Braves Get the Hammer

Kevin Maitan | Jeff Morris @JeffMorrisAB

Braves Get the Hammer

Today…lived up to the fears of the Atlanta Braves and their fans. Thirteen players, some of which were top prospects, are now free agents. A draft choice in the upcoming draft has been lost. Further sanctions will hamper the Braves’ ability to sign international free agents. To sum up, the day was miserable and things are still looking pretty good.

Let’s unpack it all. During the first signing period after the Atlanta Braves shifted to their power-sharing duo of John Coppolella and John Hart, the Braves circumvented the rules of the 2015-16 signing class. That class was headlined by Cristian Pache and Derian Cruz and included a number of trades to increase their bonus pool to sign the players they wanted. However, those efforts weren’t enough. They needed more funds so they signed an international player who was exempt from the international signing rules and funneled the money through him to the players they signed. While that player was never named, it may have been likely Dian Toscano, who received $6 million despite the fact that he was a fourth outfielder at best. That said, he was signed well before Pache and Cruz were signed.

That money helped the Braves “pay” their players in full, but only a portion of their signing bonus was being recorded. That allowed them to stay under their bonus cap for the 2015-16 period. This is the sticking point for Major League Baseball. Without that “creative accounting,” the Braves would have suffered the kind of penalties they went through during the 2017-18 international signing period a year earlier (no signing bonus over $300K). Because of that, every prospect of the 2016-17 signing period that signed for over $300K had their contract voided.

The Biggest Class is No More
Abrahan Guitierrez Is Gone | Jeff Morris @JeffMorrisAB

July 2, 2016, was a great day for Braves’ fans and not because they beat the Marlins 9-1. A couple of years of work went into the July 2 (or J2) class and some of the period’s best prospects were headed to Atlanta in Kevin Maitan, Abrahan Gutierrez, Yunior Severino, and Juan Contreras.

They’re gone now. Also gone are Yefri del Rosario, Juan Carlos Negret, Yenci Pena, Livan Soto, and Guillermo Zuniga. These nine players don’t just represent the bulk of that year’s signing class – they are significant prospects in anyone’s farm system. All are now free agents and many will be headed to a second big payday on the open market. While whispers suggested the Braves weren’t that high on Maitan anymore, I don’t buy it. Such comments were leaked to try to soften the blow more than anything.

2017-18 Suffers Losses as Well

As if John Coppolella wasn’t going about things unethically enough, he ignored the penalties for the previous signing period. Limited to contracts of $300K or less, Coppy signed Brandol Mezquita, Angel Rojas, and Antonio Sucre. However, he funneled money to their agents by giving more money to other players represented by the agent. The money then went back to Mezquita, Rojas, and Sucre. And their agents kept some – can’t forget those jackals. At this point, it seems like Coppy was either arrogant enough to think nothing would happen or incredibly stupid. This was the kind of stuff that the Red Sox were busted for.

Not finished, Coppy signed Ji-Hwan Bae. It was the final straw and probably prompted baseball to move quickly as much as anything. Coppy inked the shortstop to a $300K contract, but the Korean would have earned at least twice that. His contract, which was never approved, has been thrown in the trash.

Not related to this signing period, but the Braves also had a contract with 14-year-old Robert Pauson. He wouldn’t be able to sign until 2019, but to sign the young man, Atlanta had entered into an agreement to sign a half-dozen other players represented by Pauson’s agent. The Braves are now banned from signing him. One interesting takeaway from this is that baseball is not worried about teams coming to an agreement with teenagers who are not yet eligible to sign – only the way they get that agreement.

The Tahoe and Other Sanctions
Drew Waters | JeffMorris @JeffMorrisAB

John Coppolella brought his shady actions to the domestic draft, suggesting that he would give Drew Waters a Chevy Tahoe provided the young man signed. For what it’s worth, Waters was not named by Rob Manfred, but this business was leaked weeks ago. There is some doubt as to how serious Coppy was and the Tahoe was never given to Waters, but MLB found the evidence compelling enough. The Braves will keep Waters, but surrender their third-round pick in 2018. All told, that could have been worse.

