When dealing with persons with checkered pasts, there are times that you are reminded of the risk of investing in their futures. The Cleveland Indians learned that lesson on Friday as the club announced that center fielder Abraham Almonte has been suspended 80 games by Major League Baseball after testing positive for the banned performance-enhancing substance, Boldenone.
In a related move, the club has signed 33-year-old outfielder Will Venable to a minor league contract with an immediate invite to spring training. He was already at the team’s complex in Goodyear on Friday morning.
Almonte was projected by many to be the Indians’ starting center fielder in 2016. The traveled outfielder had his best sustained success during his two-month trial in center for the Tribe last season after being acquired from San Diego in the Marc Rzepczynski trade. His well documented struggles with alcoholism and anger issues were chronicled in a fantastic piece last September by Cleveland.com’s Zack Meisel.
The switch-hitter appeared in 51 games for the Tribe, playing exclusively in center during his audition. He showed an enticing blend of pop, speed, and good defensive work. He hit .264 for Cleveland with nine doubles, five triples, five homers, 30 runs, and 20 RBI while a perfect 6-for-6 stealing bases.
Almonte will be ineligible for the first 80 regular season games and will be off of the club’s 40-man roster while on the restricted list for his use of the anabolic steroid. He can still participate in spring training games, but has been limited with back spasms since joining the team in Goodyear last week. He is set to address his teammates on Saturday morning.
Venable, a teammate of Indians general manager Mike Chernoff from their time together at Princeton, will have an opportunity to help fill the holes in the outfield for Cleveland. He hopes to help replace another former teammate Almonte, as the two played together while with San Diego.
The left-handed hitting son of former Major Leaguer Max Venable (a former teammate of Indians manager Terry Francona in the Montreal and Cincinnati organizations), the Indians’ newest addition split last season between the Padres and Texas Rangers ball clubs. He played all three outfield spots in 2015, with the majority of the work coming in center field. He posted a .994 fielding percentage last season, making just four errors on the year, and owns a .988 career fielding percentage that includes a .995 rate in center.
The Rangers picked him up from the Padres in mid-August for pitcher Jon Edwards and a minor leaguer. There, he played alongside Indians offseason signee, Mike Napoli, and was 1-for-2 in four games in the American League Division Series against the Toronto Blue Jays.
He hit just .182 for the Rangers in his final 37 games of the year but hit .244 for the season over 135 total games. He is a lifetime .251 hitter at the Major League level and has shown occasional pop, hitting a surprising 22 homers in 2013.
He has seen regular work in the outfield for the Padres since his third season in the Majors in 2010. He was a seventh round pick by the club in the 2005 draft and made his MLB debut in 2008.
He will wear number 38 in camp.
The muddled picture of the Tribe’s outfield is now even more murky, as the club was already without former AL MVP candidate Michael Brantley for an unknown amount of time to start the season. The remaining other outfield spot is tentatively filled by Lonnie Chisenhall, who showed promise in his first career exposure in right field, but carries with him an inconsistent bat.
Other roster candidates to potentially help with the loss of the two outfielders include free agent addition Rajai Davis, Collin Cowgill, Joey Butler, Shane Robinson, Robbie Grossman, and potentially even a minor league prospect like Tyler Naquin.
Main Photo: AP Photo/Tony Dejak