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John Romano: As a resolution grows nearer, the Wander Franco case could get messier

John Romano, Tampa Bay Times on

Published in Baseball

ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. — For the longest time, we have dealt in suppositions and hypotheticals when it comes to Wander Franco.

We know just enough about the accusations of an underage relationship to be repulsed but, realistically, have heard very little from investigators and prosecutors in the Dominican Republic. We can guess, we can assume, but we cannot deliberate with much confidence.

The deadline to press charges was last week, but a judge has the discretion to give prosecutors and victims an extra 10 days to make their case, so additional clarity, presumably, is not far away.

And that means the hypothetical questions we’ve been debating will gradually segue into moral questions.

Innocence or guilt will be for the courts to decide.

But the rest of the world will weigh in on right or wrong. Acceptable or unacceptable. A path back or a map to nowhere.

There have been whispers in recent weeks that Franco expects to be cleared and return to the Rays clubhouse before the end of the season. Maybe he has gotten positive reports from his legal team, or maybe he’s just delusional. Either way, I can’t imagine a potential return would be quite so smooth.

First of all, there is the question of Major League Baseball’s investigation. As demonstrated in the Trevor Bauer case, formal charges are not necessary if the commissioner’s office determines his behavior warrants a suspension. Franco could argue he already has missed 130-plus games while awaiting the legal process to play out, but it’s unclear whether MLB would take that into consideration.

And beyond the possibility of a formal punishment, there is the potential wrath of fans.

If, for whatever reason, he avoids charges, there will still be questions about the social media posts that seemed to indicate Franco had some type of relationship with a 14-year-old girl while he was in his early 20s. That will not be easily forgotten by some Rays fans, and it certainly won’t go unnoticed in Fenway Park and Yankee Stadium and other MLB sites.

As ugly as it sounds, the simplest solution is a conviction and jail term.

That might be the only way the Rays can wiggle out of the $172 million they still owe him. They would lose perhaps the most talented player ever signed in Tampa Bay — only Evan Longoria and Josh Hamilton are close — but they would avoid the crushing financial blow.

But are you comfortable hoping for someone’s downfall? Hoping that a deplorable crime was committed? Hoping that a teenage girl’s mother was involved in setting Franco up with her daughter in exchange for money?

 

And yet, anything short of a conviction will inevitably lead to other complications.

What if prosecutors decide that lesser charges are warranted? That would put the Rays in a bind if Franco showed up on their doorstep after the possibility of some type of inappropriate behavior with a young girl. Could a team that has been fearless when it comes to supporting social issues such as gun control and LGBTQ rights take back a player with such a questionable episode in his past? Could they afford not to with the money they owe him?

What if prosecutors reluctantly drop the case but make it clear they still believe a crime was committed? Would fans and teammates be comfortable having Franco in a Rays uniform in that scenario?

The problem is this is not just a baseball question. It’s not just a legal distinction or a moral debate or a financial conundrum.

It’s all of those things, and there’s a possibility there will be no clear answers.

The Bauer situation included disturbing accusations — with some medical and visual evidence to back it up — that tainted the public’s perception of the former Cy Young Award winner even if prosecutors declined to press charges. Bauer also had some questionable interactions in his past that made it easier for MLB teams to decide his work on the mound was not worth the backlash that would follow.

Franco is younger, has a higher ceiling and is due quadruple the amount of money the Dodgers owed Bauer. The potential for Franco’s return would seem greater, but only if he escapes legal entanglements.

So, what do you hope for?

Exoneration? A lack of evidence? A payoff? A conviction?

How about this?

Let’s all pray for justice, then deal with everything else later.


©2024 Tampa Bay Times. Visit tampabay.com. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

 

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