John Coppolella has resigned as Braves general manager, an unexpected and stunning development Monday on the day after the Braves finished their third consecutive 90-loss season.
He was forced to resign after the Braves were made aware in the past few days of the severity of an ongoing Major League Baseball investigation into alleged infractions in the international free-agent market by Coppolella and Braves special assistant and international scouting supervisor Gordon Blakeley, who also resigned Monday.
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“In their investigation they dug up a number of things that were quite serious, as far as the MLB rules,” said Braves president of baseball operations John Hart, who will assume the general manager duties until a replacement is found at some point in the next month or two.
“And ultimately, I think, because of what they did dig up and what they did have, it sort of drove us into the spot we’re in right now. I can speak for certainly everybody with the Braves, we’re deeply disappointed. ...
“This is the Atlanta Braves, there’s a certain standard that you just live up to. And there were a lot of instances that we found that just weren’t (up to that standard). These are MLB rules, no criminal activity or anything like that. That’s not even an issue. It’s an MLB rules violation that has to do with the international marketplace.”
At a time when many believed the Braves’ first big offseason announcement would be regarding manager Brian Snitker, they’ve instead had a seismic shift above him.
Hart said the GM upheaval would not affect the pending decision on whether to retain Snitker, who has a team option on his contract for 2018. That decision could be made by mid-week, Hart said.
Coppolella, 38, held the GM title for two years and served as the de facto GM for a year prior to that. The Braves fired GM Frank Wren and turned over baseball operations to Hart, who was named president of baseball operations in October 2014, and Coppolella, who served under Wren and kept an assistant GM title for one year as Hart’s right-hand man before being promoted GM on Oct. 1, 2015.
The Braves embarked on a rebuilding project after firing Wren, as they systematically traded away veteran players with high salaries and/or those nearing free agency in numerous transactions that brought back prospects, most of them pitching prospects.
The organization’s farm system improved from bottom-tier status a few years ago to No. 1 or No. 2 according to most experts, as the Braves loaded up on prospects acquired via trades and the draft.
But the product at the major league level has not improved as quickly as the Braves had envisioned, and while attendance was up in the first season at SunTrust Park in 2017, the increase wasn’t as great as the Braves had hoped for after moving from Turner Field to the new ballpark with its surrounding village of bars and restaurants.
Coppolella has a couple of high-profile mistake trades on his resume, most notably dealing away left-hander Alex Wood and other young talent to acquire Cuban third baseman Hector Olivera, who turned out to be a bust on the field even before he was suspended after being arrested for domestic assault. He was later traded to the Padres in a swap of bad contracts that has saddled the Braves with injury-prone outfielder Matt Kemp.