SAN FRANCISCO — The Rays usually are glad to see Wander Franco grab headlines and create a buzz on social media.
But not this time.
TMZ, People magazine and US Weekly are among the websites touting tales about him.
And Franco has for days been trending on X, the platform formerly known as Twitter.
The story began unfolding Sunday with social posts alleging Franco, 22, had an inappropriate relationship with a minor. On Monday it grew to include investigations by both Major League Baseball and authorities in his native Dominican Republic (including a report of a complaint filed about him to Dominican authorities) and the decision to sideline him for at least a week with placement on baseball’s restricted list.
Amid all the speculation, questions are being raised and discussed everywhere from the field to fan forums.
From the most extreme end, and working back:
Could Franco face jail time? Will he ever play in the majors again? For the Rays? This season? On Aug. 22 at the Trop, the first game after the agreed-on term of restricted list stay?
What happens if the allegations are found to be false? How much damage to Franco’s reputation and career will have been done? The toll on his family? Will he ever not hear about it from fans in opposing stadiums?
Against that cacophonous soundtrack, the Rays have games to play and to win, trying to keep a season that started with record-chasing dominance from ending in historical disappointment.
The schedule is relentless and waits for no one, not even the shortstop with the $182 million guaranteed contract or his team that for three months was the majors’ best.
Top Rays officials are confident for now that the rest of the team, familiar with roster change being a constant, won’t let the Franco issue derail or distract them.
“Our 26-man active roster right now is not the one we started the season with, and that’s how it goes,” baseball operations president Erik Neander said. “I think over time, players learn to control the things they can control and keep their attention where it needs to be.
“And this is a group that has demonstrated resiliency. They’ve demonstrated a next man up mentality and have confidence that the 26 that are active are going to lock it in, be competitive and do their very best to try to chase this division down.
“So they’re professionals. It is a really good group, and confident they’re going to go out there and show that.”
While the context of the absences is obviously totally different, playing without Franco, their top position player isn’t dissimilar to playing without a top starter — or three — due to injuries.
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It’s baseball. Things — good and bad, splendid and sordid — happen. Players deal with it.
“I’m confident in that,” manager Kevin Cash said. “It’s a good group — a good balance of young players that bring a lot of energy; we’ve got some veterans — that have really done a nice job throughout the course of the season, withstanding a long season and some of the stuff that goes into (it) ... We’ve been playing pretty good baseball. Let’s see if we can continue that.”
Doing so without Franco’s contributions on the field would seem somewhat challenging, as he is hitting .281 with 17 homers, 58 RBIs, 30 steals and an .819 OPS while playing dazzling defense at shortstop. His 5.5 WAR rating, per baseball-reference.com, is fifth best among all players, and his 2.2 defensive WAR is tops.
The Rays did show well in Monday’s 10-2 win over the Giants, rapping a season-high 18 hits. Rookie Osleivis Basabe, getting the chance to fill in for Franco initially, got the first of several key hits, a two-run single in the fourth.
As MLB investigators work to establish facts, officials will work to determine if action is warranted under the league-players union joint policy on domestic violence, sexual assault and child abuse, with Monday’s end of the restricted list stay potentially a marker for an update.
Had the Rays and Franco not “mutually agreed” for Franco to go on the restricted list, with pay, it’s possible he could have continued playing during the MLB investigation, but his presence also could have created more of a distraction.
In issuing a statement Monday saying they “support any steps taken by the league to better understand the situation,” the Rays also said that “out of respect for all parties involved” they will “have no further comments at this time.” Players were made aware of that position prior to Monday’s game, leaving them to answer questions in a general sense.
“I think it’s the ‘next man up’ no matter the situation, whether it be somebody were to get injured or something happens like this,” outfielder Josh Lowe said.
“We have a pretty deep system. We have a lot of trust in the next guy who get an opportunity. So I think we’re going to go out there and take care of business and do what we do. ...
“We don’t have to do too much as a team. We don’t have to try and be somebody different. We have to go out there and, like I’ve said all year, kind of be ourselves take care of our business and good things are going to happen.”
Cash believes the players can do so.
“I feel like we’ve got a pretty transparent clubhouse amongst our group and would trust that they will handle themselves appropriately knowing that there’s a lot going on good for us right now,” he said. “We want to keep it that way.”
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