GOODYEAR, Ariz. -- The Indians' outfield situation just became a little more complicated.
On Friday, Major League Baseball announced that Indians outfielder Abraham Almonte has been suspended for 80 games due to testing positive for Boldenone, a performance-enhancing substance, in violation of MLB's Joint Drug Prevention and Treatment Program. It marks the first positive test for Almonte, who is eligible to participate in Spring Training but must begin serving his suspension at the start of the regular season.
Indians general manager Mike Chernoff said that he and manager Terry Francona met Friday with Almonte, who plans on addressing his teammates and speaking with the media on Saturday.
"Tito and I talked to Abe as soon as we found out," Chernoff said. "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 that we had expected to contribute to the Major League team. At this point, we're just digesting the news as well, but we're going to have to rely on the depth that we have here and try to fill a hole that he otherwise would have filled."
Chernoff declined to delve into the specifics of Almonte's suspension, and the Indians issued an organizational statement that read in part: "We fully support Major League Baseball's policy and its efforts to eliminate performance-enhancing drugs from our game. Per the protocol outlined by Major League Baseball's Collective Bargaining Agreement, we will not comment further on the circumstances surrounding this announcement."
Boldenone is classified as an anabolic steroid and was the same substance identified in a positive test by former Mets pitcher Jenrry Mejia. Earlier this spring, Mejia tested positivie for a third time, resulting in a lifetime ban from Major League Baseball. A second positive test for a PED comes with a 162-game ban.
Almonte will be placed on the restricted list and will not be eligible for pay during his suspension.
Almonte, 26, was acquired from the Padres on July 31 last season in exchange for left-handed reliever Marc Rzepczynski, and the outfielder was initially sent to Triple-A Columbus. Almonte was soon in the lineup in Cleveland, and his first game (4-for-5 with two doubles, one homer and a pair of RBIs against the Twins on Aug. 8) was one of the more memorable debuts in franchise history.
From there, Almonte gave the Indians a solid replacement in center fielder for Michael Bourn, who was dealt to Atlanta, along with Nick Swisher, on Aug. 7 last season. The switch-hitting Almonte hit .264 with five home runs, nine doubles, five triples, 20 RBIs and a .776 OPS in 51 games over the final two months for Cleveland, while playing an above-average center field.
Overall, Almonte hit .250 with a .719 OPS in 82 games between the Padres and Indians last year.
"He paid attention to detail so well. I mean that in a complimentary way," Francona said of Almonte's showing with Cleveland last season. "It was just a really nice acquisition for us at a time when guys are leaving and some young kids are coming. He did a really good job of solidifying that."
Almonte's showing was strong enough to put him into consideration as the Tribe's starting center fielder for the upcoming campaign. With left fielder Michael Brantley currently rehabbing from November surgery on his right shoulder, only outfielders Rajai Davis (left and center) and Lonnie Chisenhall (right) look like virtual locks for the Opening Day roster. Almonte fell into that category, too, before Friday's development.
With Almonte effectively out of the mix until July, the spring outfield competition just became more interesting.
To add an extra body to the fold, the Tribe agreed upon a Minor League contract Friday with Will Venable, who will join camp as a non-roster invitee. Other outfielders jockeying for jobs include Collin Cowgill, Joey Butler, Tyler Naquin, Zach Walters, Shane Robinson, Michael Choice, Robbie Grossman and James Ramsey. Brantley, who has advanced to hitting off a tee, is not expected to be ready for Opening Day.
Asked if the Indians might look at the free-agent market for more outfield help, Chernoff said the Tribe's front office needed more time to digest and discuss the news about Almonte before reacting. Last week, it was reported that the Indians had shown interest in free-agent center fielder Austin Jackson.
"That's something that we'll have to figure out," Chernoff said of potentially exploring the free-agent market further. "The fact that we have a decent amount of depth in camp in the outfield, the fact that Will Venable happens to have signed around the same time and adds to that depth, at least gives us some options for the immediate future. But that's something we'll have to work through internally."