the next few years would be a significant punishment that would be spread among the other 29 teams. Thoughts?

  2. Bill

    Good summation and analysis of the situation. I think an International Draft would help curtail some of the behind the scenes deal-making that goes on in the current system. I’ve always been uncomfortable with signing 16-year olds to professional contracts and would like to see the age raised, too. However, both suggestions would be hugely disruptive to the “buscone” business model in some of the Latin American countries. Its also time for MLB to up the ante on Front Offices caught cheating. To date, the punishments have been largely measured.

  3. Kap

    I think the best way to punish them is to just give Maitan to the reds for nothing

  4. Arnold Ziffle

    Braves are in a world of hurt right now. For a team that is trying to exit the rebuild process, this scandal could deliver a severe blow to the team’s efforts.
    IFA money will be taken as a penalty. Draft picks will be forfeited.
    And if the Reds are one of the 15 teams mentioned as also being complicit in this matter, the Reds front office and international scouting department should be held accountable.
    I would imagine that the Reds front office is now quickly and quietly reviewing all of their international department’s methods of operation.

    • Chris r

      Where are you reading that the reds or “15” other teams are complicit in this?? Seems like you are jumping to some sort of nefarious conclusions when none has been stated..

      • Doug Gray

        Agreed – I don’t know where you are seeing that other teams were complicit in all of this.

      • Doug Gray

        Oh. Well, unfortunately every team is complicit in this. All of them. Except maybe the Orioles, who I am not sure have ever spent mid-6 figures on an international player, ever.

      • Arnold Ziffle

        Yes Colt it is.
        “One international scouting director informed him that up to 15 clubs have reached deals with players who, like Puason (16 years old), aren’t allowed to sign until 2019. Keith Law of ESPN adds (on Twitter) that there are some prospects who can’t sign until 2020 but already have verbal agreements with teams.”
        I just don’t get why Doug condones this activity though. Simply dismissing this activity by saying “all teams do it” is absurd. So, if all of them do it, then it is OK? Never mind the rules. This pretty much is corruption. Corruption of the law and corruption of this system.
        I doubt that all of them do it. At least one team was fed up enough with the status quo and made an “anonymous” complaint with specific facts to the MLB offices, which started this investigation.

      • Doug Gray

        You’re confusing my condoning with me simply acknowledging that everyone is doing it.

    • Colt Holt

      Bearing in mind, the Reds have signed very few high value 16 year olds in recent history and they haven’t been limited to contracts of $300k or more until July (and they have little to show since then). If the Reds have bent the rules in Latin America, they have come out with very little to show for it.

  5. Alex Reds

    It was always interesting that the #1 international player that year the Reds spent big was signing for only $4.25 million (Maitan, also #38 prospect overall) when the Reds were spending ~$8 million before penalties on much lesser talents like Alfredo Rodriguez and Jose Garcia.
    The Braves should lose either Maitan or their 1st round pick as both are about the same caliber of talent. And they should actually be penalized. Maybe second round pick taken away or no international free agency for 1-2 years.
    If Maitan is available again, it would be interesting to see if the 2016-17 teams like the Reds that should have been able to sign Maitan will be able to bid in overage as that would have been what they’d be able to do when he was available.

  6. MK

    This isn’t new. This kind of thing was going since teams began competing for talent. I did some research on one such case when I was given an autographed baseball by the 40’s era Springfield (OH) Indians that included future Hall of Famer Lou Boudreau. He never appeared on any of their rosters. What I found was the Cleveland Indians gave Lou’s mother $1,000 while he was still attending and playing basketball and baseball at the University of Illinois. After he graduated he signed and was assigned to Class D Springfield. Boudreau’s parents were divorced and dad was mad he got none of the money and turned them in. Illinois retroactively suspended Lou and the Commissioner voided the contract and made him a free agent. He signed with Indians anyway but Landis, to punish them, ordered he would have to begin no lower than Class B ball meaning he could not play in Springfield, although he worked out with them for a week.
    There was also a similar controversy over Bob Feller’s signing.

  7. MK

    completely off topic but I had to smile today when I heard Yankees fans upset that new Marlins owner Derek Jeter might be firing Don Mattingly. One Yankee Captain firing another.

  8. Arnold Ziffle

    I wonder if the Reds front office has any regrets about spending a few extra million dollars to sign the 19 year old Cuban outfielder Luis Robert? He just turned 20 a couple of months ago. It was rookie ball, but it was a very impressive start.
    He had an incredible slash of .310/.491/.536/1.027 in 28 G’s, 114 PA’s, 3 HR, 17 R, 14 RBI, 12 SB, 22 BB, 23 K, 8 HBP, a .226 ISO and a wRC+ of 193.
    What might have been? Pairing him with Taylor Trammell would have been pretty awesome. Maybe Hunter Greene can be this impressive in rookie ball next year. Maybe.

    • Greenfield Red

      I don’t know about this. They would have to have outbid the White Sox who gave him $28 million. What would have had to pay $30 mil… $32 mil or more? Plus a 100 % tax. I know he could be the next Babe Ruth, but chances are he will not be. I don’t think they should have spent that much on him.

      Where I think they came up short is that they didn’t get enough of the other top 30 international talent. They got 4 pretty well thought of guys ( Rodriquez, Gutierrez, Garcia, and Ruiz). But, there were several others linked to the Reds that went for the $2 mil – $5mil range. I would rather them gotten 2 or 3 more of those guys. Just my opinion.

    • Paul Nyhart

      I believe those numbers are from the Dominican Summer League…not rookie ball.

      • Doug Gray

        They are definitely from the DSL – though, technically, that is rookie ball.

        Someone of his caliber should have beat up on that league. And, to his credit, he did.

      • Arnold Ziffle

        Fangraphs just had “R” for rookie level. I didn’t know DSL stats would be in Fangraph’s stats.
        Thanks for clarifying that. At age 19-20, he should tear up that league. When he gets to the States, I hope the White Sox move him right to the A level Sally League.