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The Atlanta Braves began their spring schedule on Saturday. Atlanta made a splash early this offseason with the addition of Josh Donaldson but there hasn’t been much since. Additional moves are still possible but for now we are going to focus on what the Braves have in camp.

There doesn’t appear to be a lot of intrigue or position battles as the spring gets underway. There is a question as to who will get the first crack at the fifth starter spot and there will be a competition for the final few bullpen spots. The only real question on the position player side of things is whether or not Adam Duvall can nail down the fourth outfielder spot and if he can’t, who might be the next man in line.

Below is where I see things as Grapefruit League play begins. We will update this every Sunday until the final roster is in place. For this exercise I am operating under the assumption that the Braves will carry 13 pitchers on the Opening Day roster.

Divisional Round – Los Angeles Dodgers v Atlanta Braves – Game Four
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Rotation Locks: Mike Foltynewicz, Kevin Gausman, Sean Newcomb, Julio Teheran
Many thought the Braves would add another starting pitcher to the mix this offseason but that never came to pass. Mike Foltynewicz is coming off of a strong showing in 2018 and looks like the odds-on favorite to be the Opening Day starter in 2018. Kevin Gausman and Sean Newcomb will likely follow Folty in some order. Julio Teheran will be looking to bounce back after an up-and-down 2018. As long as Teheran is on the roster, the assumption is he a rotation spot will be his to lose.

New York Mets v Atlanta Braves
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5th Starter Competition: Touki Toussaint, Max Fried, Luiz Gohara

The Braves may break camp with only four starters on the roster thanks to some early off days but one of the real competitions the team will have this spring is for the fifth starter spot. Brian Snitker indicated earlier this offseason that the team may use multiple players in that role in a de facto six-man rotation.

Touki Toussaint got the start in the Spring opener and looks like he could be one of the favorites. Luiz Gohara endured a lost 2018 but appears poised for a bounceback. He reported to camp some 35-40 pounds lighter this year and is focused on recapturing the promise he showed at the end of the 2017 season. It is unclear what Max Fried’s role will be at this point but I am going to list him among the starters for now.

Injured: Mike Soroka

Mike Soroka would have been in the above group if not for Friday’s news that he had again experienced soreness in his throwing shoulder earlier this week. The Braves are saying that they don’t think it is anything serious with Soroka’s shoulder but it has to be concerning and for now it puts his status in question.

Others: Kolby Allard, Bryse Wilson, Kyle Wright, Ian Anderson, Kyle Muller, Joey Wentz

There are several other pitchers who will be in camp that could work their way into the fifth starter competition. Kolby Allard, Bryse Wilson and Kyle Wright all saw time in the majors in 2018. All three may be slated to begin the season at Gwinnett but will likely see time in Atlanta at some point in 2019. Prospects Ian Anderson, Kyle Muller and Joey Wentz will all be getting their first taste of big league camp.

The biggest competition of the spring will likely come in the bullpen. The Braves could add to this mix at some point which could significantly change the outlook but for now this how things stand.

St Louis Cardinals v Atlanta Braves
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Bullpen Locks: A.J. Minter, Arodys Vizcaino, Darren O’Day, Jonny Venters

As was mentioned in the intro, I am operating under the assumption that the Braves will carry a 13-man pitching staff with eight relievers. That could easily be nine if they choose to open the season with just four starters. Right now it looks like A.J. Minter, Arodys Vizcaino, Darren O’Day and Jonny Venters have the inside track for bullpen spots.

Vizcaino’s situation is interesting. He handled closer duties for the Braves in 2018 but was hampered by a shoulder problems during the second half. He avoided arbitration agreeing to a $4.8 million deal that is non-guaranteed until he makes the Opening Day roster. If those shoulder issues return during the spring, Atlanta could elect to move on from Vizcaino although it would leave a hole at the back end of the pen.

Atlanta Braves v Arizona Diamondbacks
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Competition: Jesse Biddle, Shane Carle, Sam Freeman, Chad Sobotka, Dan Winkler, Luke Jackson

That leaves at least six players vying for four spots. Among this group, only Jesse Biddle and Sam Freeman are out of options. Sobotka was impressive late in 2018 while Shane Carle and Dan Winkler were impressive before wearing down late.