Atlanta will not suffer a complete blackout as far as signing international talent, but they will be limited. The second year of penalties stemming from the 2016-17 J2 class remains in effect, limiting the Braves to only $300K max bonuses. In the 2019-20 signing period, the Braves will only be able to offer bonuses of $10K. (EDIT: According to Ben Bader of Baseball America, the Braves also lose their international pool money for that year which means they cannot trade it to try to add players). These individual signing bonus restrictions are lifted in 2020-21, but their pool will be reduced by 50%. Their bonus pool was expected to be $4.75M so that will be divided in half.

Moving Forward

The Braves lost a lot today and they will lose even more in the near future. Restrictions for the next three signing classes and losing many of their top players from the previous two signing classes mean that for five years, Atlanta will not have access to premier amateur talent outside of the domestic draft. On a more personal note, losing guys like Maitan, Gutierrez, and Severino – guys I was incredibly excited about – is very sad.

Not all may be lost. Any of the players could sign back with the Braves, but it’s going to be a surprise to see it happened. The players can sign with another team for an extra payday should they ink a contract between December 5 and January 15. If they sign after January 15, they cannot receive a signing bonus. If they wait until May 1, 2018, they can return to the Braves – again, with no signing bonus. Don’t get your hopes up that Maitan and Severino will come back for nothing after they see some of the offers they are certain to receive next month.

John Coppolella not only lost his job for his actions but earned a lifetime ban. Gordon Blakely, his mentor and partner-in-crime, will be suspended for a year. Blakely later said he only did things under orders from his superiors. John Hart will not suffer any further punishment. Other people involved in the international signing process for the Braves could also be suspended, fired, or banned.

It’s easy to get attached to what the Braves will miss from these vacated signings. It may not provide much solace, but @Liz_Chandler22 summed up this mess up very well:

How do the Braves deal with the other sanctions – specifically the international variety? It’s going to be tough to continue to build waves of talent with one pipeline effectively shut down. It will be up to Alex Anthopoulos to be creative. One thing that wasn’t mentioned by baseball is the ability to trade international signing bonus pool money. Under the new CBA, teams can trade as much of that pool as they so choose. That could help the Braves acquire some prospects to provide depth in the system over the next few years. (Edit: Mentioned before, but the 2019-20 class will not have any pool money to draw from so it cannot be traded. Thank you to Braves Options Guy via Knockahoma Nation for his detailed reading.)

You can bet that Anthopoulos will feel even more pressure in the domestic draft. That may have been expected as we heard Terry McGuirk in the press conference that introduced Anthopoulos say that the new general manager had the latitude needed to add the resources he felt were needed to build a better team. I’m betting the Braves are already looking to add more scouts to the mix domestically as they need to make sure the next few drafts are full of talent if they hope to avoid a down period of prospects that are being developed.

Other avenues exist as well. Atlanta can raid the independent leagues for their stars while also giving 18-and-19-year-olds who have been released from their DSL squad a second chance. Leudys Baez was once in that position.

Let’s be clear – the Braves weren’t alone in this. They were given a spanking to make an example out of this kind of stuff because, apparently, the Red Sox’s actions a few years ago didn’t do the trick. It’s an imperfect system and the Braves got screwed while doing what everyone else was doing. Get over it. Perhaps other teams will suffer some penalties, perhaps not. What we do know is the Braves did wrong regardless of how shady the international market is to begin with. The penalties are harsh, but Atlanta and its fans can’t complain about that. There is no doubt that they broke the rules. They messed up.

It’s not going to be easy, but if there is a team that can absorb these penalties, it’s the Braves. Atlanta’s farm system is full of high-ceiling guys who will continue to develop on their way to the majors. The cupboard isn’t quite as full, but the Braves aren’t starving. In addition to Pache and Waters, the Braves kept William Contreras, one of their top catching prospects. They kept Jeffrey Ramos, an outfielder with a lot of potential. They kept Juan Carlos Encarnacion and Isranel Wilson – two guys with a quick bat and projection for miles. You can add these guys to a treasure trove of prospects that are ahead of them.

