The Indians announced today that center fielder Abraham Almonte has received an 80-game suspension from Major League Baseball after testing positive for a banned substance (Boldenone, per a statement from MLB).
While he’s far from a household name, Almonte quietly enjoyed a strong 51-game run with the Indians this past season after being acquired from the Padres in exchange for left-hander Marc Rzepczynski. The switch-hitter batted .264/.321/.455 across 196 plate appearances with Cleveland, adding five homers, six steals and quality defensive contributions. He had been projected to get the bulk of the club’s playing time in center field.
For Cleveland, the loss of Almonte for half of the regular season further thins out what was already a questionable outfield picture. The Indians did reportedly bring veteran outfielder Will Venable into camp on a minor league deal today, but the team’s outfield depth chart is still perilously thin. Michael Brantley figures to begin the season on the disabled list, leaving the Indians with Rajai Davis, Collin Cowgill and Lonnie Chisenhall as its primary options on the 40-man roster (plus Venable and fellow non-roster invitees Shane Robinson, Michael Choice and Robbie Grossman).
The Indians have recently been tied to Austin Jackson but were said recently to be done spending on Major League free agents with their payroll nearly maxed out. Almonte’s suspension won’t provide Cleveland with any sort of financial relief, as he is not yet arbitration-eligible, but one has to wonder whether his absence will motivate the team to take some action on the free agent market. Jackson is the top name available, though other outfield options that have yet to sign include David Murphy, David DeJesus, Marlon Byrd, Alex Rios and former Indians cornerstone Grady Sizemore.