Wander Franco investigation: MLB’s likely next steps

Major League Baseball has opened an investigation into the Tampa Bay Rays’ Wander Franco, a league official said Monday afternoon, following posts that went viral on Sunday alleging Franco, 22, engaged in an inappropriate relationship with a minor.

Franco denied the allegations in a live Instagram video on Sunday. A day later he was placed on the league’s restricted list — a mutual decision with the Rays, per a team announcement — where he will remain for the duration of a six-game road trip that begins Monday in San Francisco.

Notably, MLB has not placed Franco on administrative leave, a sign that the league’s investigation is in its earliest stage. But if he is ultimately put on administrative leave, which is a formal step available in the league’s policy covering abuse allegations, it would be a clear signal that MLB has gathered additional evidence.

For now, Monday’s agreement for Franco to go on the restricted list takes him away from the team. In effect, it also buys the league more time to investigate.

There are myriad potential outcomes for Franco moving forward. They range from soon going on administrative leave to returning to the field sometime this season. What ultimately happens is dependent on what MLB’s investigators discover. And, because of the nature of the allegations, it’s possible public and clubhouse relations could play a role too.

When the social media posts became viral on Sunday, Franco shot his Instagram video inside the Rays clubhouse roughly an hour before the game started, sources briefed on the matter said. The livestream featured teammate Jose Siri in the background, yelling in Spanish that the allegations stemmed from “people after money.”

Sources briefed on the matter said the team was not aware of the video or any of the allegations until they spread around social media. When that happened Sunday, both Franco and the team agreed he shouldn’t go on the team flight to the West Coast that night. Franco also did not play in Sunday’s game, but manager Kevin Cash said that was because of a pre-planned off day.

Franco has expressed his innocence to teammates, sources briefed on the matter said, but acknowledged that being around the Rays would be a distraction.

The Major League Baseball Players Association declined comment. Franco’s agent, Manny Paula, did not respond to multiple requests for comment.

The initial allegations against Franco appear to have originated from Franco’s home country, the Dominican Republic. They could be difficult for the league to learn about quickly or fully, at least in part because they appear at this point to be secondhand.

The league’s investigation has no overall timeline, sources say. The only known relevant date on the calendar for now is Aug. 22: the first game the Rays have at home after the road trip and Franco’s agreed-upon stay on the restricted list.

The sport’s procedure for handling inappropriate and/or illegal sexual conduct is covered by a policy the league and the players’ union collectively bargained, formally called the Joint Domestic Violence, Sexual Assault and Child Abuse Policy.

That policy grants MLB the power to place a player it is investigating on at least seven days of administrative leave, with the potential for extensions. Administrative leave is not considered discipline. Any discipline, such as a suspension, would come later in the process.

The league doesn’t always move for administrative leave, and it is not a required step before a suspension. But it is a move the league often makes when a case becomes as public as this one. And importantly, it comes with a burden of proof.

As part of the due process players have, they can choose to challenge administrative leave in front of an arbitration panel. So the league office typically would not place a player on administrative leave unless it felt it had sufficient basis to defend the move. And even if the league did not think a player would challenge the decision, putting a player on leave without sufficient basis would be bad practice.

Were he on administrative leave, Franco would also technically be on the restricted list. Players sometimes go on the restricted list without pay and service time, but were he on administrative leave, Franco would receive both. He and the Rays agreed he would get both in this instance, too.

MLB can punish players independent of court systems, as it did most recently in the case of pitcher Trevor Bauer.

Although the arrangement for Franco to go to the restricted list is technically between the player and the team, it’s ultimately a sensitive matter of labor relations. That means it would never have been reached without approval from both the commissioner’s office and the union.

Franco, a first-time All-Star, signed an 11-year, $182 million guaranteed deal with Tampa Bay in 2021, which is the largest deal in the organization’s history.

(Top photo of Wander Franco: Jim McIsaac/Getty Images)

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