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Wander Franco on restricted list at least a week as MLB investigates

Franco will miss the current West Coast road trip. Authorities in his native Dominican Republic also reportedly are investigating.
 
Rays All-Star shortstop Wander Franco will not make this West Coast road trip with the team while under an official MLB investigation.
Rays All-Star shortstop Wander Franco will not make this West Coast road trip with the team while under an official MLB investigation. [ IVY CEBALLO | Times ]
Published Aug. 14, 2023|Updated Aug. 15, 2023

SAN FRANCISCO — Rays shortstop Wander Franco has been placed on the restricted list for at least a week as he is now the subject of an official investigation by Major League Baseball.

Authorities in his native Dominican Republic are also investigating, according to the Associated Press.

A series of social media posts on Sunday alleged Franco was involved in an inappropriate relationship with a minor.

He did not play in Sunday’s game and did not travel with the team Sunday night to San Francisco, where it opened a three-game series Monday night with the Giants. The Rays also play at Anaheim on Friday-Sunday.

On Monday, the Rays said in a statement that “(the team) and Wander Franco have mutually agreed that he will go on the restricted list and take leave from the club for the duration of the current road trip.”

That stay could be extended pending the status of the MLB investigation and, according to the findings, potentially lead to a suspension. Under the current agreement, the first game Franco could return is Aug. 22 at home against Colorado.

MLB officials on Sunday were said to be looking into the matter and conducting due diligence. That escalated Monday, per a league official, into the league opening an official investigation.

Of that development, the Rays said: “We support any steps taken by the league to better understand the situation. Out of respect for all parties involved, we have no further comments at this time.”

Per the Associated Press, when asked about Franco’s alleged relationship with a minor, the media office of the Dominican Republic attorney general’s office replied in a statement: “There are investigations regarding that matter.”

Meanwhile, the Diario Libre newspaper reported there was a complaint filed against Franco in July regarding a different minor than in the social media posts.

Franco was at Tropicana Field on Sunday but not seen in the clubhouse after the posts became widely circulated on social media during the game.

In an Instagram Live post from the clubhouse pre-game on Sunday, Franco, speaking in Spanish, seemed to dispute the accusations:

“They say that I’m in public with a little girl, that I’m running around with a minor. People don’t know what to do with their time. They don’t know what they’re talking about. That’s why I prefer to be on my side and not get involved with anybody ... because people gossip and talk smack.”

Someone off camera said “people always looking to get money,” to which Franco responded: “You tell ’em.” A few seconds later centerfielder Jose Siri walked behind Franco dancing, and Franco laughed and said: “That’s the best rhythm,” adding a slang expression meaning, “I’m good, brother.”

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The league has a department of investigations that has purview over a broad number of issues and operates independently of the teams, and with staffers in the Dominican Republic, where Franco is from and where the social media reports appear to have originated. Per El Nuevo Diario, a group arrived Monday in Franco’s hometown of Bani.

Franco, 22, will be paid during his time on the restricted list, but will not count against the 26-man active roster or the 40-man roster. The Rays had already called up prospect Osleivis Basabe to start at shortstop and give Franco a day off Sunday, sending down pitcher Josh Fleming to make room.

Manager Kevin Cash and several players said before Monday’s game that they do not think the Franco situation will be a distraction or a disruption. “I am confident in that,” Cash said. “We’ve been playing pretty good baseball. Let’s see if we can continue that.”

Franco had played extraordinarily well over the last few weeks, hitting .411 (23-for-56) with six homers, 11 RBIs and a 1.280 OPS over 14 games, with hits in 13. Also, seven walks and seven strikeouts. For the season overall, Franco is hitting .281 with 17 homers, 58 RBIs and an .819 OPS. His 5.4 WAR rating, per baseball-reference.com, is fifth best among all position players in the majors, and his 2.2 defensive WAR is tops.

Basabe, a 22-year-old from Venezuela, will get the primary opportunity to fill in for Franco, at least initially, with his bat more prized than his glove. If Franco’s absence is extended, the Rays could consider other options, including a waiver claim or trade for a minor-leaguer. They also could pivot to Vidal Brujan, who hasn’t shown much during previous callups, and they have Taylor Walls improving in his recovery from an oblique strain and potentially returning in a couple weeks.

“We think really highly of Osleivis, think highly of him on both sides of the ball, and he’s going to get a little bit of an opportunity here to play,” baseball operations president Erik Neander said by phone. “We’re not afraid to go to him.”

Cash said if they had to make a move during a game, infielders Isaac Paredes, Curtis Mead and Brandon Lowe would all be options to fill in at shortstop.

Franco was benched by the Rays for two June games for not “being the best teammate” in lacking control of his emotions; Franco said upon returning he would do better. The Rays in November 2021 signed Franco to an 11-year contract that guarantees him $182 million and could be worth up to $223 million over 12.

Times photo director Martha Asencio-Rhine contributed to this report.

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