The biggest scandal to befall the Atlanta Braves broke mid-day on Monday, and the potential fallout could be huge. I will update this post with the relevant articles and threads of investigation and rule breaking so that we can keep track of all the different alleged violations — because there are quite a few.
Here is the list of possible violations of MLB rules, as reported by the articles linked above. I’ve also included the possible sanctions that could be levied against the Braves by MLB, but these are only speculation at this point.
1. International bonus bundling.
According to both Passan and Rosenthal, this is the main thing that MLB is investigating. The specifics are not yet known, and there may be two avenues of investigation. The first may relate to the 2015-16 international signing period. The second may relate to future signing periods, in which the Braves may be paying now for a player they planned to sign in the 2017-18 (or beyond) signing period.
Some amateur internet sleuthing also seems to indicate that the Braves may have used the agents (buscons) of international players to pad the bonus numbers for certain players who were exempt from international bonus pools. This additional money may have stayed with the agent as a bribe for signing other international amateurs who were subject to the bonus pool, or it may have been transferred to other players to pad their bonus numbers, similar to what the Red Sox got busted for.
Possible sanctions: Loss of previously signed players from the 2015-16 signing period could be one prong of the sanctions here, as well as future restrictions on signing international players. Also reference this MLBTR article on sanctions levied against the Red Sox this year for similar offenses. Rosenthal’s article mentions that it is believed the Braves’ actions were more egregious than the Red Sox actions, and that the penalties may be harsher.
2. Exclusive agreements with international players before signing age.
This has at least two parts as well — past infractions related to players Braves have already signed, and future infractions relating to verbal agreements to sign players in future signing periods. The former could be focused on Kevin Maitan, and possible benefits he and his family received before he signed. The latter seems focused on 14-year-old Robert Puason, whom Rosenthal says the Braves have a verbal agreement with to sign in 2019.
Possible sanctions: MLB could void agreements with already signed players if they find the Braves violated rules by providing under-the-table benefits or benefits ahead of the official signing date (July 2). The biggest damage to the Braves here could be the loss of Kevin Maitan, as his name has come up in every article about this scandal.
3. Improper pre-draft agreements with amateurs.
The name of Drew Waters, a second-round pick this year, was brought up by Passan as a player who may have had a pre-draft deal with Atlanta to sign below slot, while the team offered under-the-table benefits outside of the official deal.
Possible sanctions: While this may have been the genesis of this series of scandals, it may be hard for MLB to convince players and agents to cooperate, as they may share some culpability in the under-the-table dealings. But if MLB finds evidence to support improper deals, then they could void the contracts of players who have signed as well as take away future draft picks as punishment.
4. Free agent tampering.
From the Passan article, Coppolella was apparently contacting the agents of future free agents before the season was over — a direct violation of MLB rules.
Possible sanctions: Like No. 3 above, this will be hard to prove without the cooperation of agents, who may be hesitant to snitch. Sanctions could include restrictions on the Braves signing future free agents, or monetary fines on the organization (which would take away money used to sign free agents).
5. Extent of involvement by others in the front office.
While GM John Coppolella and international scout Gordon Blakeley are the only two who have resigned or been let go so far, with this much impropriety and rule breaking the rot may extend further. Another case should also be made for replacing much of the upper brass of the Braves organization for allowing the cheating to be so brazen and to touch so many areas. If guys like John Hart, John Schuerholtz and Terry McGuirk were not aware of any of these allegations, then they were asleep at the wheel and are guilty of negligence in not overseeing a runaway train that seems to have gone off the tracks long ago.
10/5 Update: Per the Jon Heyman article linked above, the remaining Johns–Hart and Schuerholz–are “at odds over things related to the team and currently having a tough time getting along.” Heyman speculates this could lead to more upheaval in the Atlanta front office, which is mostly what I expected with the extent of the alleged violations. I’d like to see both Hart and Schuerholtz step aside from any positions of actual authority or responsibility.
10/14 Update: Per the Bill Shanks article linked above, multiple sources indicate that John Hart knew the full extent of what was going on, and that he is possibly being shielded to protect his legacy.
Possible sanctions: With two major resignations already behind them the Braves may have headed off some MLB sanctions. Though firing Coppy and Blakeley would have sent a stronger message than allowing them to resign. If knowledge of misdeeds extends to others in the front office, then MLB may demand their resignations as well. Monetary fines could also be used as a penalty by MLB for this offense.