The Braves are slated to lose their rights to a dozen young prospects as punishment for international signing violations. Additionally, the Atlanta organization will face limitations on their amateur signing rights in the future.
Most notably, perhaps, the Braves will lose their rights to highly regarded prospect Kevin Maitan, as Jon Heyman of Fan Rag first reported (via Twitter) and as earlier reporting suggested. A long list of others are also being stripped from the organization, as Ben Badler of Baseball America reported earlier. Backstop Abrahan Gutierrez, shortstop Yunior Severino, righty Juan Contreras, shortstop Livan Soto, righty Yefri del Rosario, shortstop Yenci Pena, righty Guillermo Zuniga, outfielder Juan Carlos Negret, and outfielder Antonio Sucre are also heading on to the open market, according to the Baseball America report. Those prospects were members of the club’s vaunted 2016-17 July 2 class. A big name from the following signing period, Korean shortstop Jihwan Bae, is also being taken from the team, per Jeff Passan of Yahoo Sports, with outfielder Brandol Mezquita and shortstop Angel Rojas rounding out the list of departing prospects.
Maitan, in particular, was viewed as one of the best young international players in recent memory at the time of signing. Despite a tough debut in the Appalachian League, the infielder ranks 38th on MLB.com’s latest list of the top prospects in baseball. Even if it’s true that the current front office is not quite as enamored with Maitan as some others, he’s a notable asset to lose. (BA’s J.J. Cooper rounds up the latest impressions of Maitan right here.)
Looking forward, the Braves will also face restrictions for future amateur classes, as Passan details. The club will be capped at $10K per player for the 2019-20 period and will not be allowed to sign shortstop Robert Puason. According to Passan, the investigation found that the team had improperly agreed to a deal with him ahead of his market eligibility. In 2020-21, Atlanta will operate with half of the hard-capped spending capacity it otherwise would have had access to. Also, owing to an offer of “extra benefits” to 2017 draftee Drew Waters, the Braves will lose their third-round pick in next summer’s draft.
Other organizations will surely flock to sign the players that are now free agents. Those prospects will be allowed to retain their original bonuses in addition to negotiating new ones. Generally, those players will be subject to the already-extant rules and limitations in the international arena. But Passan tweets that teams will be allowed to use currently available international funds or draw from their 2018-19 pool to sign these players (but may not utilize both). MLB organizations still have uncommitted international money — some of it likely earmarked for Shohei Ohtani and a few other quality names still available — so there could be quite some competition for the former Braves prospects.
Clearly, the Braves took a significant hit for the amateur infractions that occurred during the regime of president of baseball operations John Hart and GM John Coppolella. Those two executives have departed already (see here and here), with the latter having received the brunt of the public scrutiny. Though precise details are still largely unreported, Passan says signing-bonus packaging was the primary concern identified. While the Yahoo Sports report acknowledges that other organizations have likely engaged in generally similar behavior, it seems the Braves’ actions were particularly brazen and widespread.
Newly minted GM Alex Anthopoulos will still have plenty of talent to work with, but the cupboard of young talent won’t be quite as stocked as the organization had hoped when it snapped up an impressive group of international free agents — evidently, through illicit means. On the one hand, these penalties won’t have any direct effect at the MLB level, since none of these players was close to the big leagues. On the other, Anthopoulos will not have as much flexibility to part with far-off talent if he enters the trade market in search of assets. That’s all the more notable given the restrictions on international spending rights for the coming seasons. The net result is that the Braves’ talent intake at the most youthful level will have been substantially curtailed for multiple consecutive seasons. Such a result runs directly counter to the overall strategy that the organization had employed.
For Anthopoulos to craft an overall slate of players that promises the kind of sustainability that Atlanta (like all organizations) hopes to create, he’ll have to remain all the more mindful of finding opportunities to draw in younger assets even while exploring ways of moving the major league roster into position to contend. Taking chances on talented but risky players on the 40-man roster is one way of infusing talent, but the club would need to sacrifice certainty and/or tie up valuable roster spots to do much of that. It’s also possible that the Braves will end up moving some higher-level prospects to build out the lower levels, though again that’s a diversion of resources that could otherwise be utilized in other ways. Any way you slice it, the organization will be much more constrained than it would have been absent the penalties. Of course, that also seems to be a fairly natural result of the fact that the team acquired these young players in an improper manner (the details of which, somewhat surprisingly, have yet to be fully detailed in firm reports).