Others: Grant Dayton, Wes Parsons, Jacob Webb, Patrick Weigel, Huascar Ynoa, Thomas Burrows, Corbin Clouse, Tucker Davidson

The Braves acquired Dayton off of waivers from the Los Angeles Dodgers last offseason but he sat out all of 2018 while recovering from Tommy John surgery. If all goes well, he could be a dark horse candidate for the pen. Jacob Webb and Patrick Weigel are two players who will likely see opportunities at some point in 2019 if it isn’t on Opening Day. Huascar Ynoa was added to the 40-man roster to protect him from the Rule-5 Draft. He is an intriguing option who could move quickly through the system.

Thomas Burrows, Corbin Clouse and Tucker Davidson are all non-roster invitees who could be options at some point in 2019. Making the team out of Spring Training would require a corresponding 40-man roster move.

MLB: Atlanta Braves-Media Day
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Catcher Locks: Tyler Flowers, Brian McCann

When it comes to the catcher position, there isn’t a lot of intrigue for camp. Barring an injury, Tyler Flowers and Brian McCann are locks to be on the Opening Day roster.

Others: Alex Jackson, Raffy Lopez, William Contreras, Carlos Martinez, Jonathan Morales

As far as the other catchers in camp go. Most everyone’s eyes will be on prospect William Contreras and former prospect Alex Jackson. Contreras is likely ticketed to start the season at High-A but is starting to get noticed around the industry and will likely be moving up many prospect lists this season. Jackson is a former prospect who struggled at the plate for the most part in 2018. He will be looking to show the Braves that he can be a depth option behind Flowers and McCann. Overall that is an area of concern where the Braves don’t have proven options beyond Raffy Lopez who has limited experience at the major league level. If Jackson shows that he isn’t ready then Atlanta may be forced to look outside the organization for more catcher depth to stash at Gwinnett in case of an injury to Flowers or McCann.

MLB: Atlanta Braves-Media Day
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Infield Locks: Ozzie Albies, Johan Camargo, Josh Donaldson, Freddie Freeman, Dansby Swanson, Charlie Culberson

Like the catcher position, there is not a lot of intrigue with the infield group either and barring injury things are pretty much set. Perhaps the only question mark involves the health of Dansby Swanson who underwent wrist surgery this offseason. The Braves announced earlier this week that Swanson would be limited during the early part of the spring but the expectation is that he will be ready to go soon.

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Third base has returned to being a strength for the Braves
Others: CJ Alexander, Andres Blanco, Pedro Florimon, Sean Kazmar Jr, Luis Marte, Austin Riley

Austin Riley will likely see quite a bit of action this spring at third base for the Braves and maybe even in the outfield. Riley is still likely to begin the season at Gwinnett but we could see him at some point in 2019. CJ Alexander is the other big name among the other infielders. Alexander was a 20th round pick in 2018 who had an impressive debut ending the season at High-A Florida. In 52 games last season, Alexander hit .352/.429/.495 with eight doubles, seven triples and two home runs. It will be interesting to see how he performs this spring and he is a guy that could rocket through the system in 2019.

Atlanta Braves Photo Day
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Outfield Locks: Ronald Acuna Jr, Ender Inciarte, Nick Markakis

As things stand now there is no mystery who will be in the Braves outfield on Opening Day. Ronald Acuna Jr will be looking to build off of his Rookie of the Year debut, Ender Inciarte will be looking to build off of a good second half in 2018 while Markakis will be looking to show that there is still something left in the tank after putting together a career-best season in 2018.

4th Outfielder: Adam Duvall

The biggest question mark on the position player side entering camp centers on who will be the team’s fourth outfielder. Adam Duvall is going to get the first crack but will need to show much more than he did down the stretch in 2018. Duvall struggled in a bench role after being acquired by the Braves and his $2.875 million salary is non-guaranteed unless he makes the Opening Day roster. Expect Duvall to see a lot of early playing time during the spring as the Braves hope to determine where and if he fits in on their 2019 roster. While Spring Training stats are largely meaningless, some specific data on whether Duvall has fixed the specific things that ailed him in late 2018 (like making contact on pitches in the zone) can go a long way to answering the question of whether he’ll be of use to a major league team in 2019.

Others: Greyson Jenista, Ryan LaMarre, Rafael Ortega, Cristian Pache, Drew Waters

The interesting thing about the fourth outfielder situation is there really aren’t any other internal candidates unless you are counting the possibility of Johan Camargo seeing time out there. The Braves will bring outfield prospects Cristian Pache and Drew Waters to camp but neither are major league options yet. 2018 second round pick Greyson Jenista is also in camp. He is a college bat who finished the 2018 season at High-A Florida but is likely to return to the minors to start the season, although like Alexander, he could advance quickly.

