When the big news broke last week of Braves general manager John Coppolella’s forced resignation amid a Major League Baseball investigation into alleged free-agent and draft rules infractions, longtime players agent Jim Munsey was not surprised.
He’s among multiple agents and team officials with the Braves and other organizations who’ve come forward in the past week with stories of their own unpleasant dealings with Coppolella during his two years as Braves GM. But unlike others, Munsey went on record with his comments to The Atlanta Journal-Constitution Tuesday.
His story was about a contract between the Braves and one of Munsey’s clients, veteran left-handed reliever Sean Burnett, who came back from two Tommy John elbow surgeries.
“At the risk of ‘piling on,’ I can tell you that Mr. Coppolella quickly became my least favorite GM to deal with after my interactions with him on behalf of Sean Burnett,” Munsey said in an email Tuesday.
Munsey hadn’t had much contact with the Braves in the past decade, since another of his clients, catcher Jarrod Saltalamacchia, was traded to Texas in July 2007 as part of the five-player package in the deal that brought Mark Teixeira to Atlanta.
But the Braves were looking for bullpen help early in the 2016 season, and Munsey was trying to find a spot for Burnett after he was released by the Nationals at the end of spring training and released by the Dodgers on May 2.
Burnett, who was 33 and had pitched parts of eight seasons in the majors, signed a minor league deal with the Braves on May 3, 2016, and reported to Triple-A Gwinnett. Like many veterans in his situation, Burnett wanted an “opt out” clause in the contract that would allow him to become a free agent if he wasn’t added to the major league roster by a certain date.
Here’s how Munsey explained -- via email -- what happened next:
“Sean had opted out from his Dodger deal and was a (free agent),” Munsey said. “Coppolella called and pitched the opportunity with the Braves. ‘Give us this opportunity and you won’t regret it. He’ll be up within 2 weeks.’
“We agreed on a deal with an opt out in two weeks and (another opt out at) 30 days. I received the Term Letter which only had the 30 day opt out. John said, ‘Well, I told my bosses we had agreed on the 30 day term but don’t worry, he’ll be up in 2 weeks.’”
Munsey explained that the opt-out usually is a fairly standard clause among MLB teams: “Player exercises (opt out) and club has 48 hours to put him on the roster,” he said.
But with the Braves, he said, “it was anything but (standard). The Braves’ opt out was such that once a player exercises, the club will send an email to all other teams of his availability and if nobody else would place him on the roster, he remains with the Braves! Again, I pointed this out to Coppolella and his response was, ‘Don’t worry about it, he’s going to be with the big club in 2 weeks.’
“As you know, despite five great appearances (at Gwinnett), there was no promotion in two weeks. And I couldn’t get a return call for days. Finally, when we spoke, Coppolella sounded like a guy who ‘couldn’t remember’ the two week discussion. I lost it! (And I’m pretty easy going.) The conversation ended with my demand that they release him, which they did.”
Munsey added, “There was no ‘opt out’ as the Braves reported, but rather a release.”
Burnett was released by the Braves on May 20, 2016, and signed with the Twin three days later. After missing most of three seasons for injuries and rehab, he stayed healthy during that 2016 season and posted a 2.28 ERA in 47 appearances for Triple-A teams in four organizations, including the Nationals, who purchased him back from the Twins in mid-August.
He finally got his call-up in September and had a 3.18 ERA and 1.059 WHIP in 10 September appearances for the Nationals, including three scoreless appearances against the Braves. Burnett was released by the Phillies at the end of 2017 spring training and didn’t pitch this past season.
As for his agent, Munsey, “I vowed never to voluntarily send a guy to the Braves so long as (Coppolella) was there. Just a horrible way to do business, and I can only conclude that my dealings weren’t the exception.”
Munsey summed up his thoughts on Coppolella with one word: “Karma.”