Springtime Storylines: Will the Rockies make us all look like suckers again?

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Between now and Opening Day, HardballTalk will take a look at each of baseball’s 30 teams, asking the key questions, the not-so-key questions, and generally breaking down their chances for the 2012 season. Up next: The Colorado Rockies.

The Big Question: Will they make us all look like suckers again?

Maybe it’s just me who has looked like a sucker. For the past two years I’ve picked the Rockies, seeing something in them — as I sit here right now, I don’t know what — that made me think they had what it took to win the division. Maybe easily. Was I simply blind to what the Giants were able to do in 2010 and the Diamondbacks last year, or did the Rockies just give off some kind of spark that misled me so? Maybe both. I don’t think a ton of people picked Arizona last season — maybe no one did — and I’ll grant that there is something about a stud shortstop being a team’s best player that always draws me in.

So recently I got it in my mind that I wasn’t going to be fooled again. I was going to ignore the fact that in Troy Tulowitzki and Carlos Gonzalez the Rockies had two of the most exciting players in the game. I was going to ignore the fact that Dexter Fowler could break out at any time.  I was going to ignore the fact that, in the NL West, you don’t have to win 95 games to win it all and that the Rockies, even when they have disappointed, have made a habit of going on exciting, Rocktobery runs.  If they keep it close and stay healthy …. no, I can’t do it.  Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, shame on me.  Fool me three times, hey would you like my credit card number Mr. Nigerian Prince’s Special Attache for Financial Affairs?

What else is going on?

  • The rotation has all kinds of ifs. But unlike past Rockies rotations — which always seem to have ifs — there is some sharp upside here. Losing Jorge De La Rosa to Tommy John surgery was a bummer, but Jhoulys Chacin has shown flashes of ace-like talent. And call me crazy — “you’re crazy!” — but I sort of feel like Jeremy Guthrie may find some juvenation in the NL West. Sure, Coors Field is death to pitchers, but is it much worse than facing the Yankees and the Red Sox all the time?
  • Oh, and Jamie Moyer may very well make the rotation, and that’s all kinds of fun.  I hope to get to a Rockies game this year so I can meet him and ask him what FDR was really like.
  • Moyer isn’t the only gray hair Dan O’Dowd brought in. Veterans Marco Scutaro, Michael Cuddyer, Ramon Hernandez and Casey Blake were added in the offseason. Blake was released the other day, but all of these additions show that the Rockies themselves aren’t all that confident in many players under 30 not named Gonzalez or Tulowitzki.
  • Seeing Juan Nicasio come back is heart warming. He took a line drive that broke one of his vertebrae last August.  He’s been pretty impressive this spring.

So how are they gonna do?

I want to believe. I want to believe that all of my optimistic assumptions about pitching will come true (Moyer throws 200 innings!) and that guys like Cuddyer will come in and thump due to the thin air. But there are so many ifs with this team. And, as we’ve seen for the past couple of years, the Rockies have a great capacity to disappoint.

Maybe I’m wrong again and me picking them to finish third will look silly come fall.  But I’m pickin’ ’em third anyway.

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.