Indians outfielder Abraham Almonte was suspended for 80 games by Major League Baseball on Friday for a failed drug test that revealed 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’t 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 nonroster invitation 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 hit .264 with five home runs, nine doubles, five triples, 20 RBI and six stolen bases in 51 games with the Indians last season while playing center field following his acquisition and the trade of Michael Bourn to the Atlanta Braves.
Venable was in camp on Friday and passed his physical, making the addition official.
Venable’s possible role with the team, along with the other contenders, was elevated on Friday with Almonte’s suspension. Chernoff said the timing of Venable’s signing had to do with him debating a nonroster deal and not Almonte.
“Now that he’s here, he adds to that depth,” Chernoff said of Venable. “Obviously now that we’re finding out this news, it may open up more opportunities for Will and other guys in camp.”
Venable, a left-handed hitter with some speed, has traditionally been better against right-handed pitching, posting a career .256 batting average and .422 slugging percentage against righties. Against left-handed pitchers, he’s hit .222 with a .329 slugging percentage. He’s also stolen at least 16 bases in five of his six full seasons at the major league level.
Venable has spent most of his career in center field and right field and has graded out better at the latter spot. He was also teammates with Indians General Manager Mike Chernoff while at Princeton.
“I’ve known Will for 12 or 13 years, followed his career, stayed in touch with him periodically during that career,” Chernoff said. “It’s really fun to watch some of the guys that you played with succeed and have the types of career that he, Chris Young, Ross Ohlendorf, guys like that, have had. … He’ll come in and compete just like all the other guys in camp. That doesn’t hold any weight on anything. But it’s certainly good to know someone’s character, what he stands for and the type of guy he is when you bring in someone like that.”
Tickets on sale Monday
Single-game tickets, including for opening day, go on sale to the public at 10 a.m. on Monday. The Indians encourage fans to purchase their opening-day tickets quickly because of anticipated high demands.
There is no special access code needed for opening-day tickets, and transactions are limited to one with an eight-ticket limit.
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