That leaves Ryan LaMarre and Rafael Ortega as Atlanta’s other outfield options who are currently in camp. LaMarre has 105 games of major league experience where he has slashed .238/.283/.322 in 220 career plate appearances. Ortega spent last season with the Marlins where he appeared in 41 games while hitting .233/.281/.277.

Don’t be surprised if the Braves look to add to this mix during the spring or at the end as other teams start to pare down their rosters.

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This is the slow season for baseball, but it doesn’t mean that there aren’t relevant things that are happening… even for the Atlanta Braves, who still find themselves without a pitching coach.

I have been asked about this topic, but I don’t really see a ‘favorite’ emerging to this point. My opinion is that the Braves are taking the opportunity of the World Series to cast a fairly wide net in their hunt for someone to determine the development direction for the supreme cast of pitchers that this club has assembled.

Baseball (MLB, specifically) prefers to keep the focus on their premier event while it is still being contested, and thus clubs generally refrain from making major announcements at this time.

Whether the hiring of a new pitching coach represents such a ‘major’ news item may be up for debate, but it’s still a good excuse for the team to take their time in the process.

Certainly, the Atlanta job should be attractive to many, though I remain with an expectation that the Braves will go younger with their next PC – one with an embrace of analytics.

Hopefully that will help the pitchers figure out where the strike zone is located.

 

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North Port Coming Along
The construction on Atlanta’s new Spring home in North Port is still on schedule… and well into the point where it is looking like a stadium.

Unfortunately, I can’t post any up-to-date photos here, but at this link you can see how it looked about a month ago.

The plan has been for the facility to host the Braves’ last Spring contest before heading home to start the 2019 regular season.

That game is set for Sunday, March 24th at 4:05pm against the Tampa Bay Rays – the new next-door neighbor. We’ll see a lot of the Rays in the next 30 years since they will be only minutes away – instead of the current 2-1/2 hours.

It looks like the last number we heard is sticking… $125 million for the entire facility… which is much bigger than had been originally announced. Atlanta has to accept the overrun cost, but that will have to be part of the cost of doing business.

At least with a 30 year lease, the team will not have to fret over this locale for quite awhile… and hopefully, we’ll be done worrying about any stadium and instead worry more about baseball itself.

 

Well,… Almost
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the new Atlanta Braves dilemma is this: who to trade?
Unfortunately, there are still some non-baseball things that are of concern.

The Atlanta Braves and major league baseball are both named as defendants in a lawsuit filed last week by the family of a fan who fell to his death from the upper deck at Turner Field during a game at the end of August in 2015.

MLB does not regulate the height of stadium railings, though complicating a defense of that policy may be two factors:

The Texas Rangers unilaterally raised their railings after two incidents at Arlington Park, spending $1.1 million to bring the heights up from 33 to 42 inches.
MLB has chosen to regulate the extent of protective netting to shield fans from sharply hit foul balls.
NEXT: Might be a tough sell
The Turner Field railing that Gregory Murray fell over was 30 inches in height, which reportedly still exceeded the standards for railing protecting seating areas.

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ATLANTA — Rookie star Ronald Acuna Jr. was back in the lineup for the Atlanta Braves on Thursday, one day after being plunked in the left arm with a pitch that sparked a national debate about whether it’s ever acceptable to throw at a hitter intentionally.

Acuna said his elbow felt fine — less than 24 hours after he took a 97.5 mph fastball from the Miami Marlins’ Jose Urena — and proclaimed himself ready to go in the opener of an important four-game series against the Colorado Rockies.

Acuna was batting leadoff and playing left field. Urena received a six-game suspension from Major League Baseball.

“Obviously, it was kind of a hard hit,” Acuna said through an interpreter after taking an early session of batting practice at SunTrust Park. “But I’m not feeling any pain and I feel good right now.”

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MLB suspends Urena 6 games for hitting Acuna
Marlins starting pitcher Jose Urena has been suspended for six games for intentionally hitting Braves rookie Ronald Acuna Jr., who had homered in five straight games, including the previous three against Miami.
Acuna drilled by first Urena pitch, sparking melee
Braves rookie Ronald Acuna Jr., who had homered in five straight games, was hit by the first pitch thrown by Marlins starter Jose Urena on Wednesday night, sparking a melee that led to benches and bullpens for Atlanta and Miami emptying twice.