Like I said, it’s not going to be easy and today certainly sucked. But…it’s not the end of the world. Atlanta’s future is still bright. What’s that they say – it’s always darkest before the dawn? All I can say is prepare for a bright day because it’s coming.


Sure, losing these prospects hurt..when it comes BOTH to organizational depth and lottery ticket-type prospects who could develop into quality MLB players.

However, if my memory as a long term Braves fan serves me correctly, the big bonuses that we’ve given to International/Latin Players over the years HAVE NOT panned out (Glenn Williams $925k, Andy Marte $600k for example)…while small bonuses given to the likes of Ronald Acuna ($100k), Ozzie Albies ($350k) and Andrew Jones ($46k..unreal, lol) appeared to have been big bargains!

Given the crap shot that the Foreign Market is…I feel that The Braves are better off investing significant financial resources in The Domestic Draft (with the right players of course)..while looking for lots of ‘bargains/cheap lottery ticket-type players’ to sign outside The U.S.

I’m just going to look at the prospects we lost today…as flameouts/decimated by injuries type players! At worst, our new GM, AA, could have used those players as trade bait to acquire players we need to improve out team. However, outside of losing a 3rd round pick (and the allocated signing bonus money that comes with that 3rd round pick) in The 2018 Draft….I’m not that ‘upset’ over the penalties that came down from MLB.

NONE of the players we lost today, were even in High Class A ball in 2017! The prospects that are going to help The Braves compete in the next few years are still with The Braves/close to MLB ready! Our new GM, AA, just will have to continue Coppy’s knack for drafting EXTREMELY WELL. Given the depth we have in The High Minors currently, we can afford to draft players that may need to ‘take their time’ developing…meaning that those players can help ‘offset’ the loss of the 13 players we lost today (some of whom could have been ready by the 2020-22 seasons…a big IF given how hard it is to project 17-19 year olds, none of whom have made it past Low Class A Ball)!

Bottom line, what happened today may not end up hurting all that much. A possible worst case scenario would be a loss of added flexibility the next 5 seasons in the Foreign Market (as I stated before, I’d bypass offering HUGE SUMS of money to Foreign Market players, given our past track record with giving huge sums to those players while we’ve had MUCH BETTER LUCK with those who we signed to ‘bargain-basement bonuses’. With that said, the 2019-2020 Season Signing Penalty could end up being the one that hurts the most because we can only offer $10k max to Foreign Market Players. $300k limit could still attract those who have potential/are late bloomers…while the $10k max penalty, well, let’s just say that there isnt much difference between $10k and signing for free, lol!).

We are still HELLA LOADED from High Class A and above! While we took a HUGE HIT at the depth/potential from our Low Class A/Rookie League/The Dominican League teams….we still have some players who showed potential in 2017. We have the 8th pick in both the 1st and 2nd rounds of The 2018 Draft…and all our picks in future years. We’ll be fine long term IF AA continues Coppy’s drafting strategy (minus the under-the-table/shaddy offering of SUVs to draftees, lol)!

If The Braves go with my PREFERRED strategy of NOT signing any significant Free Agents this offseason AND going with the youngsters that I’ve outlined in previous posts…then we could end up with a similar record in 2018 that we had the past 3 seasons (struggle in the 1st half, however play like we did the past 2 months of The 2016 Season…as our youngsters improve/adjust as The 2018 progresses). We could have one last high draft pick/big signing bonus money in The 2019 Draft (I expect The Braves to start contending, for years to come, in 2019..making future Drafts starting in 2020 with much lower allocated signing bonus money), which if AA drafts extremely well, could go a long ways to restocking the lower parts of The Minors (AA’s 1st two Drafts in 2018 and 2019 will show us if he’s in Coppy’s league when it comes to stocking The Minors with SHREWD Drafts).

