Tuesday, October 3, 2017

A storm cloud on the horizon

While Twins fans were focused on today's wild-card game against the Yankees, a major big-picture story erupted in Atlanta, where general manager John Coppolella and a top subordinate resigned.

The immediate word was that MLB had found serious rules violations by the Braves in the international free agent market. But the MLB investigation also reportedly found violations beyond the cesspool of the international market, including the domestic draft.

Coppolella headed the Braves organization for two years and a day, and in that time had laregly rebuilt the Braves farm system into a powerhouse. The system is currently ranked either first or second (with the White Sox) by pretty much every outside evaluation.

Here's the thing: Rule bending, even cheating, is standard operating procedure for signing Dominican players. The specific violations by Coppolella and Gordon Blakesley, special assistant for international scouting, haven't been detailed for public consumption, but presuambly they must have been significant to cost them their jobs. Either that, or everybody is at risk.

John Hart, veteran GM who came out of retirement Monday to fill Coppolella's job on an interim basis, said at a press conference that the violations don't involve criminal activity. (A few years ago a White Sox exec went to federal prison in a kickback scheme involving Dominican prospects.)

But it seems very likely that there will be further repercussions against the Braves. Perhaps some signings will be invalidated. Perhaps they will lose draft picks or bonus pool money. Coppolella and Blakesley are probably no longer employable.

And this will affect the Braves, certainly, but everybody else as well. The message is that there's a red line out there, and organizations cross it at their peril -- but its location is uncertain.

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