Chicago Cubs: Fallout from Atlanta Braves infractions looms large
By Jake Misener
With the Chicago Cubs’ successful rebuild in the rearview mirror, the fallout surrounding the Atlanta Braves’ international infractions looms in baseball.
When Theo Epstein took over the Chicago Cubs as president of baseball operations, we all knew what it meant. It meant he was going to strip the organization down to its foundation before beginning to put it all back together.
And that’s just what he did. Trading away at least 40 percent of the starting rotation at the trade deadline became an annual tradition. Any veteran who performed well was immediately flipped for young talent. Combining those deals with a near-unrivaled amateur scouting and player development process culminated in one of – if not the – best single-season runs in Chicago Cubs history in 2016.
Over the last three years, the Cubs have won at least 92 games. In that stretch, Chicago brought home two NL Central crowns and appeared in three-consecutive National League Championship Series. And they did it with a core of talent that Epstein is overwhelmingly responsible for.
Guys like Addison Russell, Anthony Rizzo, Kris Bryant and Kyle Schwarber all played huge roles over the last few years in different ways. Add in the big signings such as Jon Lester or the trades for guys like Aroldis Chapman or Wade Davis and it’s easy to see why Theo has such respect throughout the game.
He did things the right way. As fans, we knew what we were in for. A tough rebuild, followed by what we hoped would be sustained winning. And he delivered.
Breaking rules, promises chasing sustained success
Atlanta Braves fans were pitched that same storyline. Bear with us as we reload. We’re going to move to a new ballpark and our young talent will be the next Braves dynasty. But in pursuit of delivering on that promise, the front office crossed lines and cheated the system as they sought to get a leg up.
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And, as a fan whose organization just delivered on a century-old promise, I genuinely feel for my fellow fans down in Georgia. I don’t feel for guys like John Coppolella, who just earned himself a lifetime ban from the game. I don’t feel for any of the other front office leadership implicated in the scheme. They knew what they were doing and did it regardless.
If you haven’t had time to read about the details, the statement from Major League Baseball commissioner Rob Manfred summed things up nicely:
"“As a result of the 2015-16 (signing period) 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,” MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred said in a statement. “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.”"
New leadership faces a long road
Atlanta not only lost a good chunk of its front office. They lost 13 prospects, including MLB.com’s 90th-ranked overall prospect Kevin Maitan. Baseball America broke down the sheer magnitude of the loss, which will no-doubt put new general manager Alex Anthopoulos in an undesirable position.
He won’t lose his entire farm system, but there will be a tremendous drop in the quality of talent en route to Atlanta through the minors. With dwindling trade chips on the big-league roster, his options are limited.
More than anything, though, the Braves – an organization almost universally respected – has lost the trust of its fans. These transgressions are unlikely to be forgotten anytime soon. Without a winning season since 2013, patience is surely in short supply as it is. With more losing on the horizon, things will probably get worse before they get better.
Cubs did it right – in every way imaginable
When Tom Ricketts bought the Chicago Cubs, he showed he was going to do things the right way. I don’t just mean create a winning club on the North Side. Ricketts demonstrated a true commitment to doing things ethically and taking the path-less-traveled.
He poured over half-a-billion dollars of his own money into the Wrigley Field renovation. Bringing in Epstein showed what he wanted from the baseball operations team – the best in the game. The team followed that up with the signing of Joe Maddon, who won NL Manager of the Year in 2015.
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And, of course, all of that has culminated in the Golden Age of Cubs baseball. A loaded roster filled with homegrown talent. All the right veterans to lead and mentor. Facilities that are among the best in baseball. But, most importantly, an unyielding promise. To do things the right way – the Cubs Way.