Giants

MLB crushes Braves with sanctions for international signing infractions

coppolella-braves-2015-ap.jpg
AP

MLB crushes Braves with sanctions for international signing infractions

ATLANTA -- The Braves lost 13 prospects and former general manager John Coppolella was banned for life by Major League Baseball on Tuesday for circumventing international signing rules from 2015-17.

Former Atlanta special assistant Gordon Blakeley, who was the team's international scouting chief, was suspended from baseball for one year by Commissioner Rob Manfred.

Sanctions imposed by Manfred will leave the Braves unable to bargain at full strength for a top Latin American prospect until 2021.

Manfred said MLB's investigation determined the Braves moved international signing bonus pool money from one player to boost another player's contract.

Most notable among the players the Braves will lose is Kevin Maitan, an infielder from Venezuela who signed for $4.25 million in 2016.

Other "high-value" players the Braves will lose include Juan Contreras, Yefri del Rosario, Abrahan Gutierrez, Juan Carlos Negret, Yenci Pena, Yunior Severino, Livan Soto and Guillermo Zuniga.

Three more international signees - Brandol Mezquita, Angel Rojas and Antonio Sucre - were declared free agents. The team's contract with prospect Ji-Hwan Bae, which was not yet final, was disapproved. Finally, the Braves were banned from signing prospect Robert Puason in the 2019-20 signing period.

The 13 players will be free to negotiate as free agents with other teams.

Also, the Braves will forfeit their third-round selection in the 2018 draft as punishment for offering "impermissible benefits" to an unnamed draft pick in an effort to convince him to sign for a lower bonus.

The investigation showed the players signed by the Braves in 2016-17 would have been unavailable if the team had not circumvented the rules by moving bonus pool money.

Manfred said stripping the Braves of the 13 players was not sufficient punishment. He said "additional sanctions are warranted to penalize the club for the violations committed by its employees."

Therefore, the Braves will be prohibited from signing any international player for more than $10,000 during the 2019-20 signing period. Also, the team's international signing bonus pool for the 2020-21 signing period will be reduced by 50 percent.

The Braves already cannot give an international signing bonus of more than $300,000 for 2017-18 and 2018-19 as penalties for exceeding their signing bonus pools under baseball's previous labor contract.

And there is still more discipline to be handed down.

Manfred said he intends "to discipline other Braves international baseball operations employees who participated in the misconduct."

Coppolella was forced to resign after the season. Former team president John Hart was moved to a senior adviser role when a new general manager, Alex Anthopoulos, was hired on Nov. 13. Hart left the team on Friday.

"The senior baseball operations officials responsible for the misconduct are no longer employed by the Braves," Manfred said. He also said the Braves "cooperated throughout the investigation."

Coppolella did not immediately respond to a request for comment from The Associated Press.

The Braves braced fans for the sanctions when team chairman Terry McGuirk apologized to fans "on behalf of the entire Braves family" for the rules violations at the news conference to introduce Anthopoulos.

The Braves said in a statement released Tuesday they "understand and accept the decision regarding the penalties that have been handed down.

"As we expressed last week, our organization has not lived up to the standard our fans expect from us and that we expect from ourselves. For that, we apologize. We are instituting the changes necessary to prevent this from ever happening again and remain excited about the future of Braves baseball."

Manfred said he is confident the Braves management team led by McGuirk, Anthopoulos and vice chairman John Schuerholz "have and will put in place procedures to ensure that this type of conduct never occurs again and which will allow the club to emerge from this difficult period as the strong and respected franchise that it has always been."

The Braves are not the first team to be found guilty of violating rules in signing international players.

In 2016, the Boston Red Sox lost five players and were banned from signing international amateur free agents for one year as punishment for rules violations on signing bonuses.

Dodgers acquire Kemp in five-player trade, including former Giants infielder

kemp-us.jpg
USATSI

Dodgers acquire Kemp in five-player trade, including former Giants infielder

Matt Kemp is returning to the place where he began his major league career, reacquired by the Los Angeles Dodgers on Saturday as part of a five-player trade with the Atlanta Braves that creates more financial flexibility for the reigning NL champions.

The Dodgers sent first baseman Adrian Gonzalez, oft-injured starting pitchers Scott Kazmir and Brandon McCarthy, infielder Charlie Culberson and cash to Atlanta for the 33-year-old Kemp.

Gonzalez agreed to waive his no-trade clause after receiving assurance from the Braves that he would be designated for assignment since they are already set at first base with Freddie Freeman.

"This allows him the opportunity to go and find some playing time," new Braves general manager Alex Anthopoulos said.

After sitting on the sidelines during the recent winter meetings, the Dodgers moved quickly to dump nearly $50 million in salary committed to Gonzalez, Kazmir and McCarthy for 2018. Kemp is owed about $43 million over the next two seasons.

Los Angeles was looking to reduce baseball's highest payroll of $240 million last season as a way of lowering exposure to higher luxury taxes.

