Almonte Could Be Cleveland’s Latest Gem Stolen From Padres

When it comes to trades with the San Diego Padres, the Cleveland Indians have made out pretty well.

Before the 1990 season, the Tribe shipped off All-Star outfielder Joe Carter to the Padres for a package that included Sandy Alomar, Jr. and Carlos Baerga. Alomar and Baerga went on to become a couple of the cornerstones of the great 1990s Indians teams. Meanwhile, Carter was not long for San Diego, helping the Toronto Blue Jays win back-to-back World Series crowns in 1992 and 1993.

More recently, the Indians made out like bandits in a three-team deal. In 2010, Cleveland sent once-promising starter Jake Westbrook to the St. Louis Cardinals. As part of the transaction, the Tribe received little-known pitcher Corey Kluber. We all know how that one turned out. Kluber is the reigning American League Cy Young while Westbrook really struggled to be the quality starter he was for several good seasons in Cleveland.

The Indians are hoping they have struck gold for a third time with the Padres now. While it is far too soon to tell, outfielder Abraham Almonte has shown some promise in his first month-plus with Cleveland.

The 26-year-old has spent parts of 10 seasons in the minor leagues, after being signed as an amateur free agent, out of the dominican Republic, by the New York Yankees in 2005. He finally broke through to the Majors with the Seattle Mariners in 2013 and was traded to the Padres at the trade deadline in 2014. From 2013 until being dealt to Cleveland this past July 31, Almonte was a yo-yo between Triple-A and the Major League Baseball.

Almonte never did all that well with Seattle or San Diego. However, he had shown enough in the minors to earn call ups. He had demonstrated the ability to hit fairly well, with some pop in his bat and good decision-making on the bases. He can play all three outfield spots.

The Padres, who had revamped their outfield this past offseason, had little room for Almonte on the Major League roster. In 31 games with San Diego this season, he had batted a paltry .204 with no homers, three doubles and four RBI in 54 at bats. He really was serving little good to the Padres.

On the flip side, Cleveland was a team searching for outfield depth. Beyond Michael Brantley, the Indians have really had little to hang their hat on in the outfield this season.

Michael Bourn was a bust before his hefty contract got traded to Atlanta. Veteran David Murphy was dealt to the Angels and Ryan Raburn has been good, but is a platoon player who specializes in batting against righties.

The Indians were in the market for a young outfielder they could give an everyday opportunity to. All Cleveland had to give up was left-handed middle reliver Marc Rzepczynski. Rzepczynski had come to Cleveland in 2013 midseason deal with the cardinals. He did well for the Tribe for a season and a half, but was struggling this year. He had struggled in St. Louis before the change of scenery. Despite some good moments, Rzepczynski has started showing himself as one of the many relievers who seem to be up or down from year to year, with little consistency.

Rzepczynski has been a disappointment so far with the Padres, logging an 8.71 ERA in 19 games, 10 innings pitched.

On the other hand, Almonte has been a breath of fresh air for Cleveland. He is not lighting the world on fire, but he has hit decently, flashed some leather and has been a key part of several Indians rallies and victories during the club’s recent stretch of good play.

Since joining the Tribe, Almonte has hit at a .268 clip – higher than any other stretch his Major League career. Almonte has played 28 games so far with the Tribe. That is only four off the 32 he played with the Padres in 2014, serving as his longest run of MLB action in his career. He will far surpass that.

What has been most surprising to see from Almonte has been his penchant for the extra base hit since the deal to Cleveland. With the Tribe, he already has three home runs, five triples and five doubles. The career doubles in those three categories before joining the Tribe were at five bombs, one triple and 17 two-baggers for his career. Almonte has certainly put his deceptive speed to good work in becoming a triple machine. He also has three steals in three tries with the Indians.

At 26, it is not unrealistic to think Almonte could just be breaking out. This is around the time the average Major Leaguers – ignore the Mike Trouts and Francisco Lindors of the world – typically start to hit their stride, if they are going to.  Most guys hit their primes in their mid-20s. Almonte is right on pace.

It is hard to say Almonte is proving himself an every day starter. It would be nice to see him raise his average to closer to .280 before really saying that. However, he is making a strong push to be on the Tribe roster next season as an utility outfielder, at the very least. He definitely has usefulness to a Major League squad.

A switch hitter, Almonte does not need to be in a platoon. However, he could play in right field next season, while the left-handed Lonnie Chisenhall man’s right against right-handed pitchers. Almonte could take over left on other nights, while Brantley – given a healthy back – goes to center, where he most naturally suited.

Almonte is certainly showing the ability to stick on a Major League roster and could help the Indians going forward. He’ll have the rest of August as a further audition. By season’s end, he will have had his longest chance to prove himself in the big leagues, yet. Almonte, to this point, has been better than anyone could have expected. He is not near the same breath as Kluber, Alomar or Baerga. However, he could eventually go down as the next fleecing job the Tribe has pulled over the Padres. Even if he just becomes a very good No. 4 outfielder for a handful of years, it could be considered a steal in a trade for a middling relief pitcher.

Photo: Leon Halip/Getty Images

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