As Acuna walked to the plate for his first at-bat against the Rockies — wearing a red protective pad on his left arm — the crowd at SunTrust Park gave the youngster a standing ovation. He playfully patted plate umpire Pat Hoberg, took a ball on the first pitch and then lined a single up the middle.

Acuna stole second to give the Braves a shot at an early lead, but Nick Markakis grounded into an inning-ending double play.

The Braves breathed a big sigh of relief, knowing what a significant injury would have meant to their postseason chances. Going into the game, Atlanta held a two-game lead in the National League East, while the Rockies also are in playoff contention.

Acuna tried to stay in the game after being hit by Urena’s first pitch Wednesday — the fastest pitch Urena has ever thrown to open a game, according to ESPN Stats & Information — but Acuna had to leave in the second inning. X-rays taken shortly afterward were negative, and the Braves ordered a CT scan to make sure their 20-year-old phenom was OK. The scan came back normal, and Acuna was cleared to play.

With help from multilingual teammate Ender Inciarte, Acuna even crafted a text to Brian Snitker letting the Braves’ manager know he was ready to go.

Snitker, who was ejected the previous night along with Urena for leading a charge from the Atlanta dugout, was clearly relieved.

“It’s nice to be 20 and strong,” the manager said with a smile, sitting in the Braves’ dugout before the game. “I’m as excited as I can be that he gets to go out there and play today.”
Braves outfielder Ronald Acuna Jr. escaped a major injury after being drilled on the left arm by a 97.5 mph pitch thrown by the Marlins’ Jose Urena. Dale Zanine-USA TODAY Sports
One of baseball’s top prospects, Acuna has lived up to the hype since being called up by the Braves early in the season. In recent days, he has been downright unstoppable with homers in five straight games — including leadoff shots in three straight games before he was struck by Urena’s pitch.

The five-game homer streak remained intact under baseball rules because Acuna didn’t have an official at-bat in the finale of the series against the Marlins, which was won by the Braves to complete a four-game sweep. In a quirk of baseball scoring, the leadoff streak ended.

Acuna was trying to become the first Braves player in the modern era to homer in six straight games. The major league record is eight in a row, shared by Ken Griffey Jr. (1993), Don Mattingly (1987) and Dale Long (1956).

Though Urena insisted he was merely trying to pitch inside to set up Acuna for an outside pitch, Snitker was livid about the incident. The manager said he had no doubt about the Miami right-hander’s intent: It was intentional.

“Absolutely,” Snitker said. “Just watching it, I can tell.”

It long has been an unwritten rule in baseball that a hot hitter can expect to be brushed back. Former first baseman Keith Hernandez, now a New York Mets broadcaster, took it a step further by saying the Marlins had every right to bean Acuna under the circumstances.

“You’ve lost three games. He’s hit three homers. You’ve got to hit him,” Hernandez said during the Mets-Orioles game. “I’m sorry. People are not going to like that, but you’ve got to hit him. Knock him down (at least). I mean, seriously knock him down if you don’t hit him.”

Snitker scoffed at Hernandez’s logic.

“I don’t buy that at all,” the manager said. “I would not ever begrudge somebody for doing the job they’re trying to do. You don’t want him to hit hitters? Pitch better.”

Joe Torre, MLB’s chief disciplinary officer, imposed a suspension that would begin Friday unless Urena appeals. The pitcher would have to push back a scheduled start but could make his return against the Braves; the NL East rivals meet in another four-game series at Miami beginning next Thursday.

Torre also handed Braves first-base coach Eric Young a one-game suspension for his actions during the melee after both dugouts emptied. Young accepted the punishment and was sitting out Thursday’s contest the Rockies.

Colorado manager Bud Black said there will always be a fine line between pitching inside and hitting a batter intentionally.

“Hitting home runs is part of the game, right? Hitters are trying to hit the ball hard. Pitchers are trying to do everything they can to keep hitters from hitting,” said Black, a former pitcher. “A lot of that is disrupting timing, a lot of that is throwing the ball down and away — tough to hit a homer down there — and some of that is pitching inside aggressively to keep guys from looking out over the plate.”

