Rays retain Kapler, but outfield still in doubt

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The Rays assured themselves of entering 2010 with a fourth outfielder by re-signing free agent Gabe Kapler to a one-year, $1.05 million contract on Tuesday, but it’s still a mystery just who he’ll be playing behind next year.
Kapler’s role in 2009 was to start over Gabe Gross in right field against lefties. The platoon worked out exquisitely early on. Kapler had an 839 OPS in 113 at-bats prior to the All-Star break, while Gross came in at an OBP-heavy 802 as the starter against righties. Maybe that’s not spectacular, but they also played quality defense and they combined to cost the thrifty Rays a total of $2.225 million for the year.
Unfortunately, Gross, in particular, collapsed after that. He hit just .160 with a 512 OPS after the break and lost most of his playing time to Ben Zobrist after Akinori Iwamura returned. Kapler also fell off to a 681 OPS. For the season, he hit an exceptional .276/.379/.552 in 145 at-bats against lefties and a dreadful .150/.190/.167 in 60 at-bats versus righties.
Gross is unlikely to return next year, so it’s unclear what Kapler’s role will be. The Rays could opt for only a minor change and stick with Carl Crawford in left and B.J. Upton in center, with Matt Joyce, the return from the Tigers for Edwin Jackson, taking over as the right fielder against right-handers. However, the Rays were clearly disappointed by Joyce’s play this season and didn’t even give him a September callup.
The Rays have other options. Crawford is a year away from free agency and would fetch a high price in trade. Upton’s stock is well down, but he’s also getting talked about as a trade possibility. He’s more likely than Crawford to go. Zobrist appears to be penciled in at second base, but the Rays could throw a changeup and opt to keep Iwamura, forcing Zobrist to the outfield. Sean Rodriguez, a longtime Angels prospect acquired in the Scott Kazmir deal, could also compete for outfield time, and top prospect Desmond Jennings may be a factor by the middle of the season.
If the Rays don’t have a left-handed-hitting outfielder for Kapler to platoon with, he’d likely be useless to the team. He’s a liability when starting against righties, so he’s not someone who would fare well if forced into the lineup on a regular basis by injuries. The 34-year-old is worth the $1.05 million committed to him, but he needs to be used correctly. The Rays should have waited to see if he was still going to be the right fit for the team.

Unprecedented sanctions: MLB bans former Braves GM for life, makes 12 signees free agents

Associated Press
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Major League Baseball has slammed the hammer down on the Atlanta Braves as the result of their violations of rules on the international free agent market.

Former Braves General Manager John Coppolella has been placed on the permanently ineligible list — the same list Pete Rose is on — banning him from a job in baseball forever. His assistant, Gordon Blakeley, will be suspended for a period of one year. Each had already been dismissed by the Braves. Other Braves’ international baseball operations employees who participated in the misconduct could still be suspended as the league finishes its investigation.

As reported earlier, 12 of the clubs’ international signees are now free agents. The Braves will lose the following players, signed during the 2015-17 international free agent signing periods:

  • Juan Contreras;
  • Yefri del Rosario;
  • Abrahan Gutierrez;
  • Kevin Maitan;
  • Juan Carlos Negret;
  • Yenci Peña;
  • Yunior Severino;
  • Livan Soto;
  • Guillermo Zuniga;
  • Brandol Mezquita;
  • Angel Rojas; and
  • Antonio Sucre

As reported earlier, Maitan was the number one overall international prospect in 2016. The Braves have, for a few years now, had among the top international signee classes. Obviously that came by virtue of cheating the system, and obviously that will lead to a reevaluation of where the clubs’ minor league system stands, talent-wise.

The penalties are not limited to the loss of those players. Commissioner Manfred is imposing what amounts to punitive damages going forward. From Commissioner Manfred’s statement:

“While the remedies discussed above will deprive the Braves of the benefits of their circumvention, I believe that additional sanctions are warranted to penalize the Club for the violations committed by its employees. Accordingly, the Braves will be prohibited from signing any international player for more than $10,000 during the 2019-20 signing period, which is the first signing period in which the Braves are not subject to any signing restrictions under our rules; and the Braves’ international signing bonus pool for the 2020-21 signing period will be reduced by 50 percent.”

There was also what appears to be an unrelated draft violation, imposing penalties along those lines as well:

“The investigation also determined that the Braves offered impermissible benefits, which were never provided, to a player they selected in the First-Year Player Draft in an attempt to convince him to sign for a lower bonus. As a penalty for the Club’s attempted circumvention involving a draft selection, the Braves will forfeit their third-round selection in the 2018 First-Year Player Draft.

The gist of the violations against the Braves involves the bundling of signing bonuses, in which the Braves got players — through their representatives in Latin America — to take lower than the amount typically allotted in one year in order to use the money to sign other, highly rated players in subsequent years, with money they wouldn’t have otherwise had. MLB’s statement describes the scheme thusly:

“The investigation established that the Braves circumvented international signing rules from 2015 through 2017. During the 2015-16 international signing period, the Braves signed five players subject to the Club’s signing bonus pool to contracts containing signing bonuses lower than the bonuses the Club had agreed to provide the players. The Club provided the additional bonus money to those players by inflating the signing bonus to another player who was exempt from their signing pool because he qualified as a ‘foreign professional’ under MLB rules.

“Consistent with the rules, the Braves could have signed all of the 2015-16 players for the full, actual signing bonus amounts. Had the Club signed the five players to contracts containing their actual bonuses, however, the Braves would have exceeded their signing bonus pool by more than five percent and would have been, under MLB rules, restricted from signing any players during the next two signing periods for contracts with bonuses greater than $300,000.

“As a result of the 2015-16 circumvention, the Braves were able to sign nine high-value players during the 2016-17 signing period who would have been unavailable to them had the Club accurately accounted for its signings during the 2015-16 signing period.”

The scheme continued like this:

“The investigation also determined that the Braves: (i) agreed to sign six players to inflated signing bonuses pursuant to an agreement with prospect Robert Puason’s agent in exchange for a commitment that Puason would sign with the Club in the 2019-20 signing period; and (ii) offered prospect Ji-Hwan Bae extra-contractual compensation. In order to remedy these violations, I am prohibiting the Club from signing Robert Puason when he becomes eligible to sign, and disapproving the contract between Bae and the Braves, which has not yet become effective.”

This is, by far, the most serious set of scouting, drafting and signing penalties ever imposed by Major League Baseball. It speaks to the sheer audacity of the Braves’ scheme to circumvent signing rules. It also sends a loud and clear signal to other teams — many which have been rumored to have engaged in similar conduct on a smaller scale — that MLB will not tolerate it.

The Braves lower minor league system has been decimated. It stands, essentially, as the head on the pike outside of Major League Baseball’s castle.