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As MLB investigation nears conclusion, John Hart departs Braves

Braves president of baseball operations John Hart, center, and general manager John Coppolella, left, meet with reporters in the dugout before a game against the Pittsburgh Pirates Tuesday night. (AP photo)
Braves president of baseball operations John Hart, center, and general manager John Coppolella, left, meet with reporters in the dugout before a game against the Pittsburgh Pirates Tuesday night. (AP photo)

John Hart joined the Braves to oversee a rebuild, but he won’t be around to see how it ends.

Hart resigned as senior adviser, the Braves announced Friday. Hart relinquished his power as president of baseball operations Monday upon the hiring of general manager Alex Anthopoulos.

Braves CEO Terry McGuirk said at Monday’s news conference that Hart would transition into a senior adviser role. Hart, along with John Schuerholz and Bobby Cox, would serve as an available voice for Anthopoulos.

"This was a difficult decision, but it's one that I made with the best interests of the Atlanta Braves in mind," Hart said in a statement. "With the hiring of Alex Anthopoulos as general manager, this organization is in great hands. I believe that the talent of the Major League players, combined with the young talent soon to arrive, makes the Braves poised for a great run of success.”

Hart left to pursue other opportunities outside the organization, the statement said.

The resignation comes 46 days after GM John Coppolella and special assistant Gordon Blakeley were forced to step down amid MLB’s investigation into widespread alleged organizational infractions, largely including violations in the international player market and draft.

McGuirk said he expects MLB to conclude its investigation within the next two weeks. The Braves are expected to face penalties that could include fines, the loss of players, the loss of draft picks and international signing restrictions.

Blakeley rescinded his resignation, though he hasn’t worked for the team since. He’s hired a labor attorney and likely will file a lawsuit against the organization, a source said.

Hart served as interim GM during the search for a permanent replacement. He was involved in the interview process despite the franchise’s uncertainty regarding his future.

Anthopoulos confirmed that Hart opened contact during the World Series and extended the official offer Sunday night.

Alongside assistant GM Adam Fisher and director of player personnel Perry Minasian, Hart had been evaluating the team’s roster-related priorities.

"They've been working with John, obviously, and from what I've been updated on, they've been on top of it," Anthopoulos told the Atlanta Journal-Constitution earlier this week at the GM meetings. "So that's been a huge help. Those guys have been active, they've talked to all the teams, they know the landscape. Again, it's been basically John Hart with those two, but they're locked in, we haven't skipped a beat as an organization."

Questions surrounded the organization as to how Hart, the head man and mentor to Coppolella, could be ignorant of the activity that prompted investigation. On the other end, if he did know, those questions shifted as to why he was still employed by the team.

While one report indicated Hart would be cleared, ensuing events clouded that picture. At least one former Braves employee told MLB Hart knew of the alleged infractions, the AJC learned.

Hart met with MLB officials in New York on multiple occasions.

Blakeley met with MLB commissioner Rob Manfred in New York on Nov. 9, according to a person familiar with the situation. MLB hoped to learn which individuals knew of the infractions during its interview process. In other words, whether the violations Coppolella and Blakeley allegedly committed were under Hart’s jurisdiction.

It’s unclear if or to what degree Hart’s departure was influenced by recent meetings with MLB officials.

While unsure at first, Hart was convinced by friend and Braves vice chairman John Schuerholz to become the team’s president of baseball operations in October 2014. He signed a three-year deal to oversee a major retool and groom Coppolella, who Hart said was a “big reason” he accepted the job.

Hart guided the Indians to a 870-681 record in 10 years a GM, including a World Series appearance in 1995. He took over as Rangers GM after the 2001 season, failing to make the playoffs in four seasons and stepping down in 2005. He stayed as a senior adviser through the 2013 season before moving to a similar capacity in Atlanta.

Hart’s contract with the Braves was scheduled to expire at the end of the year.