The Braves’ sordid affair likely won’t end even when Major League Baseball is done with its investigation of the team. Lawsuits are likely coming from the key principals.
Regardless of what MLB announces soon when it reveals results of an investigation into numerous alleged rules infractions by the Braves under former general manager John Coppolella, some degree of anxiety and embarrassment could continue.
Both Braves officials who were forced to resign Oct. 2 -- Coppolella and special assistant/international scouting supervisor Gordon Blakeley -- hired labor attorneys and likely will file lawsuits against the team, a person familiar with the situation said.
The Atlanta Journal-Constitution also learned that Blakeley rescinded his resignation within 24 hours of initially handing it in, though the team has not acknowledged any change in his status since announcing his resignation.
The Braves have been without a general manager since Oct. 2, with president of baseball operations John Hart serving in that role while also heading up the search for Coppolella’s replacement -- an awkward situation given that Hart and other Braves officials also were under investigation by MLB to determine if they were complicit in any infractions.
They could hire a GM and/or president of baseball operations soon, though it’s unclear if they’ll wait until MLB announces its investigation results and penalties. That MLB announcement could come within a week, after baseball basks in the glow of the World Series a bit longer.
Coppolella or Blakeley might contend in any lawsuit that they were wrongfully terminated and claim they were only doing what Hart and other team officials told them or at least approved of them doing when they broke rules involving the signing of international free agents. The Braves are also being investigated regarding the contact of other free agents or their representatives before the period when such contact was permitted.
The Braves announced in an Oct. 2 release that Coppolella resigned “as a result of Major League Baseball rules regarding the international player market,” and Hart said a couple of hours later that Blakeley also resigned and indicated it was for the same reason.
But a person familiar with the situation said Blakeley rescinded his resignation soon thereafter, and that he has not been paid since then, although his contract ran through 2019.
The Braves were denied permission last week to interview Royals GM Dayton Moore, who was – and probably still is – considered their top target to replace Coppolella. If the Royals change their stance and decide to allow Moore to interview with the Braves, perhaps after receiving considerations from the team in the event he leaves, he probably wouldn’t come to Atlanta unless it were to run baseball operations, rather than serve as GM with a president of baseball operations above him.
In Kansas City, Moore runs baseball operations as GM, since the team doesn’t have a president of baseball operations. Again, Hart still has that title with the Braves and is under contract through the end of the year. Hart indicated Oct. 2 that he intended to return, but neither he nor the team have since committed to his remaining in his current role.
An ESPN.com report this week cited an unnamed source who said that MLB’s investigation showed that Hart was not involved in the infractions and that he was “disengaged” in his management of Coppolella and those working under the GM. There are some close to the Braves who question the accuracy of that report and whether Hart will be retained after his contract expires, or even through the end of the year.
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Credit: Jason Getz / Jason.Getz@ajc.com