President of baseball operations John Hart said Oct. 2 that the issue which led to Coppolella and Blakeley resigning involved the international free-agent market, but since then people close to the situation said the investigation was widespread and also involved possible infractions in the domestic draft and alleged contact with free agents or their representatives outside of the permitted contact period.
Blakeley and Coppolella both hired attorneys and could file lawsuits against the Braves for wrongful termination, possibly claiming that one or more higher-ups were aware of what they were doing and signed off on the expenditures and either knew, ignored or willfully chose to remain ignorant of the skirting of rules.
Blakeley, a longtime former Yankees international scout, was hired by the Braves in October 2014, soon after Hart and Coppolella took over baseball operations after the firing of former general manager Frank Wren.
Hart and Coppolella said the hiring of Blakeley and other veteran international scouts reflected the increased emphasis the team would put into that area of player acquisitions and that they planned to go hard in the pursuit of international free agents, since that was an area where a team with payroll restrictions could land top-tier young talent at more affordable prices.
The Braves spent what was believed to be more than $15 million on international free agents in July 2016, including overage penalties for far exceeding their MLB-assigned bonus-pool allotment. Their prize signing among more than a handful of top-tier teen free agents in that period was Venezuelan power-hitting shortstop Kevin Maitan, who was 16 at the time and got a $4.25 signing bonus from the Braves.
MLB’s investigation has included alleged improprieties in the signing of Maitan, now 17 and one of the top-10 prospects in a Braves farm system rated the best in baseball.
Among the penalties the Braves could face including heavy fines, the loss of international free agents already signed such as Maitan and possibly players taken in the draft, and further restrictions in the international free-agent market (they already are limited to signing players for $300,000 or less after going over their bonus-pool allotment in 2016 and being placed in the so-called “penalty box” for two years).