Under the C: Abraham Almonte, the Forgotten Man in Indians Outfield

In the wake of Marlon Byrd's suspension, another suspended Cleveland Indians outfielder, Abraham Almonte, prepares to re-enter the conversation.

The Cleveland Indians are entering Day 3 of life without Marlon Byrd, and so far, rumors of a cavernous hole in the club’s outfield depth chart seem at least slightly exaggerated. In Thursday’s 5-4 walkoff win over Kansas City alone, there were contributions galore from the newly recalled Tyler Naquin (key RBI single in the 8th), the ageless Rajai Davis (team best 12th SB), and the red hot duo of Lonnie Chisenhall (1-2, 1 RBI) and Jose Ramirez (2-4, 1 RBI)—better known a year ago as the useless left side of the Cleveland infield.  

Joining this motley crew very soon could be another former starter, ready to re-take his rightful place in the everyday line-up. And no, we’re not talking about Michael Brantley. …Spoiler alert, it’s Abraham Almonte. The headline of the article kind of sabotaged the suspense there a bit, didn’t it?

The Forgotten Man

There may not be two more contradictory clichés in the English language than “absence makes the heart grow fonder” and “out of sight, out of mind.” How can both of those concepts ring true so often? Well, in a baseball context, sometimes you’re thinking about how much you miss Michael Brantley’s bat in the middle of the line-up, and other times, somebody is reminding you that Abraham Almonte exists. Yes, good old Not-So-Honest Abe—Cleveland’s presumptive starting center-fielder heading into the spring—is suddenly a topic of conversation again in the wake of Marlon Byrd’s overnight au revoir. For now, Byrd and Almonte are merely bunkmates in baseball’s imaginary PED penitentiary. But while the 38 year-old Byrd has acknowledged that he’s basically serving a life sentence (i.e., he’s going to retire), the 26 year-old Almonte is counting down the days until his impending freedom. If you’ve lost track of the Tribe's player reinstatement calendar, you are forgiven. The team's outfield situation has offered plenty of other distractions since Almonte got his 80-game suspension handed down back on February 26. There were those glorious Austin Jackson debates in March, the rise of Naquin Mania, the late arrivals of both Byrd and Rajai Davis, Jose Ramirez deciding to become both an outfielder and a lumber ninja, and Michael Brantley’s first “just kidding” comeback attempt.

This makes it kind of a mild surprise that Almonte could actually be back in an Indians uniform in less than a month, as his suspension ends July 1, barring any rainouts. On top of that, suspended players are actually permitted to spend up to 16 days on minor league rehab assignments before their sentences end, meaning Abe could presumably be playing for Akron or Columbus within just a couple weeks.

If You Find Yourself Bored By This Exciting Almonte News...

I suppose I forgive you for that, too. In a blissful universe in which Michael Brantley finds his way back later this month, the return—or non-return—of Almonte becomes more of a footnote than a headline anyway. With Brantley in left and Chisenhall in right, center field would likely return to a Davis / Naquin platoon, with Jose Ramirez prooooobably taking over everyday third base duties from Juan Uribe—or at the very least, jumping around the diamond to stay in the line-up. You tend to not bench a guy with an .860 OPS.

In the above scenario, Almonte’s only real path back to Cleveland is via injury, or a decision to go with a veteran over Naquin—who, at 25, is actually just a year younger than Abe. Besides the experience edge, Almonte is also a switch-hitter. But if versatility is the name of the game, Michael Martinez might have a better shot at staying on the roster, as he switch-hits AND can play anywhere on the field.

Maybe debating the merits of the 25th man on the roster seems less than critical, but if the Indians front office is weighing all its options heading into possible trade talks, the presence of Almonte does at least become another variable in that equation. If he produces in a rehab assignment, rejoins the team, and helps solidify the outfield by July 1—healthy Brantley or otherwise—it could do enough to make the front office think long and hard before making a deal for a veteran rental.

No, I Didn’t Mention Zimmer and Frazier

Clint Frazier and Bradley Zimmer are the future, but if you believe the men upstairs, they aren’t going to be part of the present in 2016—despite their stellar numbers in Akron.

In the meantime, there might not be much about Abraham Almonte’s overall career track record that would encourage anyone to start throwing eggs into his basket. But, lest it be completely forgotten or dismissed, the guy did hold down the centerfield job for the last two months of the 2015 season, and he did enough in that trial run to warrant another look, at some point. He slashed .264 / .321 / .455 across 51 games, stole six bases, and showed some pop (5 HR, 9 2B, 5 3B). He also produced fairly evenly from both sides of the plate (.269 as a lefty, .250 as a righty), mashed at Progressive Field (.323), and generally didn’t embarrass himself in the field.

As the Forgotten Man, Almonte isn’t going to inspire a lot of excitement from a trade-hungry Twitterverse, nor will his return likely make or break a Tribe pennant run. But with Marlon Byrd’s fairly useful chess piece permanently off the board, there is at least some level of relief in knowing that when one pawn is captured, you can always just replace it with another one of slightly lesser value. That’s how chess works, right?

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