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MLB won’t say if Wander Franco is heading back to administrative leave

Commissioner Rob Manfred declined to answer whether the Rays shortstop will return to an indefinite leave during his legal problems in the Dominican Republic.
 
Wander Franco's future in Tampa Bay remains in limbo while he faces accusations of an inappropriate relationship with a minor in the Dominican Republic. MLB commissioner Rob Manfred declined to say whether Franco would face another indefinite stay under baseball's administrative leave policy.
Wander Franco's future in Tampa Bay remains in limbo while he faces accusations of an inappropriate relationship with a minor in the Dominican Republic. MLB commissioner Rob Manfred declined to say whether Franco would face another indefinite stay under baseball's administrative leave policy. [ IVY CEBALLO | Times ]
Published Feb. 8

LAKE BUENA VISTA — The fate of Wander Franco is not just in doubt in a Dominican Republic courtroom, but also in Major League Baseball’s highest office.

When commissioner Rob Manfred was asked Thursday afternoon if the Rays shortstop was likely headed back to another indefinite stay on baseball’s administrative leave list this season, he declined to speculate.

“I have to be honest with you, I’m just not comfortable commenting on that situation right now,” said Manfred, at the conclusion of an owners meeting. “It’s obviously a complicated situation. I would just rather leave it where it is right now.”

Franco is being investigated for an alleged relationship with a then-14 year old girl in the Dominican in 2022-23.

After the initial accusation appeared on social media in August, Franco was immediately placed on baseball’s restricted list. A week later, MLB announced the shortstop would be moved to administrative leave for an indefinite period under the game’s Joint Domestic Violence, Sexual Assault and Child Abuse Policy.

While administrative leave is supposed to be a week-long solution, the Players Association agreed to the indefinite stay in 2023. Players on administrative leave continue to be paid and accrue service time.

Offseason rules required the Rays to return Franco to the 40-man roster after the World Series ended in November. He continues to take up a roster spot heading into spring training, but a return to an indefinite stay on administrative leave would seem likely in the coming weeks unless there is pushback from the union or Franco.

As a condition of Franco’s release from custody last month, he must make monthly visits to a Dominican courthouse until his case is resolved.

Franco is due to make $2 million in 2024 as part of an 11-year, $182 million deal he signed in November of 2021. The deal has nine years and $174 million remaining.

In other news, Manfred said he is happy with the framework of a stadium proposal in St. Petersburg but suggested elected officials are not moving quickly enough to approve the deal.

“I had a nice update from (owner) Stu (Sternberg) on the St. Pete-Tampa Bay situation,” Manfred said. “He’s positive about where the substance is but, you know, it kind of echoes the questions about Oakland. We’re at the point now where it needs to go. You know, it takes a long time to get in the ground and get a stadium built. The sooner the better from my perspective.”

The Oakland Athletics are planning to move to Las Vegas but have not yet broken ground and have not announced where they would play in 2025 when their lease at the Coliseum expires and the new stadium is still being built in Nevada. There has been speculation the A’s could play in minor-league stadiums in Las Vegas or Sacramento, or arrange a deal with Oakland to remain at the Coliseum beyond their lease.

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“In terms of an interim home, I’m comfortable with where they are in the process,” Manfred said. “They have options, and I think they’re doing a good job of exploring them and making sure we find the best possible opportunity.”

John Romano can be reached at jromano@tampabay.com and @romano_tbtimes.

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