Acuna has really flourished since moving into the leadoff spot right after the All-Star break. He raised his average to .288 with 19 homers, 43 RBIs and eight stolen bases, igniting the Braves with his enthusiasm and seemingly boundless energy while making sure never to show up an opponent.

“I feel he’s respecting the game,” Inciarte said. “You don’t want to see anybody getting hit for no reason.”

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The Atlanta Braves farm system is as deep as any in the game. By now, we all know the big names in the organization.

All eyes will be on Major League Baseball on (roughly) April 15th when Ronald Acuña will likely be making his debut. If everything falls into place as it is now, Gwinnett and Florida will have two of the more exciting rotations in the minors.

But not everyone else is an Austin Riley or Kyle Wright. What about some of the guys that left us wondering after 2017?

One guy I’m excited to see return is Patrick Weigel. The unfortunate truth is that pitchers take time bouncing back from Tommy John surgery. Weigel isn’t expected to return until late June or July I would assume, and it would be surprising to see the Braves push him.

That said, here are a few Braves prospects that need to show a little something more from start to finish in 2018.

Dustin Peterson, OF
Peterson was part of the Justin Upton deal that brought he and Max Fried to Atlanta. He struggled as a Padres farmhand at third and the Braves moved him to the outfield. The immediate results looked good, both offensively and defensively.

He had a big 2016 in Double-A seeing a big leap in the Braves organizational rankings. Peterson didn’t start 2017 until the middle of May last year because of a hamate injury, and it just felt like he never got it going. He had another stint on the DL to close the season, and fell down the Braves prospect rankings after a wash of a campaign.
Peterson was good enough to be my 18th-ranked Braves midseason prospect, but right now he’d be outside the Top 20. The righty-hitting left fielder was never big on over-the-fence power, but at one time could work the gaps and lines as a doubles machine. That was all null and void last year, although many felt it was because of the hamate. Strikeout rates from a somewhat longer swing have always seemed to be an issue.

Peterson wasn’t protected on the 40-man and went unselected in the Rule 5 Draft, which speaks volumes as to how others viewed his 2017. He’ll be 23 for pretty much the whole 2018 season, so Peterson isn’t a lost cause at all. If he can stay healthy, and show more of his 2016 breakout than his 2017 dud, he’ll be right back in the Top 20 conversation.

Kyle Muller, LHP
All the Braves 2016 MLB Draft class of pitchers had a breakout of sorts in 2017. All but Muller that is.

Muller is still just 20 years old, and a 6-6 lefty, so there is plenty of appeal. It simply seems odd that he wasn’t in Rome at all last season. It’s more so curious after watching Tucker Davidson transition from the bullpen to starter instead of a promotion for their second-round pick.

Like I said, there is still plenty to like in Muller even after a curious 2017 in Danville. He struck out more than one an inning but walked 3.43-per-nine, but let’s be real. Muller is big, really big, and big guys usually start out with command issues. Despite being hittable (.232 battings average against) and posting a 4.15 ERA to 1.28 WHIP, John Sickels still thinks highly of him. He has him ranked No. 16 heading into 2018. Here’s why:

a typical live-armed Braves pitching prospect from the South, fastball 90-94 with more possible, both breaking ball and change-up have plus potential but needs better control, another breakout candidate for ’18 and potential mid-rotation arm. ETA 2021.
Some of the reports that stand out to me are that he has an above-average curveball. I’ve seen first hand some of the best curves in the system develop in Rome over the past two seasons. One report that is worrisome is that his velocity was reported way lower than expected, and although his fastball has some downward movement, it isn’t electrifying.

There are some questions that need to be answered, but the talent is there. His full-season debut will be one to watch.

Lucas Herbert, C
Brett Cumberland. Drew Lugbauer. It seemed there was plenty of catching prospects in Rome last year that made the jump, and Herbert still remained Herbert: a conundrum at the plate.

The advantage Herbert has is his defense may be the best behind the plate in the system. Even ahead of him, a guy like Alex Jackson will be a power-hitting backstop, and Lugbauer’s days behind the plate already seem numbered. Herbert’s defense is undeniable, he just needs his bat to catch up.

He teased that last year, catching fire in the middle of the season. Herbert struggled mightily in his 2016 debut in Rome as a 19-year-old, and simply couldn’t keep up with the pitching, hitting .185 over 96 games. He came out of the gates slow in 2017, but was scorching hot in June and pretty good in July before falling off a cliff again to close out the season.

