Indians outfielder Abraham Almonte received an 80-game suspension from Major League Baseball on Friday for a failed drug test that reveled performance-enhancing drugs.
Almonte was one of the front-runners in the competition in the Indians’ outfield, and was being penciled in as the Opening Day starter in center field. He had been limited this spring with back spasms but now will be away from the team for about half the regular season.
“We just found out about this today,” Indians general manager Mike Chernoff said. “[Manager Terry Francona] and I talked with Abe as soon as we found out. Obviously, it’s disappointing. We fully support Major League Baseball’s program. The suspension is what it is, it’s 80 games for a player we had expected to contribute on the Major League team.”
Chernoff added that Almonte accepted full responsibility for the failed test.
“It’s extremely disappointing,” Chernoff said. “We are here to support players and the team through tough times and good times. We’re disappointed. We were hoping Abe would be a larger contributor and for the first 80 games, he can’d to that.”
Along with Rajai Davis and Lonnie Chisenhall, Almonte figured to be on the Opening Day roster with a quality spring. Collin Cowgill, Joey Butler, Zach Walters, Robbie Grossman, Shane Robinson, Michael Choice James Ramsey, Tyler Naquin and Will Venable, who the club signed on Friday to a minor league deal with a non-roster invite to camp, are all competing for spots on the roster, an important competition considering left fielder Michael Brantley is still expected to be out for roughly the first month of the regular season and additional playing time is available.
This news could impact the Indians and the outlook on the outfield on several fronts. It could open the door to a greater extent for Cowgill, who could platoon with Chisenhall in right field and can play all three positions. It could also potentially heat up the Indians’ reported interest in free agent center fielder Austin Jackson. Davis, who was most likely to play left field until Brantley returns, could be pushed to center field earlier than previously expected. And, it could create more of an opening for Naquin, a prospect long touted to play center field.
Almonte last season hit .264 with five home runs, nine doubles, five triples, 20 RBI and six stolen bases in 51 games with the Indians while playing center field following his acquisition and the trade of Michael Bourn to Atlanta.