Well, Braves fans...this has been a long time coming. The Atlanta Braves have been in the penalty box when it comes international free agency since MLB handed down its sanctions in November of 2017. While John Coppolella remains forever banished from baseball, the restrictions the Braves were under end with this upcoming signing period. Below is a quick primer of what to expect as signing period open on January 15th, 2022.
The Penalties...are over
It all began back in 2017 when John Coppolella (and others who were not held as accountable) got caught breaking, well, several rules in the international market. As a result of those actions and getting caught, the Braves lost 13 international signees including Kevin Maitan, Yunior Severino, and Yefri del Rosario, prohibited from signing IFA prospect Robert Puason and had severe spending limits imposed upon them for four international signing periods. Last signing period (which marked the final signing period where the Braves would be penalized), their international bonus pool was halved and the bulk of it went to signing Ambioris Tavarez. In addition to those internationa penalties, MLB also took the Braves’ third round pick in the 2018 Draft and Coppy was banned from baseball for life and special assistant Gordon Blakeley got a one year ban as well.
The 2021ish Signing Period
Under normal circumstances, this international signing period would have already begun on July 2nd, 2021 (hence the terms you see thrown around like “J2 signee”). However, That has changed in the last couple of seasons with the COVID-19 pandemic leading to delays and logistical problems. It is unclear as to whether or not this will be a permanent change, but for now we have another international signing period that was delayed until January.
While we have had international free agent bonus pool “slots” (which could be traded) that add up to a team’s IFA bonus pool in the past, its a little different right now. Slots are not tradeable so there is little variation in the bonus pools other than teams that either got competitive balance picks (which increases their base bonus pool) or exceeded the luxury tax (which decreases it). The Braves are firmly in neither group so they will have a bonus pool of $5,179,700.
The Braves’ Class
I know this is going to come as a shock to you all, but even though the Braves got dinged in a big way for, among other things, coming to informal agreements with international free agents before they are available to sign, every team still does this....including the Braves. One cannot go down Baseball America’s Top 50 International Big Board without seeing exactly who they are going to sign with. It is just the nature of the game.
While we won’t likely know the full scope of the Braves’ signing class for a while as they are likely to add a big chunk of players at lesser dollar amounts, we do know that they are likely to sign two of the top 31 bonuses in this IFA class including one in the top 10. Diego Benitez, a shortstop out of Venezuela, is the headliner of the Braves’ class. He already has a large frame with present hitting ability which is tantalizing to think about considering where he is headed from a physical projection perspective. He may outgrow shortstop and move over to third or even the outfield, but the bat has even projection that that doesn’t dissuade anyone from making him a top 10 player in this entire class.
The other big player from the Braves’ international free agent class is Douglas Glod who is an outfielder also from Venezuela. The Braves have been among the most active teams in Venezuela in recent years (including Kevin Maitan who was among the prospects the Braves lost) and Glod makes their second high profile player from Venezuela in this very draft class. It doesn’t sound like scouts are as bullish that he will get much bigger, stronger, or faster given his compact frame, but he been a strong performer and already has shown very reasonable or better tools almost across the board thanks to decent speed, an above average arm, good bat speed, and a swing that, with some adjustments for loft, could lead to some decent power numbers.