William Contreras is likely taking over in Rome, and it would be a terrible sign to see Herbert begin a third season there anyway. That means he’s likely heading to the FireFrogs in a pitcher-friendly league. While he shouldn’t be expected to replicate his .318 June and July, he has to show some life with the bat and that he can handle the next level of ball.

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We watch the splendid drama of postseason baseball unfold each day, all the while as Braves front-office intrigue continues behind closed doors.
Then-Braves GM John Coppolella (left) and president of baseball operations John Hart chatted with veteran catcher Kurt Suzuki at spring training. Hart is now serving as GM until a permanent replacement is hired after Coppolella was forced to resign amid an MLB investigation. (Curtis Compton/AJC photo)

There’s still no resolution from Major League Baseball regarding its investigation into alleged multi-pronged malfeasance by Braves officials in recent years, which already caused the forced resignation of general manager John Coppolella and international scouting supervisor Gordon Blakeley the day after the season ended.

I’m told the investigation is inching toward its end, but the sordid situation and penalties likely won’t be laid out for public consumption until after the World Series. Baseball prefers not to detract from its showcase postseason series.

At least one or two other team officials were believed to be in the crosshairs of the investigation. It’s unclear if more heads will roll either before or after MLB announces its findings and levies penalties that could include a heavy fine for the Braves, potential loss of players if rules were broken in their acquisition by the team and major restrictions on dealings in the international free-agent market, where the worst of the Braves’ alleged offenses occurred.

Meanwhile, word spread around the Braves’ offices soon after Coppolella’s forced resignation that he has hired a lawyer (or lawyers) and that lawsuits might be forthcoming. That’s surely caused plenty of sweating in certain departments with the Braves, as some fear that Coppolella might bring down others while attempting to show he, or he and Blakeley, didn’t act alone.

Underscoring that concern was a weekend report by the Macon Telegraph’s Bill Shanks, who wrote that he was told Coppolella was offered severance pay by the Braves. If true, that would seem a highly unusual step taken by a company with an employee forced to resign due to allegations of wrongdoing – even if, as president of baseball operations John Hart said in announcing Coppolella’s resignation, the offenses strictly involved MLB rules and not a criminal matter.

You’re fired, now here’s a nice severance package?

Coppolella hiring legal representation and being offered severance — if that’s indeed true — only stokes the theories being bandied about on the Internet and the airwaves that the Braves want this to go away as quickly as possible and that the now-disgraced GM didn’t go entirely rogue and doesn’t intend to take the fall alone.

As the Braves world turns, indeed.

Remember when we thought decisions on manager Brian Snitker’s option for 2018 and R.A. Dickey’s decision whether to retire or play again might be the only big Braves news before the end of the World Series? Ha. How quaint that now seems.

By the way, Dickey hasn’t announced yet whether he’ll play, but to me it’s seemed since the last week of the season that he was leaning heavily toward retiring, and at this point I’d be surprised if the knuckleballer decides to continue his career. If he did, the Braves would likely pick up his $8 million option for 2018. But again, I don’t think they’re going to have to make that call.

Now, back to other pressing matters: Where once the Braves were once a fixture of playoff baseball deep into October, they’ve now gone 16 years without getting past the first round and four years without making the postseason at all. As if that weren’t enough, they now find themselves three years into a rebuilding project that has been painfully slow to yield results at the big-league level and now has been, at least temporarily, completely overshadowed by the dark, roiling clouds over the franchise.

Scandal is a strong term, but until proven otherwise, it’s precisely that. An ugly scandal. One of the ugliest in recent memory for baseball.

The Braves were long seen as being above this type of situation. No more.

And I had one agent tell me this week that, while at least half the teams in baseball have cheated for years to sign Latin American free agents, that won’t matter if MLB decides to make the Braves an example for the rest of baseball by bringing down the hammer. And because so many other teams – and several agents — have filed complaints about the Braves and specifically Coppolella both before and since the investigation began, it’s probably only increased the likelihood of heavy penalties.

So much attention has been focused on this case, so many details leaked by baseball officials and others, that if MLB doesn’t come down hard now, it knows it’ll look about as toothless and corrupt as the NCAA did last week in wrapping up its years-long investigation of North Carolina by doing nothing.

So, the Braves are prepared to get slapped with penalties. They have been for a while now.

