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MLB drops hammer on Braves following lengthy investigation

David O'Brien and Gabriel Burns, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution on

Published in Baseball

The wait ended Tuesday evening: MLB dealt its unprecedented punishment to the Braves after concluding the organization broke several rules, many related to the international free agent market.

The team will lose 13 prospects, a third-round draft pick and heavy spending limitations in future international spending periods.

Former general manager John Coppolella was given a lifetime ban from MLB, while former international scouting director Gordon Blakeley received a one-year suspension, Commissioner Rob Manfred announced. Other Braves international baseball operations employees are expected to be reproved.

Among the primary areas of investigation were the past two international signing periods. The Braves lost nine players from their 2015-16 haul, and three from this year's group after MLB determined the organization packaged and inflated signing bonuses.

The following players were ruled free agents and eligible to sign with any of the other 29 franchises: Infielder Kevin Maitan, catcher Abrahan Gutierrez, infielder Yunior Severino, right-hander Juan Contreras, right-hander Yefri del Rosario, infielder Livan Soto, third baseman Yenci Pena, infielder Jihwan Bae, outfielder Juan Carlos Negret, right-hander Guillermo Zuniga, Brandol Mezquita, infielder Angel Rojas and outfielder Antonio Sucre.

Atlanta will also lose a 2018 third round pick for offering under-the-table benefits to outfielder Drew Waters, whom the team selected 41st overall in June's draft. The Braves are limited to spending $300,000 for a player in the next two signing periods, but MLB penalties will allow for no signing more than $10,000 in the 2019-20 periods. The team will lose half its bonus pool (roughly $4.75 million) in 2020-21.

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The Braves were additionally banned from signing 14-year-old Dominican infielder Robert Puason, with whom MLB determined the team had an illegal agreement.

The severity of the penalties sent a message to the other 29 franchises as MLB attempts to better monitor activity on the international market.

Atlanta's long-awaited day of reckoning came seven weeks after the team's stunning announcement of the abrupt resignations of Coppolella and Blakeley, both of whom were forced out amid an MLB investigation into what the team said was a breach of rules regarding the international free agent market. It turned out that was just one part of the alleged malfeasance.

Anxiety hung over the organization for nearly two months as Braves employees awaited the outcome of the investigation, the seriousness of which was not known to high-level team officials until the final week of the season. That's when MLB investigators gave them a rundown of major infractions they were looking into and some evidence, specifically in the area of international free agency.

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