Wander Franco, the 22-year-old All-Star shortstop for the Tampa Bay Rays, was placed on administrative leave Tuesday as MLB and law enforcement in his native Dominican Republic investigate allegations of relationships with underage girls.
Franco had missed the past week of games after the Rays placed him on the restricted list on Aug. 14. He is being investigated by Dominican police as well as MLB’s department of investigations.
What does administrative leave mean? When could Franco return? And what do we know — and not know — about the investigations? We’re answering questions about Franco’s case so far.
What does administrative leave mean?
The designation of administrative leave is a significant but expected step by the league. Administrative leave removes a player from a team’s roster during an ongoing investigation into a potential violation of the sport’s domestic violence policy and can be extended indefinitely with the approval of the MLB Players Association.
Though MLB has the unilateral ability to place a player on administrative leave, a player can challenge it, and within 24 hours, a neutral arbitrator would determine whether the league has presented “credible information” regarding the allegations or whether the player rejoining his team would cause “significant disruption.”
That was not the case with Franco, though. MLB and the MLBPA agreed to place Franco on leave “until further notice” — which differs from the treatment of Trevor Bauer’s case, in which the renewal of administrative leave became a Friday-evening recurrence. Franco will, for the time being at least, allow the investigative process to play out while he stays off the field.
What do we know about Franco’s contact with the girls?
At least two girls have raised concerns — one publicly, one with law enforcement.
One of the girls, whose name and age have not been independently confirmed, alleged she was in a relationship with Franco and posted pictures with him on social media. Her Instagram account has since been deleted. Still, the allegations were enough for MLB to mobilize its department of investigations to look into the claims.
About a month earlier, a different girl contacted police to discuss Franco, according to Diario Libre, a Dominican newspaper. Prosecutors in Peravia, the Dominican province where Franco grew up, acknowledged that an investigation into him is open and being run by a unit that focuses on minors and gender violence. The lead prosecutor, Olga Dina Llaverias, is well-known in the country as a specialist in child abuse cases.
What is the status of the investigations?
The application of administrative leave implies that MLB believes it has enough evidence to withstand a potential challenge by Franco. League investigators have attempted to gather information in the Dominican Republic, where the government’s investigation remains open. Another prosecutor, Angel Dario Tejeda Fabal, told the Associated Press that the case “is a very delicate topic because there is a minor involved” and suggested that this week they “might be able to give some of the necessary information without hurting the investigation.”
How do the laws in the Dominican Republic compare to the United States, and what could that mean for potential criminal action?
The age of consent for sexual activity in the Dominican Republic is 18 years old. Unlike in the U.S., where age of consent varies by state and is further complicated by Romeo and Juliet laws that allow a close in age exception, the Dominican Republic’s law is firm. Any sexual contact by a person 18 or older with a person under 18 is illegal and can be prosecuted.
At the same time, in the Dominican Republic, criminal matters often are resolved more akin to civil cases, in which the person charged with the crime provides payment to the victim’s family, who then tells law enforcement they are satisfied with the outcome and would prefer not to further pursue criminal charges.
What MLB policies could be part of a potential punishment if the allegations are proven true?
The relevant joint policy defines three areas of violations: domestic violence, sexual assault and child abuse. The latter two, in particular, are pertinent to any potential Franco discipline.
Sexual assault, according to the policy, is committed through a nonconsensual sexual contact. The definition of sexual assault concludes with a pertinent phrase: “legally incapable of consent.” If Franco is found to have had sexual contact with someone under 18 — who, definitionally, cannot give consent — he would likely be subject to a violation of the policy.
Child abuse, which was narrowly defined in the previous version of the policy, was updated in the new collective bargaining agreement a year ago. In addition to the past definition, which includes “emotional harm, sexual abuse or exploitation of a child who is under the age of 18,” the newer one expands to “production, distribution, receipt, or possession of ‘child pornography’ … including any photograph, film, video, picture … where the production of such visual depiction involves the use of a minor engaging in sexually explicit conduct.”
To pursue a suspension in either area, MLB would need further evidence than what has been covered publicly.
What is the precedent for violations of the policy?
Since the adoption of the joint policy in August 2015, MLB has suspended 16 players. Punishments have ranged from 15 games to 324 games. That record suspension of 324 games, handed down to former Dodgers pitcher Trevor Bauer, was reduced on appeal to 194 games.
It’s far too early to know whether Franco’s case will mirror Bauer’s. But for a sense of the timeline and how long these sorts of cases can take, Bauer’s is instructive. He was placed on administrative leave in early July 2021. He remained on it through April 2022, when the league levied its suspension. Bauer missed the entire season, and in December, the arbitrator reduced the suspension by 130 games. Eventually, the Dodgers released Bauer, and he went unsigned in MLB, winding up with the Yokohama DeNA BayStars in Japan.
Nearly every other case punished by MLB’s policy falls under the domestic violence classification. MLB did not punish the closest analog to the allegations against Franco, former Pittsburgh closer Felipe Vazquez, because he was sentenced to two to four years in state prison for sexually assaulting a 13-year-old girl he met on social media.