November 28, 2017

Braves Scandal: Neither MLB Nor Braves Come Out Looking Good

On Tuesday, MLB finally announced the Braves’ punishments for breaking rules regarding signing amateur players, mostly related to the signing of international players.  In his latest chat, Fangraphs’ Dave Cameron sums up the rule-breaking succinctly:

They signed an older international prospect, not subject to bonus pools, to an inflated bonus with the understanding his buscone would give the difference to five other players they signed in order to stay under their pool allocation.
They also apparently offered a draft pick a car in exchange for taking a lower bonus, and have already setup a package deal with a 14 year old who isn’t eligible to sign for two more years.

None of the parties involved in the wrong-doing and in handing out punishments come out looking good in all this.  Former President of Baseball Operations John Hart or former GM John Coppolella or both arranged all of the wrong-doing.  If Hart did not have a major hand in it, it’s hard to believe he did not know what was going on.  If, as President of Baseball Operations, he didn’t know what was going on in baseball ops, that’s just as big of an issue.  John Schuerholz hired both of these guys.  Liberty Media and Terry McGuirk failed to step in when they’ve had chances to move the Braves beyond the past.  And MLB’s rules, because of their desire to prevent teams from paying what the teams want to pay to players, encourages teams to find ways around their rules.

Going back a ways, John Schuerholz, instead of turning the organization over to a new voice with a new way of thinking and approaching things, turned it over to his assistance in Frank Wren, then turned it over to his friend in John Hart and one of his hires in John Coppolella.  Granted, how was he to know things would turn out this way?  But, what happens if the Braves, at a time when their economics didn’t seem to favor Schuerholz’s way of doing things, turn to a Theo Epstein or Alex Anthopoulos type?

Above Schuerholz, Liberty Media and Terry McGuirk did not push the Braves to move on from the Schuerholz era, to a more progressive front office.  In a sense, you can’t blame them. Schuerholz ran the Braves during one of the most successful eras of any baseball franchise ever.  But, in hindsight, they should have noticed the team was in worse shape the further they got from the Ted Turner years.  They should have noticed what GM’s like Billy Beane were doing with small payrolls and that the Red Sox were able to win a couple of titles after they embraced a modern, progressive front office.  But, Liberty Media and McGuirk allowed the Braves to continue along the Schuerholz path, only implementing small changes toward modernity.

In order to compete, teams could still spend efficiently on amateur players.  The cost of acquiring amateur talent was always chump change compared to signing and keeping major league talent.  Even though the percentage of amateurs who make an impact in the majors is small, the cost is so low, relative to the cost of acquiring major league talent, that it’s worth the investment.  Teams with the Braves’ budget, even if they weren’t all that progressive, could compete with investments in procuring amateur talent.  Even if a team wanted to outspend others on amateur talent, this was still more efficient than spending big on major league talent.

But, Major League Baseball and the players’ union couldn’t leave well enough alone.  They’ve put rules in place to prevent teams from spending what they want to spend on amateur talent.  MLB’s goal is to keep as much money as possible in the hands of owners.  The players’ union’s goal is to make sure as much money as possible goes to their tenured members, veteran players, in free agency.  By implementing what amounts to strict caps on amateur spending, and severely penalizing teams for going over, MLB prevents teams from spending money they want to spend.

Major League Baseball is a multi-billion-dollar industry.  The best veteran players are multi-millionaires.  Yet, MLB and the players’ association are fine with preventing teams from giving amateur players a few million more dollars.  Many of these amateur players come from impoverishment, in Latin American countries like the Dominican Republic and Venezuela.  These players work with buscones to make sure they are seen by teams and to make sure they get the most money possible.  Teams work with buscones to make sure the right players get the most money, sometimes working around MLB rules to make it happen.  Buscones take a cut of the bonuses as payment for their services.

In order to get an edge on each other and for the purposed of cost-certainty, teams reach agreements with players as young as 14 and the buscones who represent them.  MLB and the players’ union has had a hand in creating a system that functions like an organized crime ring and exploits children from impoverished backgrounds.

John Coppolella and the Braves were ultra aggressive in finding creative ways to play the games that most teams play to work around MLB’s exploitative, anti-free-market system.  And apparently, according to reports, instead of coming clean to MLB, Coppolella continued to change his story in an attempt to cover up his and the Braves’ actions.

John Hart’s role in the Braves’ scheme and the cover-up and what he knew are unclear.  It was reported that he would not be implicated.  Then, after it was reported that special assistant Gordon Blakeley was called back for a second interview with MLB during the investigation, during the press conference announcing Alex Anthopoulos’ hire as the new GM, Hart was pushed out of baseball ops.  Hart told the press at the GM meetings that he was still in baseball ops, but then left the organization shortly after.  So, it seems Hart was pushed out either because he was involved or approved the shenanigans or (less likely) the Braves and MLB were fed up because he did not provide any oversight as President of Baseball Ops, supposedly as Coppolella’s superior.

The Braves got caught doing things that were blatantly against MLB’s absurd amateur signing rules, and their GM did not come clean.  And the Braves did all this at a time when MLB is extremely eager to crack down on teams for wanting to pay mostly poor Latin American kids what they feel they’re worth.  Coppolella’s career in baseball and Hart’s legacy are ruined.  For those who can see through MLB’s sanctimony, they come out looking like a joke.  And the players’ union is absent, throwing amateur players under the bus in favor of tenured members, some of whom have already made millions before they even reach the open, free-agent market.  This fiasco has soiled pretty much everyone and every party involved.



3 Responses to “Braves Scandal: Neither MLB Nor Braves Come Out Looking Good”

  1. 1
    dave Says:

    “John Schuerholz, instead of turning the organization over to a new voice with a new way of thinking and approaching things”

    Umm, who would do that? What executive stepping down would think “Ok, we’ve built a winning organization and I’m stepping down. Let’s hire someone outside the organization that no one knows and that has a completely different way of organizing and running a team. Sure, it doesn’t matter that all of our minor league teams are run the same way. Let’s change things at the top no reason.”

    Wren was a bad hire, but it wasn’t because Schuerholz knew him.

  2. 2
    Shaun Says:


    You get the sense that Schuerholz was not going to hire an Anthopoulos type at that point, or someone in the Epstein or Beane mold. Or, if they weren’t going to make a hire like that, at least notice that the organization needs to progress. I just wonder where the franchise would be if they had hired a competent, 21st century GM when Schuerholz stepped down instead of Schuerholz underlings.

  3. 3
    Matt Says:

    Does it really matter? Damage has been done. While I think the Braves got the brunt of the punishment from all other clubs it is a joke. I think the international prospects are rewarded even though they knew what was going on too. They are treated like victims but were a part of the rule breaking. These youngsters make more than the average person makes in 5-6 years of an annual salary. 300k signing bonus or less and certain cases much more. They keep the money and get new deals! I don’t get MLB. Someone has to be the goat. A quote my grandfather always said in difficult times “ Always remember sonny, just because I’m having a hard time don’t make it bad cause I know I prevented someone else from having a bad day. Someone has to be the ying to someone’s yang. Just go with it. There will always be better days.”

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