Coppolella's tenure as the team's boss is over due to a league investigation into "a breach of MLB rules regarding the international player market."
The Braves' season is over, and so is the tenure of John Coppolella as the team's general manager. On Monday afternoon, Coppolella announced his resignation amid an ongoing MLB investigation into Atlanta's international signings, having committed what the Braves termed "a breach of MLB rules regarding the international player market," in a move first reported by The Athletic's Ken Rosenthal. The shocking departure brings an end to Coppolella's time as Atlanta's GM after only three full seasons in charge and following a disappointing year laced with tension in the front office.
The news comes after the Braves stumbled to a 72–90 record and a distant third-place finish in the NL East in 2017—a smaller-than-expected improvement on last year's 68–93 mark, especially given how Atlanta finished the season on a strong note (37–35 in the second half and 16–10 in September) after a brutal start to the year (31–58 before the All-Star break). Coppolella had taken the team through a crash rebuild during the 2015–16 offseason, dealing away virtually any veteran of value in order to accumulate prospects, but with the farm system flush and ready to contribute, Atlanta decided to make a bid for relevance last winter, adding a trio of veteran starters in Bartolo Colon, Jaime Garcia and R.A. Dickey and overhauling what had been a bad bullpen to try to back up what was seen as an emerging offense led by Freddie Freeman and former No. 1 pick Dansby Swanson.
The Braves' hopes died quickly, though: They went 22–29 through the season's first two months, and despite a better June carrying them to the fringes of the NL wild-card race, they were unable to make any noise after that. The offseason moves were for naught, as Colon and Garcia were both ditched midseason and the bullpen once again ranked as one of the league's worst. Worse, Freeman ended up missing several weeks with a broken wrist, and Swanson was a flop in his first full season in the big leagues, hitting .232/.312/.324 and getting demoted to Triple A for a stretch in the summer.
As the team on the field struggled on the field, things apparently were even worse off of it. Back in August, Rosenthal reported on a power struggle between two front-office factions, with Coppolella and long-time baseball executive John Hart on one side and former Braves GM John Schuerholz on the other. At the same time, several title changes and reassignments were made for a bevy of front office personnel. Toward the end of September, Rosenthal added that the team was still deciding what to do with regards to manager Brian Snitker, who took over the team in May of 2016 after Fredi Gonzalez was fired and is a popular figure with the players, with the indecision on the part of Coppolella and Hart rankling some within the organization.
Now comes Coppolella's resignation, the result of an MLB investigation that also claimed Gordon Blakeley, who was Atlanta's head of international scouting. According to Yahoo Sports' Jeff Passan, the league has been looking at Coppolella and the Braves for several weeks and uncovered "numerous issues," also receiving an anonymous complaint from another team, and that the league was investigating potential problems with Atlanta's domestic draft and Coppolella's treatment of team employees. Passan also describes the Braves' front office as "a wasteland of infighting in recent weeks," with "chaos centered around Coppolella."
Details on the investigation into Coppolella and the Braves are not known yet, but the wording of the Braves' press release suggests that MLB uncovered serious irregularities with regards to Atlanta's recent international signings. The league has made a point of late to punish teams severely for Latin American infractions. Back in 2016, the Red Sox were found to have paid five highly-regarded Venezuelan prospects under the table as part of a plot to land them for less money by overpaying for lesser players in a package deal with local talent scouts. That ran afoul of MLB's rules with regards to spending restrictions on international amateurs, and the team was both barred from signing any international players for a full year and lost the rights to all five of the prospects involved in the deal.
It remains to be seen what exactly Coppolella did to end up on MLB's bad side, but it's obviously troublesome enough that he's preemptively taking the fall. According to the New York Post's Joel Sherman, Hart will take over as the interim GM, but regardless of who ends up in charge, it's safe to say that this is just about the worst possible start to what will likely be a crucial offseason for Atlanta.