To be fair…Julio Teheran received an $850K bonus and other million-dollar bonuses for clubs have worked out quite well (Miguel Sano, for one). It’s not so much a crapshoot as it’s based more on what you put into it. Teams that invest heavily in the international market tend to unearth some great talents. Teams like the Orioles that don’t…well, don’t. The Braves didn’t invest heavily in the international market for a number of years, believing it was a place they could cut corners. Coppy changed that, though…maybe not for the best.

You also have to remember that things have changed on the international market. It used to be a place where the Braves were one of the few teams investing big money to get a Javy Lopez. There wasn’t the kind of competition we see now because there wasn’t the kind of focus league-wide. Yeah, there will be busts, but it’s not a crap shoot.

And yes, none of the prospects were in High-A yet. But that’s the point. The players Atlanta lost today were supposed to represent the next group of talent to cycle up to Atlanta after Pache/Wentz/Anderson and so forth. For a few years, those waves will likely be on the light side. It takes options away from the Braves.

I have little concern about AA when it comes to the draft. I think the Braves will be fine, but not being able to attract premier talent will hurt.

Tommy Poe…if a number our prospects from High A and above pan out (ESPECIALLY if Acuna and Albies become our version of Altuve and Correa, abet with Acuna in right instead of short, I’m alluding to having a combo of speed and power hitting leadoff and 2nd in the order for the next 10 years or so), then I feel that we’ll be positioned to withstand the 13 players we lost today (12 prospects and the 2018 3rd round pick).

When all is said and done, by 2020-2021, pitching will be the strength of this team…combined with a lethal top of the order led by Albies and Acuna….middle of the order power led by Freddie Freeman….and (I hope) Manny Machado AND Bryce Harper! Why not invest $35 mil a year EACH in BOTH Machado and Harper?

I know that you’re probably against this..but I’d like for you to ‘do the math’ and ponder what a 2019 lineup/pitching staff/bench would hypothetically look like (if our young pitching prospects progressed as expected in 2018, both in Atlanta AND in The Minors) with The Braves paying $35 mil a year each to Machado and Harper…as well as Freddie Freeman’s $21 mil…Inciarte’s $5 mil (that’s a total of $96 mil for 4 players).

That leaves approximate $54 mil left for 21 remaining players to cover the rest of a $150 mil payroll (I feel that with the new park/added revenue streams…a payroll bump for a playoff contending team is justified. You guys on here like playing ‘what if’, lol. Well, if you was our 2019 GM..and you had to ‘build a Braves team’ under my hypothetical scenario…I’d love to know how you would do it!

Remember…Acuna, Albies, Swanson and AJ Minter will all be making The Minimum (that’s $2.2 mil COMBINED) in 2019. Make that $51.8 mil left for 17 players. Let’s say that Gohara, Newcomb, Fried, Soroka, Allard AND Wright all show that they ‘have the goods’ to compete/excel as 2019 starting pitchers…what do you do with Teheran and Folty (trade them to fill a position like catcher/bullpen help…OR keep one or both of them and trade the lesser of our starting pitching studs for a catcher/bullpen help?)? Also, Minter will be making the minimum as a late inning reliever ($500k)!

Machado and Harper will both be 25-26 years old come 2019. No reason why both cant be productive for the next 10 years! Now if Pache proves in a couple of years that he can replace Inciarte, then we can trade Inciarte before he’s lined up to get a new contract (which would help keep the payroll ‘reasonable’)!

Going after Machado, which pricey, would help alleviate the loss of addition to helping us win MUCH SOONER! Your thoughts?

I think I’ve told you before, but I see the Harper/Machado idea as putting all of your eggs in one basket. Ignore for a second that you might be shortchanging them – read some whispers that Harper could be seeking a $500M contract – putting so much of the team’s hypothetical payroll on two players could turn out disastrous if one should get hurt or go all Ruben Sierra. Until I see a reason to believe the Braves will increase their payroll to $150M, I’m still going to keep them in the $125-$130M range. You might be able to do it for 2019 under that payroll, though I’m not sure where Kemp’s contract is. There’s a real chance the Braves will have to pay Kemp to not be a Brave in 2019 and pay him a lot.