The deal made sense for the Braves, too, since the players they acquired all have expiring contracts.

"It puts us in an even greater financial position going forward and going into next offseason as well," said Anthopoulos, who was hired from the Dodgers.

Kemp played for the Dodgers from 2006-14, hitting 182 home runs, fourth-most in Los Angeles history. The outfielder hit .276 with 19 homers, 64 RBIs and 23 doubles in 115 games last season with the Braves.

Moving Kemp opens up a potential roster spot for top Braves prospect Ronald Acuna, who turns 20 on Monday. He was the most valuable player of the Arizona Fall League and Baseball America's minor league player of the year.

"We expect Ronald Acuna to be a very good player for a very long time," Anthopoulos said. "When he's ready to go, we're going to look to make room for him and certainly a deal like this won't hurt."

The 35-year-old Gonzalez helped the Dodgers win five straight NL West division titles after being acquired from the Red Sox in August 2012. He was an All-Star in 2015 and led the NL in RBIs in 2014, but went on the disabled list with a herniated disk in his back last season for the first time in his career. He was usurped at first base by NL Rookie of the Year Cody Bellinger.

Gonzalez is owed $21.5 million in the final year of a $154 million, seven-year contract that the Dodgers absorbed in the 2012 trade with Boston.

Kazmir didn't pitch last season because of a hip injury, one of many in his career. The 33-year-old left-hander went 10-6 with a 4.56 ERA in 26 starts in 2016, his first with the Dodgers. He is owed $15 million in 2018.

"I spoke to him and he's pretty encouraged and excited about the work he's been able to do in the offseason, so we're excited to get a look at him in camp," Anthopoulos said. "If we can get him back and he can bounce back, there's certainly some upside there."

McCarthy was 11-7 with a 4.51 ERA in 29 starts over three seasons with the Dodgers. The 34-year-old right-hander missed most of 2015 and 2016 after undergoing Tommy John surgery. He went on the DL three times last season, when he was limited to 19 appearances and went 6-4 with a 3.98 ERA.

McCarthy was added to the Dodgers' World Series roster after missing the first two rounds. He gave up a home run in extra innings of a Game 2 loss to Houston in his only appearance. He is owed $12 million in the last year of a $48 million, four-year deal.

Anthopoulos said he sees McCarthy being in the Braves' rotation, which needs a veteran arm after not re-signing knuckleballer R.A. Dickey and releasing Bartolo Colon during last season.

"He came back at the end of the year and was on the World Series roster because of how good he looked, how good his stuff was, up to 94 (mph) and he started throwing a slider that h

Giants gain payroll flexibility, trade Matt Moore to Texas

matt-moore-ap.jpg
AP

Giants gain payroll flexibility, trade Matt Moore to Texas

On the first night of the Winter Meetings, Giants officials indicated they planned to stay under the $197 million luxury tax line. On the last night of the Winter Meetings, general manager Bobby Evans said he had offers in hand that would allow the club to shed payroll. Friday, it all came together. 

The Giants traded Matt Moore and international bonus pool money to the Texas Rangers in exchange for minor league right-handers Sam Wolff and Israel Cruz. The deal costs them their No. 4 starter, but also gives the Giants an extra $9 million to play with as they look to fill multiple holes. The Giants previously had only about $10 million to spend before reaching the tax line for a fourth straight year, but they now have nearly $20 million as they look for upgrades in center field, right field and third base. 

“This move allows us to reallocate our resources to address our position player needs,” Evans said. “In addition, we are pleased to add two power arms to our system. Our focus remains to strengthen our outfield defense and our everyday lineup.”

Moore, 28, was acquired at the deadline in 2016 in exchange for Matt Duffy, Lucius Fox and Michael Santos. The results were mixed. Moore was a boost to the rotation down the stretch that year and would have gone down as a postseason hero for the Giants had the bullpen not blown Game 4 of the NLDS. He had a 5.52 ERA in 2017, but at the same time, the Giants always felt the trade was worth it. Duffy missed the entire season with an Achilles issue and Fox, while an intriguing prospect, remains far from the big leagues. 

The Giants believed Moore could bounce back next year, and they never waffled with his 2018 option, even though at times it seemed they shouldn't pick it up. Team officials said this week that Moore was already in the Phoenix area working with new pitching coach Curt Young, and they expected big things. 

Instead, Moore is headed to the Rangers and the Giants will dive back into the free agent market. They can fill their starting hole internally, with Ty Blach and Chris Stratton as holdovers and top pitching prospect Tyler Beede viewed as being big league ready. Left-hander Andrew Suarez also is close to being ready for a big league shot. 

Wolff, 26, had a 2.98 ERA as a reliever in Double-A and Triple-A last season. Cruz is just 20 years old and spent last season in rookie ball. He is years away, but this was a deal made with 2018 in mind. 

The Giants dealt from a rare area of strength, and now they'll have a chance to try to bolster a lineup that failed their starters, including Moore.