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MLB places Franco on administrative leave amid investigation

Douglas P. DeFelice / Getty Images Sport / Getty

Major League Baseball placed Tampa Bay Rays shortstop Wander Franco on administrative leave amid an investigation into his alleged inappropriate relationships with minors, the league announced Tuesday.

Franco, who's being investigated for a possible violation of the MLB-MLB players' association joint domestic violence, sexual assault, and child abuse policy, will remain on administrative leave "until further notice," the league's release noted. The move isn't a disciplinary measure. He'll continue to be paid and accrue service time while on administrative leave.

The issue of Franco's postseason eligibility hasn't yet been determined, sources told Evan Drellich of The Athletic.

"We support Major League Baseball's decision to place Wander Franco on administrative 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."

The team placed the 22-year-old on the restricted list Aug. 14, one day after social media posts surfaced alleging he had a relationship with an unidentified minor.

Two individuals raised concerns about Franco, according to ESPN's Jeff Passan. The first, who appeared in images with Franco that were shared on social media, has since deleted her Instagram account. Her age hasn't been verified. It was this allegation that prompted MLB to open its internal investigation.

Last month, a different individual spoke to police in the Dominican Republic about Franco, per Passan, citing a report from Dominican newspaper Diario Libre. An investigation has since been opened against him in Peravia, Franco's home province, by a police unit specializing in minors and gender violence, Peravia prosecutor Angel Dario Tejeda Fabal confirmed to The Associated Press.

Franco denied the allegations against him in an Instagram Live shortly after the posts became public. He also reportedly told teammates that he's innocent. Franco has yet to be charged with any crimes.

"They say that I'm in public with a little girl, that I'm running around with a minor. People don't know what to do with their time," Franco said in Spanish on the Instagram video, as translated by Marc Topkin of the Tampa Bay Times. "They don't know what they're talking about. That's why I prefer to be on my side and not get involved with anybody ... because people gossip and talk smack."

MLB has the authority to place a player on administrative leave for up to seven days. Longer stints require consent from the MLBPA, which the league confirmed it received in this case, according to Bill Shaikin of the Los Angeles Times.

Unlike in past cases of administrative leave that had to be formally renewed by the league and union every week, Franco's leave has no fixed end date, multiple people briefed on the arrangement told Drellich. His status will instead be based on how the investigation itself unfolds and what's discovered. The status of the criminal investigation will be a factor, sources told Drellich.

The joint domestic violence, sexual assault, and child abuse policy allows for MLB to suspend players who are found to have violated the policy based on evidence the league gathers through its internal investigations. MLB can still issue suspensions for violating the policy even without criminal charges being laid.

Sixteen players have been suspended under the policy since it was first instituted in 2015. The most recent player to be suspended under the policy was New York Yankees pitcher Jimmy Cordero, who was handed an 85-game ban last month. Trevor Bauer was given the longest punishment of 324 games, later reduced to 194 on appeal, last year.

The Rays signed Franco, now in his third big-league season, to an 11-year, $182-million contract following his rookie campaign. Earlier this week, the team quietly dropped Franco highlights from its television commercials, according to Topkin. Banners with his likeness around Tropicana Field were being removed Tuesday.

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