It’s possible, I grant you, but I’m not fond of ten-year type contracts. We’ve rarely seen these contracts work out for the team. It also takes away much of the wiggle room to improve the team should Swanson be a bust or the arms the Braves have fail to fill out a rotation well enough. Remember that we once thought in Minor, Delgado, Vizcaino, and Teheran, the Braves were about to have one of the best and youngest rotations in baseball. It didn’t work out like that.

I like options. Under a plan where I pay two players roughly half of the payroll, I limit my options. I’m not saying the roster can’t win, but it makes the team far too vulnerable. I get the premise and certainly, you can make just about any hypothetical roster fit, but I’m not sure it’s realistic to believe everything will work out to make this kind of roster possible.

Tommy Poe….I agree, it is risky to put half your eggs into 2 players. However each year, the payroll will go up (while in 2019, almost half the payroll would be going to Machado and Harper….by 2025, the payroll will probably be well over $200 mil. $35 mil in 2019 would be ‘pricey’…however by 2025, others will be making over $50 mil a year).

I feel that with our pitching staff AND Albies, Acuna and Swanson all being HELLA CHEAP for the next few years AS WELL as more prospects coming up who will be COST CONTROLLED going into the 2020 decade….why not use the payroll to sign IMPACT PLAYERS like Machado and Harper after The 2018 Season who can make a big difference in our lineup starting in 2019? By the time that it comes to start paying our current prospects….our payroll will have gone up (in addition to more revenues coming in as a result of regularly making the playoffs).

I’ve stated previously that the savings that result in the reduction in payroll for 2018 from 2017, should go towards whatever we have to eat of the last year of Markakis when we trade him this offseason AND whatever we have to eat of the last year of Kemp’s contract after we trade him to an AL team after The 2018 Season ends (trading Kemp to an AL team in need of a DH will be MUCH EASIER when he only has one year left on his deal. Kemp can still hit for power/knock in runs IF he doesnt have to play in the field anymore. I see us eating approximate $6-$8 mil of the final year of his deal. I REFUSE to believe that there isnt ONE AL TEAM who isnt willing to pay $10 mil or so for a power hitting DH for one year in 2019, lol).

Once those two trades are made, we’ll have ‘a clean payroll’ starting in 2019 (no bad contracts)! However, my Machado/Harper moves are predicated on a number of things going well in 2018 for The Braves (pitching prospects developing as expected….Albies/Acuna wrecking havoc hitting 1st/2nd in the batting order).

I know, Inciarte probably isnt a #5 hitter in a playoff contending lineup (regardless, we ARE NOT going to make The Playoffs in 2018). However NEITHER is Markakis a #3-#5 hitter (which he has hit during most of his Braves tenure). I’d drop Inciarte to #5 in 2018 (to balance out the line-up, lefty-righty, with Kemp hitting #4 and Flowers/Suzuki hitting #6)! If The Braves sign Machado AND Harper in The 2018 Offseason..then I’d drop Inciarte to #7 in 2019!

There’s two significant problems with your idea, in terms of bringing Harper and Machado to Atlanta.

First, Machado’s made no secret he has a desire to play SS again. It’s not like he doesn’t have the ability to do it, either. He only moved over to 3B because the Orioles had JJ Hardy under contract, and given where he was in terms of service time, it’s not like he could really refuse. There’s a team out there that’s going to promise him their starting SS position, in addition to ponying up 350-400 million dollars for 10 years possibly. So you’d have to move Swanson somewhere, and shell out some serious cash. I just can’t see it.

As for Harper, if he doesn’t re-up in Washington, he’s the type of player a team like the Phillies are going to be primed to overpay for. They’re arguably in similar position to the Braves rebuild-wise, with some budding stars coming. They have that massive tv contract in hand though. If you dropped a nickel in their pocket, it’d take a good long while to hear it hit the bottom. So I’d be inclined to think whatever the Braves would offer, the Phils will always add a dollar.

