Wander Franco case could use more facts and less online speculation

ST. PETERSBURG — One day, we may be forced to choose. Today is not that day.

One day, we may know enough about the Wander Franco situation to decide whether he is a creep, an innocent victim or something in between. Today is not that day.

Yes, Franco was placed on Major League Baseball’s administrative leave on Tuesday while authorities in the Dominican Republic and league officials continue digging for the truth after allegations that the Rays shortstop had inappropriate relationships with minors, but the procedural move tells us very little.

Administrative leave is sort of baseball’s purgatory where players continue to get paid while awaiting their fate out of public view. It is not meant to suggest a player’s guilt has been predetermined, although it is often viewed that way.

In the dearth of details, we tend to extrapolate what little we know. And that’s why you’ll see claims on social media that Franco will never play another game of Major League Baseball.

That may eventually be true, but there is not nearly enough evidence to suggest that decision is imminent.

What we can surmise from the administrative leave is that MLB officials are taking this seriously, as they should. Whether or not Franco faces charges in the Dominican Republic, he could still face harsh punishment from commissioner Rob Manfred’s office.

Since MLB’s policy on domestic violence, sexual assault and child abuse went into effect in the summer of 2015, at least 16 players have been suspended anywhere from 15 to 194 games. At least two players — Miguel Sano and Yasiel Puig — faced official investigations and were not suspended.

In Puig’s sexual assault case, his attorney acknowledged the player reached settlements totaling $325,000 with two of his accusers, according to the Washington Post. The story suggests non-disclosure agreements may have prevented MLB investigators from gathering enough evidence to warrant a suspension.

Even if Franco faces charges in the Dominican Republic, the details revealed by the investigation could go a long way toward determining MLB’s response.

Consider the cases of Luis Polonia and Felipe Vazquez:

Polonia, a Yankees outfielder, was caught in a hotel room after a game in Milwaukee with a 15-year-old girl in 1989. The girl acknowledged she lied to Polonia about her age, according to the district attorney, and Polonia was only charged with a misdemeanor. He pleaded no contest to having intercourse with a child under the age of 16 and was sentenced to 60 days in jail, fined $1,500 and ordered to pay $10,000 to a sexual assault treatment center.

Hours after he was found guilty of the misdemeanor in Milwaukee, Polonia was in the lineup at Yankee Stadium. He was never suspended by MLB or the Yankees, and went on to play another nine years in the big leagues.

Vazquez, an All-Star reliever with the Pirates, was convicted in 2021 on 15 counts relating to a sexual encounter he had with a 13-year-old girl in a parked car in front of her house in a Pittsburgh suburb. He continued contacting the girl via phone for at least two years after the initial episode. The Pirates put Vazquez on the restricted list, MLB put him on administrative leave, and he was later sentenced to two to four years in prison.

Does any of that have a bearing on the Franco case?

Aside from the cultural changes from 1989 to today, it might suggest that nuance plays a role in MLB’s decision. If Franco’s relationship with a girl began when they were both minors, for instance, it might still result in criminal charges but it also might be a mitigating factor for MLB.

Considering no player under the current domestic policy has ever been given a lifetime ban — including cases of violence— it would seem unlikely that the Players Association would agree to such a harsh punishment for Franco. The fact that Franco and the Players Association agreed to an indefinite stay on the administrative list (which normally requires approval every seven days) might also suggest that he is avoiding a contentious fight with MLB.

The bigger question for Franco might eventually be public relations-related.

If he is convicted in the Dominican, would the Rays or any other team want him on the roster?

Trevor Bauer was never charged after a woman accused him of sexual assault, but he still was suspended for 324 games (later reduced to 194 by an arbitrator) and released by the Dodgers. Any team could have grabbed Bauer for the league minimum in 2023 — the Dodgers were still on the hook for $22.5 million — but no one signed him and he now is pitching in Japan.

Puig was never suspended but his big-league career ended at age 28 after he hit free agency and no team signed him. Former Tampa Jesuit pitcher Sam Dyson also has never found work again in the majors after he was accused of domestic violence and suspended for an entire season. He went 5-3 with a 2.66 ERA in 41 appearances for Tijuana in Mexico in 2022.

Yet the first player suspended under the current domestic violence policy, Aroldis Chapman in 2016, has gone on to make three more All-Star teams and earn more than $100 million since his return.

The point is there is no way to predict Franco’s fate. Not without knowing if he’ll be charged, not without knowing the details of the case, not without knowing if there is any way the Rays can legally avoid the $174 million they still owe him under his 11-year, $182 million deal.

So, for now, we wait.

And, hopefully, avoid wild speculation.

John Romano can be reached at . Follow @romano_tbtimes.

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