They just wish it would happen so they could move forward. Because the business of baseball doesn’t stop, and as soon as the World Series ends, the wheels of free agency begin to turn, trades begin to be discussed, the General Managers Meetings are set for mid-November and the Winter Meetings four weeks after that.

Meanwhile, the Braves don’t have a permanent GM. Hart has assumed those duties and ostensibly is set to keep them for however long it takes until they hire a replacement. Fortunately for the Braves, he’s been around long enough to know the team’s personnel inside and out, knows which prospects the Braves value most, which ones they have penciled in to help them at the major league level and which ones might be better used to acquire to plug other holes with the big club.

But what if Hart, too, is or becomes embroiled in this controversy? What if Coppolella’s legal representation was obtained for a lot more reason than to make sure he retains his short-term health-care benefits and 401(k)?

Stay tuned.

One thing that’s become apparent as this thing has dragged on is that there were probably more reasons for Dayton Moore – the dream GM candidate in the view of many Braves followers – not to jump ship on the Royals and take the Braves job than there were for him to do so. And that’s beyond the obvious one: As long as Hart is president of baseball operations, Moore would be making a less-than-lateral move coming to the Braves, since he is, in effect, both GM and president of baseball ops with the Royals. Moore, a former Braves assistant GM, runs the entire show in Kansas City, as far as baseball ops is concerned.

But here are other reasons some overlooked in the early predictions or no-brainer declarations regarding Moore coming to Atlanta, where he began his career as a scout. First, he’s from Wichita and went to college in Kansas; he has professional roots in the Braves organization, but life roots in the Midwest.

Secondly, he went through some rough years in Kansas City where he was sharply criticized for orchestrating a rebuilding plan that some didn’t believe was yielding results fast enough, then took more heat when he started trading off top prospects once he decided the Royals were ready to contend. He’s long since silenced most of those critics after winning consecutive AL pennants and the 2015 World Series. His plan worked. Before 2014, the Royals hadn’t been to the playoffs since winning the World Series under general manager John Schuerholz, who would, of course, go on to become Braves GM and serve as Moore’s boss for years.

Here’s the thing some have overlooked: Even if Hart weren’t in the picture, if Moore were to leave the Royals now, many would portray it as him leaving the organization with the cupboard bare and leaving it to the next GM there to rebuild things. And at the same time, if Moore came to the Braves and had success in the next few years with players acquired by Coppolella and Hart, he’d be seen by many as riding their coattails or winning on the work they did to put things in place.

By the same token, if he came in and began trading away young Braves talent, Moore would be in a must-win situation at that point, or else he’d be ripped for wrecking what is now considered the best or second-best farm system in baseball.

So, while Moore was the sexy choice of many to come in on a white horse and clean up this mess, there were plenty of obstacles. And reasons to believe that other candidates were more likely including Nationals assistant GM Doug Harris, a respected talent evaluator with a long relationship with Hart; Nationals special assistant Dan Jennings, a former Marlins GM and manager, and Blue Jays vice president of baseball operations Ben Cherington, a former Red Sox GM. Others could emerge including potential in-house candidate Billy Ryan, Braves director of baseball operations until being reassigned late in the season by Coppolella.

There’s no timetable for hiring a GM. In the interim, Hart led four days of organizational meetings last week at the Braves’ minor league headquarters in Lake Buena Vista, Fla. It wasn’t a typical organizational meetings in that all the coaches weren’t there, as they have been the past couple of years; it’s tough to invite the coaches when you haven’t yet announced which ones will be returning to the 2018 staff.

Also, at least a couple of relatively high-ranking team officials weren’t there, since Coppolella had put together the list of invitees a while back and the Braves didn’t scramble to update that list and invite a couple of the passed-over officials on short notice after Coppolella’s resignation.

But most of the hierarchy were in attendance including Hart, top scouting and player-development officials – including late-season Coppolella hires Adams Fisher and Perry Minasian – vice-chairman Schuerholz and chairman Terry McGuirk.

McGuirk is the man who ultimately has final say on hiring and firing decisions and serves as the liason to the team’s Colorado-based Liberty Media ownership group,which, by the way, is keeping close tabs on this investigation and has had its lawyers in attendance at various meetings with MLB officials.

Oh, to be a fly on the wall of those organizational meetings last week in Florida. Even a fly might’ve needed a drink by the end of those days, given the current state of front-office flux.