I really wouldn’t want both, anyway. I don’t feel Harper’s worth the money he’s likely to get, and I’d wager money the Braves payroll doesn’t touch ever touch 200 million under the current ownership. If they got Machado alone, I’d be ecstatic- but I think that’s dreaming a bit.

Tommy Poe…while I get what you stated about Teheran and Miguel Sano, I feel that ultimately Teheran has yet to establish himself as a playoff caliber starting pitcher. Also, Minnesota basically got lucky that Sano panned out. Big market teams can afford to ‘whiff’ on paying big bonuses to 16-17 year old Foreign Players who may/may not pan out! However, it is ESSENTIAL that teams like The Braves and Twins HIT on those type players (something that it is HELLA TOUGH to do when trying to project how a 16-17 year old Foreign kid who may not have faced ‘the toughest competition’ overall from his home base while growing up.).

While The Domestic Draft has it’s own ‘crapshot’ issues…I feel that The Braves have done A MUCH BETTER JOB (especially under Coppy, but hopefully AA will continue Coppy’s drafting process) with The American Draft! I feel that it’s easier to project players who have a much bigger body of work (even our high school players are around 18 years old generally faced better competition than the typical 16-17 year olds from Foreign markets).

With what happened under Coppy regarding these penalties, The Braves will be HEAVILY SCRUTINIZED from here on out when it comes to any foray into The Foreign Market. That’s why I feel that it would be smart for The Braves to use the ‘go after diamonds in the rough-type players’ like Acuna/Albies and sign players who may not ‘look’ like studs at 15-16 (the age teams ‘look’ at these players before deciding to sign them) BUT COULD PROJECT to being ‘lottery ticket-type’ players down the line (by signing them to $100k-$300k bonuses).

Sure, most of those players WILL NOT pan out. However that is where SCOUTING comes in! If the scouts really know what they’re doing, they can find/see things that ‘the average scout’ cant see/find! I know, not exactly an ‘exact science’, however the best scouts, in the long run, can see/find things that most others cannot…over time! I feel that scouting is an area that The Braves can INVEST HEAVILY IN…in order to ‘work around’ the limits on signing Foreign Players to signing bonuses the next 4 years!

There isnt anything we can do about the players we lost OR these restrictions. However, that does not mean that ‘all is lost’! We DO NOT have any restrictions on what we can INVEST in scouting…NOR when it comes to ‘getting creative/innovative’ in being MUCH BETTER at evaluating those ‘diamond in the rough-type players’ who at age 16-17 other teams ‘overlook’! The new Collective Bargaining Agreement limits the amount each team can spend overall on Foreign Players each year. Those that appear to be ‘great players’ will still eat up most of a particular team’s signing bonus allotment (something that most MLB teams will incorporate, thinking that they DO NOT want to miss out on ‘the next’ Sano/Cabrera/Pedro/etc.). In the midst of these ‘horrific penalties’ handed down to The Braves, there could be opportunities that arise for The Braves to come out potentially EXCELLING in The Foreign Market DESPITE these penalties/restrictions!

Evolution is all about ‘adapting OR dying’! The Braves simply CANNOT give up on acquiring Foreign Players during the next 4 years (or we will end up being at a competitive disadvantage in the long run in the mid-later part of the next decade)! We can continue hitting home run drafts in The America Draft….AND/OR we can adapt/evolve innovative approaches to evaluating Foreign Market ‘diamond in the rough-type players’ that fail to attract big bonuses when they are 15-17 years old! Ronald Acuna only cost The Braves $100k! How SICK is that, lol?

I love the work you guys do. Thanks again. This, as a life long braves fan, hurts in ways I can’t describe. Banning coppy for life. FOR LIFE. Wow. The cardinals break federal laws and someone goes to jail, for 8 years. Hardly a slap. I like coppy. I wish him well. I hate the position he left the braves. I am glad we got AA. It’s a Christmas wish some of those guys come
back to the braves as well as my hair. We have a lot of bonus money acquired in trades…..we may be trading that bonus money to teams so they can sign out draft picks. Fun. Man o man. I believe AA will have a lot more pressure
to do something to get this off the fans mind. This makes me miss the days of Bruce Bendict and Claudel Washington and lots of lossing and ted managing the team. Wow. Those lovable lossing days. The lossing is back, sans lovable.

