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MLB Removing Prospects From Braves

Major League Baseball informed multiple Braves international signings today that they will become free agents, multiple sources told Baseball America.

Those players include shortstop Kevin Maitan, catcher Abrahan Gutierrez, second baseman Yunior Severino and righthander Juan Contreras, who received the Braves’ top four signing bonuses in their 2016 class.

Venezuelan shortstop Livan Soto and Dominican righthander Yefri del Rosario, who each signed for $1 million in 2016, have also been informed that they are free agents. Shortstop Yenci Pena, who signed for $1.05 million is also a free agent. So are shortstop Ji-Hwan Bae, righthander Guillermo Zuniga ($350,000), outfielders Juan Carlos Negret ($1 million), Antonio Sucre ($300,000) and Brandol Mezquita ($300,000) and shortstop Angel Rojas ($300,000). All of those players signed during the 2016-17 signing period, except for Bae, Mezquita and Rojas, who signed this year during the 2017-18 period.

The players, who will keep the original signing bonuses they received from the Braves, will have restrictions on their free agency. They will be eligible to sign with another club for another signing bonus beginning on Dec. 5 up until Jan. 15. After Jan. 15, the player is still allowed to sign but cannot receive an additional signing bonus. Only the amount of the signing bonus beyond $200,000 will count toward a team’s signing bonus pool. Players are allowed to re-sign with the Braves, but if they choose to do so, they must wait until May 1 to sign with them and can’t receive an additional signing bonus.

A club that signs one of the players has the option of counting that player’s bonus against either its current 2017-18 international bonus pool or against its pool for the 2018-19 signing period, which opens next year on July 2. A club can’t combine bonus pool money from both pools to sign an individual player, however. While clubs can trade for additional bonus pool money for this year, they technically can’t do so yet for the 2018-19 signing period, since teams have to wait until July 2 next year to make trades for 2018-19 pool space.

While teams now have hard caps on their bonus pools, several teams previously exceeded their bonus pools and, as as result, are under the penalty of not being allowed to sign a player for more than $300,000 during the 2017-18 or 2018-19 signing periods. Those limits will still apply to what they can offer these players. That means the Dodgers, Cubs, Giants and Royals—teams under penalty for the current 2017-18 signing period but not the next one—could potentially sign any of the players without any individual bonus limits if they count the bonuses toward their 2018-19 bonus pools. Yet the Astros, Athletics, Cardinals, Nationals, Reds, Padres and White Sox, who went over their bonus pool the same year as the Braves and are unable to sign anyone for more than $300,000 this signing period and the next one, are still subject to the $300,000 limit.

For the 2019-20 signing period, which begins on July 2, 2019, MLB removed the Braves’ entire international bonus pool, which means the Braves can’t sign any international player for more than $10,000 during that signing period (or trade away bonus pool space, since they won’t have any). For the 2020-21 signing period, MLB will reduce their international bonus pool by 50 percent. That forfeited bonus pool money will be redistributed among the other 29 clubs for the 2020-21 period.

Maitan is the top prospect of the group. A 17-year-old from Venezuela, Maitan was the No. 1 ranked prospect in the 2016 international class, receiving a $4.25 million bonus, and was the team's No. 9 prospect.

Gutierrez, an 18-year-old from Venezuela, was the No. 15 international prospect in 2016 in BA's rankings and received a $3.53 million bonus. Maitan and Gutierrez were both scheduled to play winter ball in Panama, where the season begins next week, though neither one will play in the league any more.

Severino, an 18-year-old from the Dominican Republic, was the No. 8 international prospect that year and received $1.9 million. Severino played in the Rookie-level Gulf Coast League in 2017 and ranked as the league’s No. 15 prospect. Contreras, 18, signed for $1.2 million in 2016, when he was BA's No. 41 international prospect.

Del Rosario, 18, was the No. 26 international prospect in BA’s rankings in 2016 and the fourth-ranked pitcher in the class. Del Rosario pitched this year in the GCL and ranked as the league’s No. 16 prospect. Soto, 17, ranked as the No. 16 international prospect in 2016 and also played in this year in the GCL, where he impressed scouts with his defense and high overall level of baseball instincts.

Below is the full statement released on Tuesday afternoon from MLB commissioner Rob Manfred:

"My office has completed a thorough investigation into violations of Major League Rules by the Atlanta Braves. The Braves cooperated throughout the investigation, which was conducted by MLB's Department of Investigations. The senior Baseball Operations officials responsible for the misconduct are no longer employed by the Braves. I am confident that Terry McGuirk, John Schuerholz, Alex Anthopoulos and their staffs have and will put in place procedures to ensure that this type of conduct never occurs again and which will allow the Club to emerge from this difficult period as the strong and respected franchise that it has always been.

"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. These players were Juan Contreras, Yefri del Rosario, Abrahan Gutierrez, Kevin Maitan, Juan Carlos Negret, Yenci Peña, Yunior Severino, Livan Soto and Guillermo Zuniga. In addition, the Braves entered into additional 'package' agreements in 2016 and 2017 in which they signed Brandol Mezquita, Angel Rojas and Antonio Sucre for reduced amounts, and provided additional money to those players' agents by signing other players affiliated with their agents to contracts with inflated bonuses. In order to remedy these violations, I am releasing these players from their contracts with the Braves and declaring them free agents eligible to sign with any other Club. The procedures governing the players' release and the signing process will be communicated to MLB Clubs under separate cover.

"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.

"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.

"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.

"With respect to individual discipline, former Braves General Manager John Coppolella will be placed on the permanently ineligible list, effective immediately. Former Braves Special Assistant Gordon Blakeley will be suspended for a period of one year, effective immediately, and may not perform services for any MLB Club during his suspension. I intend to discipline other Braves' International Baseball Operations employees who participated in the misconduct after the completion of our internal procedures. My staff will speak to the Players Association and officials in the Dominican Republic regarding appropriate consequences for the representatives of the players who intentionally participated in schemes to circumvent our rules, none of whom are certified by the Players Association."

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