Prospects could re-sign with Braves, but that’s unlikely

While the 13 prospects stripped from the Braves last week by Major League Baseball could technically sign with them again in just over six months, it seems highly unlikely that would happen with many, or any, of them.

As punishment for the Braves breaking rules regarding the signing of international free agents, commissioner Rob Manfred voided the contracts of a dozen teenage Latin American prospects signed in the 2016-17 signing period and declared them free agents. The group was led by elite Venezuelan infield prospect Kevin Maitan, 17, who was the most highly sought player in that international class and received a $4.25 million bonus from the Braves.

Manfred also “disapproved” of the contract of a 13th Braves prospect, Ji-Hwan Bae, a Korean shortstop whose signing the team announced in September, though that contract had not officially become effective. The Braves were found to have offered him $600,000 in unallowable benefits on top of the $300,000 signing bonus they were restricted to giving Bae.

The players keep the signing bonuses they got from the Braves and are free to sign with any of the other 29 teams beginning Dec. 5. They can receive a second signing bonus from a new team that signs them, provided they sign by Jan. 15. Only the amount above $200,000 in any new bonus would count against that team’s international bonus pool – either for the current free-agent signing period or the 2018-19 period, whichever the player’s new team chooses.

For any of them who sign with a team after Jan. 15, they won’t get a signing bonus from their new team. They could wait to re-sign with the Braves on May 1 or later, but can’t get a second signing bonus from the Braves. 

The chances of any of the players re-signing with the Braves are slim at best, given that most will want to sign with a team as soon as possible or at least before spring training.

Also, if any of the players remained unsigned after February, it would indicate those players would be viewed as fringe prospects, at best, since it essentially wouldn’t cost anything for other teams to sign them after Jan. 15.

MLB held a special showcase event for the ex-Braves prospects who are now free agents Monday in the Dominican Republic, and Baseball America’s Ben Badler reported that only three of the players attended: shortstop Angel Rojas and outfielders Antonio Sucre and Brandol Mezquita. Badler wrote that others among the group didn’t show because of short notice they were given to prepare for and get to the event in the middle of the offseason.

In addition to switch-hitting consensus top-100 prospect Maitan, others who are now free agents from that voided Braves cast included fellow Venezuelans Yunior Severino, a second baseman who got a $1.9 million bonus from the Braves, catcher Abrahan Gutierrez and shortstop Livan Soto. The Braves spent close to $12 million in signing bonuses on that free-agent class and were beaming with pride when the signings were announced July 2, 2016.

“It feels like something we’ve been building toward for close to two years,” then-Braves general manager John Coppolella said that day, “and to have it finally be done and get the players we wanted, it feels really good.”

“Maitan reminds me a lot of Chipper Jones,” said then-Braves international scouting chief Gordon Blakeley. “Big-time power from both sides, and does it easy. Bat whip. Loves to play, loves to compete.”

The Braves can’t recoup any of the signing bonuses or overage fees they paid for assembling that talented class.

Coppolella and Blakeley were forced to resign eight weeks ago amid the investigation, and last week Manfred announced that Blakeley would be prohibited from working in baseball for one year, and Coppolella was banned for life by MLB – only the fifth to have that dubious distinction and the third during Manfred’s tenure as commissioner. 

Manfred said Tuesday on ESPN’s Golic & Wingo Show that “while the Braves were completely cooperative in the investigative process, I can't say the same for John (Coppolella).”

Mets reliever Jenrry Mejia was banned last year for life after multiple drug violations, and former Cardinals scouting director Chris Correa was banned in January for hacking the Astros' computer system. They were joined by Coppolella in a dishonorable fraternity that previously included only Shoeless Joe Jackson and Pete Rose.

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