For what it’s worth, baseball found that Chris Correa – the man involved in the hacking scheme – acted basically on his own. He’s been banned from the game as well.

Thanks for your comment and reading. We’ll keep going regardless of what bad news the Braves have to deal with. I do believe, though, the news won’t be so bad moving forward. The team has a solid group to build from.

I bet there’s a better than 50/50 chance that at least a couple of these guys sign back up on May 1st. Plus I didn’t see anywhere that the Braves are “blocked” from signing Bae but that the current contract was invalidated. The Braves do have some good scouting that can come up with prospects for lower bonuses so all is not lost.

With regards to the Harper/Machado thing, the Braves have no real chance to get both and very limited chance to get one. I am betting that Harper extends with the Nats unless the Nats do a tear-down and rebuild. They are not “light-spenders” (see Wieters, Matt). With regards to Machado, if the O’s don’t extend him (there is every reason to believe that they can considering Chris Davis’ contract) then the Yankees will offer $1M more than any offer the Braves make and $50M is not an unreasonable ending place.

Roger, I wish I had your optimism. Maybe a couple of the lesser signs (Zuniga and the guys still at DSL), though I doubt we’ll see the prized prospects from 2016 coming back. That’s a good point about Bae. I don’t know if he’ll be blocked until May 1 and he might be willing to return.

No team is going to offer any of these guys $50 mil a year in the 2018 offseason. Remember, the salary cap will prevent teams from doing precisely that!

Sure, as of now, I doubt that Machado and Harper are seriously considering The Braves come their upcoming Free Agency. However, if things play out like I hope/expect (our young starting pitching blossoms at The MLB Level…as well as BOTH Albies and Acuna BOTH wrecking havoc hitting at the top of the order)…then our new GM, AA, could do a real strong sell to both Machado and Harper after The 2018 Season that their presence in our lineup would be ‘the final pieces’ we need to be serious World Series contenders!

Other than Freeman, we lack serious power (Acuna has that potential, but I seriously doubt that he starts off hitting 30-35 homers in his 1st season or two…however he has great speed/high batting average/willing to draw walks…which plays well for hitting #2, right behind Albies, whose base stealing speed/high OBP, along with some pop in his bat, makes him a MUCH BETTER leadoff hitter than Inciarte long term) in our lineup.

Just imagine the speed/offensive abilities of A FULL SEASON of Albies/Acuna hitting in front of Freeman in 2018. He’ll have a chance to lead MLB in RBIs. Imagine Freeman entering 2019 with Machado and Harper hitting BEHIND him? He could contend for Hack Wilson’s Season Season RBI record (ok, that’s pushing it…probably, lol).

Why not go for it in 2019…IF we can fit their salaries into our payroll (especially given the number of cheap/minimum contracts we’ll have on our team)? Having Freeman, Machado and Harper hitting #3-#5 for the next decade….wow, lol! However, if 4-5 years down the line we either need to clear payroll OR a prospect comes up that shows they can fill either’s role..then yes we’ll have that option available for us.

What I’m focused on…is possibly being able to contend for a playoff run starting in 2019 IF what I mentioned previously happens in 2018 with our prospects!

I’d argue these penalties are extremely unfair, but it’s not something I didn’t expect given that MLB is currently governed by the worst Commissioner in pro sports, in my opinion.

Did the Braves break the rules? Yes. Should there have been some form of punishment? Clearly. They robbed the bank, so to speak, by bundling bonuses that helped them to sign some players they probably otherwise never would’ve gotten. So there’s no way MLB really could’ve let that stand. So I’m fine with the fact that they voided those contracts, and set those players free.

