ST. PETERSBURG — On Aug. 11, Wander Franco had one of his grandest moments as a major-leaguer, homering with one out in the ninth inning for his first walkoff hit, saying afterward, “I will remember it forever.”
He, presumably, did not know then that his promising career was about to be put on hold as the subject of dual investigations regarding alleged relationships with one or more minors.
Franco on Aug. 13 did an Instagram Live segment from the Tropicana Field clubhouse, disputing an allegation that did not surface publicly — and that the Rays said they were not aware of — until later that afternoon. A series of social media posts claimed he had a relationship with a minor in his native Dominican Republic.
Within hours, team officials decided Franco would not go with them to San Francisco for the next series.
By the following afternoon, the Rays announced Franco, by mutual agreement, was placed on the restricted list for the week, and Major League Baseball officially opened an investigation into the matter. Authorities in the Dominican Republic said they also were investigating, and reportedly had received a complaint about Franco from a different girl than had posted on social media.
This past Tuesday, Major League Baseball sidelined Franco indefinitely by placing him on administrative leave, a non-disciplinary but somewhat standard move for players being investigated under the league/players union’s joint policy on domestic violence, sexual assault and child abuse.
With as much urgency as all that transpired in 10 days, Franco’s situation is now pretty much a waiting game.
“We just have to wait and see what’s going on,” Rays starter Tyler Glasnow said
Added manager Kevin Cash: “Just let the process kind of unfold.”
Here is a rundown on what has happened and what is next on several fronts:
There are no known deadlines for either investigation, which seem likely to overlap at some point. MLB doesn’t have to wait to see if there are criminal charges to take action, but procedurally may want to. Plus, MLB doesn’t have subpoena power over victims or witnesses. And there could be a legal question of which group Franco talks to first.
Whether this takes weeks or months could depend on several factors, including how cooperative the victims and witnesses are, and how many complaints about Franco are made to MLB and Dominican authorities. Also a factor — unknown publicly — is the timeframe when these alleged relationships took place, as Franco turned 18 on March 1, 2019.
In the past, MLB put players on administrative leave for seven days at a time, or with a 14-day renewal by the commissioner, and had to get union approval to re-up. This time, they got agreement to do so indefinitely, which could reflect them expecting the investigation to take a while.
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If Franco is found to have done wrong and is disciplined, one of the biggest questions could be whether the Rays can get out of whatever is left on the 11-year, $182 million guaranteed contract he signed in November 2021.
Typically, a player is suspended by MLB without pay for a set amount of games, then returns to the standard pay scale and contract status.
Depending on the egregiousness of the offense, and whether there are criminal charges, judgments and punishment/jail time, a team with a long-term, back-loaded contract obligation may want to seek relief.
Franco’s deal, for example, pays him $2 million this season and next, $8 million in 2025, $15 million in 2026, $22 million in 2027 and $25 million in each of the next four seasons, with a $25 million option/$2 million buyout for 2033.
The players union typically fights any reductions to guaranteed monies.
“MLB teams have a poor track record in trying to terminate guaranteed player contracts,” said Michael McCann, a sports law analyst and director of the Sports and Entertainment Law Institute at the University of New Hampshire.
“We have seen players who experienced significant legal issues where the team tried and failed to terminate the contract. A more likely outcome is that the team and player negotiate a buyout. … The MLBPA has long been skilled at ensuring that guaranteed player contracts are what they are intended to be: guaranteed.”
A buyout could be negotiated, or forced if a grievance is filed and the case goes to arbitration.
There also could be an attempt to void the contract, especially if there is legal punishment.
Though the specific terms of Franco’s contract are unknown, it has to conform with the Universal Player Contract, which says, in Paragraph 7(a), a team can, with some conditions, terminate a contract if a player shall “fail, refuse or neglect to conform his personal conduct to the standards of good citizenship.”
The Rays made a statement by removing pretty much all signs of Franco from Tropicana Field, with banners, elevator wraps, signage, jerseys, T-shirts and other merchandise all gone by Tuesday’s opening of the current homestand.
They refused to say why, what else might change or anything else about their actions, citing a prior news release to “have no further statements on this matter until MLB completes its process.”
The ban is only at the team store; Franco jerseys, shirts, photos and other items were still available Friday through the team’s raysbaseball.com site, which links to the mlb.com shop.
The value of Franco’s baseball cards and memorabilia has also taken a huge hit, the allegations affecting the prices similar to how a company’s troubles can impact stocks.
“People knee jerk react,” said Andy Broome, vice president of CGC Cards. “What we’re seeing on Wander Franco is his cards seem to have dropped 70-plus percent since the announcement.”
Broome said a 2019 Bowman autographed card that peaked at $25,000 sold last week for $1,600, and another three months ago that got $662 is down to $240.
Though Franco was one of their most productive players, the Rays have done OK without him, 7-3 (through Friday) since he went on the restricted list. Rookie Osleivis Basabe has filled in well, and Taylor Walls is expected back from the injured list next weekend.
Plus, between injuries and regular roster shuffling, the Rays get used to playing without familiar faces.
Though the reasons are extremely different, being without their best position player in Franco isn’t that different than going ahead without their top starter, as Shane McClanahan underwent elbow surgery that will sideline him until 2025.
“Because we have had so many up-and-down players, it just kind of seems like one person fills in for another,” Glasnow said. “It’s just like business as usual kind of. It doesn’t really affect — I guess it does, because (Franco) is an amazing player. But I think it’s more about you kind of just put your head down and whatever lineup we roll out there we try to play as well as we can. We always have a good 40-man roster group, and they’re just good players and everyone comes up and plays well.”
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