Braves writer wants to make it very, very clear that everyone really, really hated Yunel Escobar

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When the Braves traded Yunel Escobar to the Blue Jays last year there was plenty of talk about how few people in Atlanta were sad to see him go, so this isn’t exactly shocking news.

However, with Escobar back in town for an interleague series and playing very well for the Blue Jays while the guy who replaced him, Alex Gonzalez, struggles at the plate for the Braves, David O’Brien of the Atlanta Journal Constitution wants to make sure everyone knows just how despised Escobar was.

O’Brien kicks off his article by calling Escobar “a petulant hot dog of a player who rubbed teammates wrong at least as frequently as he ticked off opponents.” And there’s plenty more where that came from:

A year later, I challenge you to find one individual employed in any capacity by the Braves, from the clubhouse to the front office and everywhere between, who regrets the move. Gonzalez is infinitely more popular with his teammates, plays steady defense, and comes to play every day, notwithstanding an infrequent lapse in judgment in not running out a ground ball or some such offense. But like I said, if Escobar were playing like he has this season for the Blue Jays, particularly like he has for the past six weeks, the Braves wouldn’t have traded him.

But wait, there’s more:

Again, I defy you to find one Braves player, coach, front-office official or team employee who wishes they had Escobar on the team rather than Gonzalez.

And more:

To this day, I can’t find anyone in the organization that regrets it.

And more:

I know he does still have a couple of friends on the team, but even they have said they understood why the Braves made the trade, that it had reached a point where Escobar and his teammates and coaches were just not meshing together at any reasonable degree any longer.

In fairness to O’Brien he lays out the relevant numbers since the trade, admitting that Escobar has been better than Gonzalez, but he also dismisses all that while focusing on how everyone hated Escobar and no one in the organization regrets the trade. I’m guessing they wouldn’t be particularly quick to admit regret to O’Brien even if they did and more importantly the Braves’ level of regret doesn’t change the fact that Escobar has hit .278 with a .741 OPS for the Blue Jays while Gonzalez has hit .245 with a .673 OPS for the Braves.

If the Braves are fine losing 70 points of OPS by replacing a 28-year-old shortstop with a 34-year-old shortstop so be it–they rank 11th among NL teams in scoring, so the extra offense would come in handy–but O’Brien’s piece reads more like a sales pitch than reporting or even analysis. O’Brien is one of my favorite beat writers, but here he’s trying to sell Braves fans on the fact that they shouldn’t regret a trade that was motivated by off-field factors and has hurt the team on the field.

He brushes off any “lapse in judgment” by Gonzalez to hammer home the point that he’s a better person than Escobar in the clubhouse and repeatedly stresses that the Braves never would’ve dealt Escobar if he’d played this well for them. But he did play this well for the Braves, just not in the half-season preceding the trade. Escobar hit .291 with a .771 OPS in 446 games for the Braves and he’s hit .278 with a .741 OPS in 128 games for the Blue Jays. If anything he was more productive in Atlanta than he’s been in Toronto.

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 who 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 the castle.