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Wander Franco misses Rays’ report day as investigation continues

PORT CHARLOTTE — Wander Franco did not report for spring training with the rest of the Rays’ position players on Sunday, the team’s deadline to be in the area and ready for Monday’s first official full-squad workout.

It was not a surprise, considering the All-Star shortstop faces possible criminal charges in his native Dominican Republic stemming from allegations of a sexual relationship with a 14-year-old girl.

Still, six months after the initial allegations, both the Rays and Franco’s lawyers had hoped to have more clarity on his future by now.

The Rays had no comment on Franco’s status other than to acknowledge that he did not report. Major League Baseball and Jay Reisinger, the lawyer representing Franco’s interests in the United States, declined to comment.

MLB’s “mandatory report date” is Feb. 24, leaving a little more time before a decision has to be made concerning Franco’s status for the start of the season.

Franco has not left the Dominican Republic and likely faces an uphill battle with U.S. Customs and Border Protection to regain entry into the United States with the prosecution’s investigation ongoing.

If he cannot report and be available to play by the start of the regular season (when players begin getting paid), MLB likely would have to decide whether to put him back on administrative leave or place him on the restricted list. In the latter case, Franco mostly likely would not be paid the $2 million he is owed this season from his 11-year, $182 million contract.

However, those decisions and Franco’s legal battle cannot be the current focus for the Rays. Manager Kevin Cash and Franco’s teammates were forced to move forward without him after the allegations first surfaced on social media in August and have the same mentality entering spring training.

“We’ve been prepared for it for quite some time,” Cash said. “And we’ve got to really focus our attention on the guys that are here. We’ve got a really good club, and we’re eager to see a lot of players. So, that has helped.”

With backup shortstop Taylor Walls still recovering from offseason hip surgery, the Rays acquired Jose Caballero last month to fill Franco’s spot in the infield. Both Cash and president of baseball operations Erik Neander have said publicly they expect Caballero to be their opening-day shortstop.

The Rays also have prospects Junior Caminero and Osleivis Basabe, who could push their way into the conversation this spring. Caminero is widely viewed among the top five to 10 prospects in baseball, and Basabe is an incredible athlete who stepped in last season in the immediate aftermath of Franco’s leave.

Now, the Rays have to prepare for the possibility of not having Franco back for the long term.

Franco, who will turn 23 on March 1, could lose his MLB career and face two to 10 years in prison if found guilty of abduction and sexual abuse. If a judge decides to revisit money laundering charges, they could carry up to 20 years. Authorities have until July 5 to formally charge Franco.

Franco was 21 at the time of the alleged relationship in 2022-23. Prosecutors opened an investigation in August in Puerto Plata, a province on the northern coast of the Dominican Republic where the girl lives.

Franco was detained on Jan. 1 after missing an original summons to meet with prosecutors and released a week later after paying the equivalent of $34,000. He was released with no travel restrictions but is required to check in with the court once a month through June while the investigation continues.

At the time of the allegations, Franco was placed on the restricted list by mutual consent. As it became clear the investigation was going to take more than a week, he was moved to administrative leave. In a procedural move, he was placed back on the 40-man roster this offseason, since administrative leave is used only during the season.

Franco, who did not play in a game after Aug. 12, could still face suspension from MLB even if he avoids legal penalties in the Dominican Republic. The league always has waited for any legal investigation and/or prosecution to take place before deciding on possible discipline.

Outfielder Jose Siri was the only other position player who was not in Port Charlotte on Sunday, according to the Rays. He had made prior arrangements to arrive on Monday.

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