That’s 15 million dollars in money lost to the club, amounting to a significant fine. It’s also two years worth of international FA classes wiped away, which is would be felt down the road. In addition, the Braves have lost a 3rd round pick and an entire front office- not to mention a reputation. Enough is really enough at this point, I feel.

Yet in all of their infinite “wisdom” the powers that be decided they’re basically going to cripple a franchise for these infractions, and essentially ban the Braves from signing any international free agents of note for what amounts to five years. Why? To set an example?

It’s just another example of the hypocrisy that has come from the offices of MLB for decades. For years and years baseball turned a blind eye to steroids because steroids served their interests, bringing fans to the game and putting money in their pockets. It was cool… until it wasn’t. Then they dropped the hammer on steroids, and over compensated on punishments and created the mess that is the HoF debate now where who really knows who should get in, and who shouldn’t. At worst Bud Selig’s tenure was simply a stain on the moral fabric of baseball, though.

Now we have Rob Manfred, who presides over an international signing system that’s widely known to be broken, deciding we’re going to clean it up. How? Not by going to the MLBPA, and trying to negotiate an international draft for the good of these kids. Nope, can’t do it. If he’s going to risk labor strife, it has to be over something important- like a stupid pitch clock. So what he does is hand down the stiffest punishment ever to the Braves, based on an investigation that only began because other people around the league didn’t like Coppy, as a message. Message received.

At best Rob Manfred is a blight on the sport of baseball.

I want to mention that I made two edits to the original column as it was pointed out that I read over something in preparation for the column. In regards to the 2019-20 international class, I mentioned that individual bonuses will be capped at $10K. The reason for that number is bonuses at that level or lower do not count toward the bonus pool. The other reason for that number is that there will be no bonus pool for that period. That means the expected pool of $4.75M will be gone completely.

So, to recap,
2017-18 (current class): max individual bonus of $300K, no restrictions on the pool size
2018-19: max individual bonus of $300K, no restrictions on the pool size
2019-20: max individual bonus of $10K, pool completely gutted
2020-21: no individual bonus max, pool cut in half

If MLB took away our 2016-17 class away..because they felt we ‘circumvented’ in the 2015-16 class by ‘5%’….then wouldnt that make The Braves signing rights in 18-19 be eligible to be fully restored (meaning that we’d originally be capped at $300k for 16-17 and 17-18..instead of 17-18 and 18-19)?

With the Braves having our 16-17 class wiped out…in essence, we’re being forced to have 3 years in a row with a $300k cap (16-17, 17-18 and 18-19)…in addition to having that $10k penalty for the 19-20 season and the gutting half signing bonus total allotment for 20-21.

While I still feel that these penalties are not the end of the world for The Braves…it does limit our flexibility (let’s face it, a lot of Latin American talent comes to MLB through these signing bonus allotments).

I REFUSE to believe that other teams do not do what The Braves did under Coppy. Coppy just happened to be more aggressive with his efforts to rebuild The Braves. Given how The System is RIGGED towards Big Market Teams (The Smaller Market Teams are basically FEEDERS to The Big Market Teams…just look at how Kansas City is going to FEED The Big Market Teams this offseason with Mike Moustakis, Eric Hosmer and Lorenzo Cain all leaving KC as Free Agents. Those three are all going to get PRICEY CONTRACTS from The Big Market Teams…who can afford to swallow up their contracts IF either of them end up flopping after signing their deals). The Braves already went down this road when we traded Heyward and Upton after 2014 and let Brian McCann walk as a free agent in that same offseason!

Until MLB addresses adding the foreign players to The MLB Draft…AS WELL as making The Salary Cap more stiff when it comes to penalizing teams who exceed it…..Small Market Teams will EITHER face the prospect of ‘giving up’ like KC is doing this offseason AND Atlanta did after The 2014 Season OR face the temptation to do what Coppy did AFTER he traded away our MLB talent after The 2014 Season (which is circumvent the rules regarding what we can pay prospects, whether via The Draft or Foreign Born Players in an effort to STOCK UP on high upside young talent)!

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