Do the Tampa Bay Rays have a Wander Franco problem?

Wander Franco
Wander Franco / Thearon W. Henderson/GettyImages

On the two-year anniversary of Wander Franco’s epic Major League Baseball debut, Rays manager Kevin Cash did the unexpected; benching him for at least two games.

The move likely comes as a shock to many fans, especially considering how great Wander Franco’s play has been this season. What makes this benching even more surprising is Cash’s candid analysis of the situation. Cash gave an in-depth statement to reporter Tricia Whitaker, explaining that while Franco is a “really good kid & good person”, there have been “multiple times that the way he has handled his frustrations have not been the way we ask our players to uphold being the best teammate.”

The decision to air this out was certainly bold. This is not the first time Cash has been blunt about team drama in relation to personnel decisions. In September of last season, Cash admitted that a postgame altercation between stars Randy Arozarena and Yandy Diaz played a part in him omitting them from the lineup.

Yet despite Cash’s history of being public with team disputes, the Franco situation still seems a bit bizarre. Franco has been having a season absolutely worthy of his sky-high prospect pedigree. At the time of the benching’s commencement, Franco graded out as a top five player per both versions of Wins Above Replacement. He also made headlines earlier in the season for his groundout ball flip, a small move that sparked plenty of debate about his maturity.

So should Rays fans worry about this Wander Franco problem? In short, no. When it comes to young star talent, you cannot always expect smooth sailing. Even with two seasons of playing time now under his belt, Franco is still one of the youngest players on a Major League roster. Getting this wake up call early that he needs to handle adversity better will certainly be beneficial in the long run.

Franco’s discipline follows what many might view as one of the worst games of his career. He struck out three times against Tyler Wells, extremely uncharacteristic of a player who usually does not strike out at all. Wells fooled Franco primarily with nasty backdoor cutters, perfectly executed pitches that few hitters have been able to do anything with. Franco was clearly frustrated with himself, allowing these emotions to affect him each subsequent plate appearance. Considering he has all the tools a player could ever want, Franco’s next step will be harnessing the mental aspect of the game, and Cash knows this.

As cliché as it may sound, sometimes tough love is needed. The pressure of being the face of one of the most competitive franchises in the sport surely must be difficult at times to handle for Wander Franco. Unfortunately, the reality is that his actions will be under the microscope moving forward, being such a superstar. Cash and the Rays know this, and they realized they had to take action. 

By publicly announcing the disciplinary actions to the media, the Rays made the message to Franco as strong as possible. By dealing with the problem this early in his career, the Rays are assuring that the only Wander Franco problem will be for opposing teams.