October 08, 2017

Coppolella and the Dubious Tradition of “The Braves Way”

In 2010, a couple of weeks after Jason Heyward made his Major League debut, Sports Illustrated published a Tom Verducci article about Jason Heyward’s rise to the big leagues.  In it Verducci describes what he calls a “subterfuge campaign” by the Braves leading up to the 2007 draft to ensure Jason Heyward fell to them at the 14th pick.

The Braves built a cozy relationship with the East Cobb amateur baseball program by donating equipment in order to get a leg up on players who came through that system. East Cobb officials, because of this cozy relationship, encouraged Heyward to only work out for the Braves and not for other teams.  The Braves coaxed East Cobb officials from updating Heyward’s size to make him seem smaller.  They encouraged Heyward to take walks in games so that other teams would never see how well he hit.

Says one general manager who passed on drafting Heyward, “The Braves have a history of doing that. [Georgia native Adam] Wainwright’s medicals were bad—until it was their turn to pick. They did it with Francoeur and McCann. It’s good baseball. They’re good at it.

The general manager of the Braves in 2007 was John Schuerholz.  The same John Schuerholz who, when he fired Frank Wren, said his organization needed to get back to “The Braves Way:”

When Wren was fired, many of the purveyors of “The Braves Way” under Schuerholz returned to the organization to work under John Hart and John Coppolella.  The allegations of the Braves doing shady things to snare international amateur talent and possibly domestic, draft-eligible amateur talent is just a continuation of “The Braves Way.”

Under Major League Baseball rules, teams are limited on how much they can spend on amateur talent, both in the domestic draft and internationally.  Often times, the only way for a team to stand out is for the team to cut under-the-table deals.  Teams often cut deals with players before they are allowed and/or work around the rules to make sure players get more money than teams are allowed to give them.  Major League Baseball prevents an open-market system for amateur players to keep spending on amateur talent down.  The players’ union is fine with this because they would rather the money team owners pay out go to tenured members of the union rather than amateur talent.

The Braves have a history, even during John Schuerholz’s years as GM, of finding creative ways to tamper with amateur talent to get that talent into their organization.  All we know now is that John Coppolella skirted the rules governing the signing of international players.  It’s possible that Coppolella’s transgressions were either worse or more numerous than anything the organization did to procure talent under Schuerholz.  It’s also possible that skirting the rules was only part of the reason the team forced him out, and that it had a lot to do with conflicts within the organization caused by his personality or possible mistreatment of Braves employees. But Schuerholz is not above the fray when it comes to taking dubious steps to procure amateur talent.  In many ways, what Coppolella did was just a continuation of “The Braves Way.”



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