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Wander Franco placed on administrative leave by Major League Baseball

The Rays shortstop had been on the restricted list, in a mutual agreement with the team. The switch, which is not considered a disciplinary measure, puts him under league control.
 
Shortstop Wander Franco hasn't played a game for the Rays since Aug. 12.
Shortstop Wander Franco hasn't played a game for the Rays since Aug. 12. [ IVY CEBALLO | Times ]
Published Aug. 22, 2023|Updated Aug. 25, 2023

ST. PETERSBURG — Wander Franco’s future with the Rays remains uncertain as he was shifted Tuesday to administrative leave indefinitely by Major League Baseball while multiple investigations continue into allegations of inappropriate relationships with one or more minors.

Franco, 22, had been on the restricted list for the past week — by mutual agreement with the Rays — as MLB and authorities in his native Dominican Republic launched investigations spurred by social media posts that surfaced Aug. 13 and quickly went viral.

The switch to the more formal administrative leave — which is not considered a disciplinary measure — puts the All-Star shortstop under league control, as it is part of the MLB/players union’s Joint Domestic Violence, Sexual Assault and Child Abuse Policy, and the move was made in an agreement with the union, with no set date for resolution.

The Rays said in a statement:

“We support Major League Baseball’s decision to place Wander Franco on Administrative Leave.

“The Tampa Bay Rays are dedicated to upholding high standards of integrity both on and off the field. We appreciate the understanding and patience of our fans and supporters as this process unfolds.

“We will have no further statements on this matter until MLB completes its process.”

Per the announcement, Franco will remain on administrative leave “until further notice as MLB continues its ongoing investigation.” That is a slight change from previous cases where MLB had to go back to the union after seven or 14 days and get approval to extend the stay, and it could be an indication there is not expected to be a quick resolution to the investigation.

While on leave, Franco, who last played Aug. 12, will continue to receive his $2 million salary and service time, as he did while on the restricted list, though he is removed from the 40-man roster. He also will continue to remain idled and away from the team, though he could request permission from the team (and MLB) to use the spring training facility in Port Charlotte to work out privately.

It's possible Wander Franco might be able to continue working out by using the team's facilities in Port Charlotte.
It's possible Wander Franco might be able to continue working out by using the team's facilities in Port Charlotte. [ IVY CEBALLO | Times ]

The players union and Jay Reisinger, a prominent attorney hired by Franco, declined comment.

Administrative leave is often used when accusations are made public before the league concludes its investigation. Another factor for using administrative leave can be the potential for the issue to “cause significant disruption” to the player’s team. A player can challenge placement on administrative leave by going before an arbitration panel, so MLB presumably would be confident it had sufficient cause.

Administrative leave is not necessarily a precursor to league discipline, though often leads to it in these cases. Nor does an absence of criminal charges preclude the league from imposing a suspension or other disciplinary action.

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Talks about the shift from the restricted list to administrative leave, which involve representatives from MLB, the union and Franco, started Monday and carried into Tuesday morning, when an announcement was made shortly after 10 a.m.

It read: “Per an agreement between MLB and the MLBPA, Wander Franco has been placed on Administrative Leave until further notice as MLB continues its ongoing investigation. The administrative leave, effective immediately, is not disciplinary under the Joint Domestic Violence, Sexual Assault and Child Abuse Policy. We will comment further at the appropriate time.”

There have been no public acknowledgements of timetables to complete either investigation, so the potential for Franco to return this season if exonerated is unclear. MLB does not necessarily have to wait for completion of the Dominican investigation to take action.

As the Rays returned home for series with the Rockies (starting Tuesday) and the Yankees, Franco still had a locker in the clubhouse, with his gloves on the top shelf, dozens of pairs of shoes in an adjacent rack, and several unopened boxes in front of it.

But his presence around Tropicana Field was notably diminished.

A large banner on the rotunda entrance was replaced with one of Yandy Diaz; an elevator wrap now features Pete Fairbanks instead; and a sign for the Dex Imaging Home Plate Club, which once included Franco, changed. Also, a sign the team placed on Ferg’s sports bar across the street from the Trop was removed.

All of this after the team dropped highlights of his play from TV commercials that are shown during games.

The team store also had removed all Franco merchandise on Tuesday.

A banner of Rays shortstop Wander Franco, right, that had been displayed on the facade outside Gate 1 of Tropicana Field on Friday had been replaced by one of first baseman Yandy Diaz, left, by Tuesday.
A banner of Rays shortstop Wander Franco, right, that had been displayed on the facade outside Gate 1 of Tropicana Field on Friday had been replaced by one of first baseman Yandy Diaz, left, by Tuesday. [ CHLOE TROFFATER/DOUGLAS R. CLIFFORD | Times ]

Catcher Christian Bethancourt said the players, who went 4-2 on the recent West Coast road trip without Franco, are not being distracted by the situation.

“Actually, we’re not talking about it,” he said. “Nobody is. We’re just going with it. We’ve got to show up every day, we’ve got to play the game, we’ve got to win the ball games. That’s what we’ve been doing, and we hopefully we can keep doing.”

Manager Kevin Cash also praised their focus amid the Franco developments.

“The guys have been great,” Cash said before Tuesday’s game. “Coming out of the first game in San Francisco, where there was enough talk, I really applaud this group for the way they’ve gone about their business, the way they focused. We won two big series on the West Coast. That’s not an easy thing to do, with the doubleheader that kind of got rushed upon us (due to the arrival of Tropical Storm Hilary).

“So (I’m) just very encouraged the way they’ve continued to go about it and would expect no different.”

Bethancourt said that is their style, to overcome issues and injuries.

“It shows you how much we want it regardless of all the adversity that we’re going through,” he said. “We we can still go out there and perform well and win ballgames and keep us in a playoff spot position.”

The Dominican investigation is being handled by the National Agency for Boys, Girls, Adolescents and Family and Gender Violence Unit. A prosecutor there told the Associated Press that they “might be able” to provide some details of the situation this week “without hurting the investigation” but there was nothing as of Tuesday.

That Franco hired Reisinger, who has represented several big-leaguers who recently faced domestic violence-related allegations, as well as additional representation in the Dominican could be seen as a sign of a lengthy timetable for resolution.

Franco has not commented since the issue surfaced. In an Instagram Live post from the clubhouse before the Aug. 13 game, and before team officials said they were aware of the social media posts, 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.

Franco had been having a strong season, hitting .281 with 17 homers, 58 RBIs and an .819 OPS. His 5.5 WAR rating, per baseball-reference.com, is fifth-best among all position players in the majors, and his 2.2 defensive WAR is tops.

Rookie Osleivis Basabe, who has been filling in for Franco with Taylor Walls sidelined with an oblique strain, has done well, including a grand slam Tuesday for his first big-league homer in the 12-4 win.

The Rays in November 2021 signed Franco to a franchise-record contract that guarantees him $182 million over 11 years and could be worth up to $223 million over 12.

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