Jul 13, 2021; Denver, Colorado, USA; Ken Rosenthal interviews American League shortstop Xander Bogaerts of the Boston Red Sox (2) before the 2021 MLB All Star Game at Coors Field. Mandatory Credit: Isaiah J. Downing-USA TODAY Sports Credit: Isaiah J. Downing-USA TODAY Sports

All things considered, the legal situation involving Wander Franco has not received the type of mainstream coverage that one might have expected it would. Here is one of baseball’s best young players being accused of sex crimes involving a minor. It’s a story that would shock anybody.

On Thursday, The Athletic’s Ken Rosenthal wrote about the situation, in which the 22-year-old Franco has been accused of having a relationship with a 14-year-old girl in the Dominican Republic and paying her mother thousands of dollars for her consent. Only rather than focusing on the allegations or legal case against Franco, the longtime MLB insider used it as an opportunity to write about the risks that teams take when signing young players to huge long-term contracts.

Some excerpts from Rosenthal’s column:

Every team that invests long-term in a player in his early 20s takes a mammoth risk. So it was in November 2021 when the Rays signed Wander Franco at age 20 to an 11-year, $182 million extension. Perhaps the team should have proceeded with greater caution, knowing few people in Franco’s age range are fully formed adults. But virtually every club in the Rays’ position, assuming it had no inkling of the issues that would arise with Franco, would have done the same thing.

It’s doubtful the Rays had any idea Franco might one day be in this position, accused of victimizing a 14-year-old girl, facing the possibility of jail time. Never mind that the team might recoup the remaining $174 million on his deal if he is convicted in his native Dominican Republic, permanently banned from the United States and unable to fulfill the obligations of his contract. Club officials never would have committed to Franco long-term if they viewed such a scenario as even remotely possible.

But the risk that Franco would not turn out to be the player or person the Rays thought he was, that was part of the equation.

Franco was not the first young player to experience such issues, which were relatively minor compared to what was to come. Nor was he the first in recent years to take a step backward after signing a big contract. Consider the Padres’ Fernando Tatis Jr., who signed a 14-year, $340 million contract in February 2021, just after turning 22.

While Rosenthal referred to the accusations against Franco as “reprehensible” and the “extreme” example of what can go wrong with a young player, many were surprised to see him discuss the allegations from such a baseball-focused perspective. Sure, there is inherent risk in any sports team signing a young player to a long term deal, for a multitude of reasons. But to even mention the allegations against Franco in the same context as Fernando Tatis Jr. riding a motorcycle or testing positive for a performance-enhancing drug seems unfair at best and gross at worst.

Unsurprisingly, many on social media were quick to take issue with Rosenthal’s column.

While the risk that MLB teams take in signing young players to long-term contracts — especially in small markets — is certainly worthy of exploration, it’s understandable why many consider Rosenthal using the Franco situation as a jumping off point to do so to be in poor taste. Frankly, it’s surprising this column made it past the editors at The Athletic without at least removing the comparison to Tatis, let alone scrapping it altogether.

[The Athletic]

About Ben Axelrod

Ben Axelrod is a veteran of the sports media landscape, having most recently worked for NBC's Cleveland affiliate, WKYC. Prior to his time in Cleveland, he covered Ohio State football and the Big Ten for outlets including Cox Media Group, Bleacher Report, Scout and Rivals.