Tampa Bay Rays shortstop Wander Franco was placed on administrative leave by Major League Baseball on Tuesday amid multiple investigations into alleged relationships he had with underage girls in his native Dominican Republic.
Franco, 22, who missed the past week after the Rays placed him on the restricted list, is being investigated by Dominican police, as well as MLB's department of investigations. While no charges have been filed against Franco, a prosecutor last week said a division specializing in minors and gender violence is directing the police investigation.
"The administrative leave, effective immediately, is not disciplinary under the Joint Domestic Violence, Sexual Assault and Child Abuse Policy. We will comment further at the appropriate time," MLB said in a statement Tuesday.
The designation of administrative leave is a significant but expected step. 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. While a player can challenge administrative leave, MLB and the MLB Players Association agreed to place Franco on it "until further notice," a period expected to last beyond the standard initial seven-day placement.
"We support Major League Baseball's decision to place Wander Franco on Administration Leave," the Rays said in a statement. "The Tampa Bay Rays are dedicated to upholding high standards of integrity both on and off the field. We appreciate the understanding and patience of our fans and supporters as this process unfolds. We will have no further statements on this matter until MLB completes its process."
MLB started its investigation into Franco within hours of social media messages Aug. 13 that alluded to Franco's relationship with a girl under the age of consent, which is 18 in the Dominican Republic. A prosecutor in the province of Peravia, where Franco's hometown of Bani is the capital, told The Associated Press last week that an investigation with "a minor involved" is in its early stages and will be led by Olga Dina Llaverias, a prosecutor who specializes in child abuse cases. Diario Libre, a Dominican newspaper, had reported that a 17-year-old girl filed a complaint with the attorney general against Franco in July.
The social media storm on Aug. 13 prompted the Rays to keep Franco from joining the team in San Francisco, where it was scheduled to play the next day. Tampa Bay and Franco agreed for him to spend the next week on the restricted list, but with a home series starting Tuesday against Colorado, the use of administrative leave rather than an extension of his restricted-list stay was expected.
If Franco were to challenge administrative leave -- during which he will be paid and accrue service time -- the case would go to a neutral arbitrator, who would decide whether there is "credible information" to support the allegations against him or if Franco rejoining the Rays would "cause significant disruption" to the team.
The MLBPA and Franco's attorney, Jay Reisinger, declined comment.
Franco, who is in the second year of an 11-year, $182 million contract, was in the midst of a breakout season, batting .281/.344/.475 with 17 home runs and 30 stolen bases, and he made his first All-Star Game appearance.