Indians Rumors: Should Tribe Bet on Almonte For 2016?


The Indians couldn’t have anticipated Almonte’s impact

If you had offered to bet me that Abraham Almonte would have any impact at all when the Cleveland Indians acquired him, you could have made some money.  He looked like the classic AAAA player, with marginal success over a prolonged minor league career and no major league track record to indicate that he was any more than a warm body.  Over the last two years the Indians had traded Justin Masterson, Asdrubal Cabrera, and David Murphy at the deadline and had basically nothing to show for it; who would have thought the Marc Rzepczynski trade would be the one that brought a real asset.  If there was no other reason to be skeptical, how many center fielders are 5-9 and 205 pounds? (I know – Kirby Puckett, but name another one.)

As it turns out, Almonte has been a key player in the resurgence over the last month.  Not only has he delivered a potent bat from the bottom of the order, he has been a key part of the overall defensive improvement for the Indians.  He has been consistently praised for his fundamental play and his positive influence in the clubhouse.  Given the lack of outfield options that this team seemed to have when Bourn, Swisher, Murphy, and Moss were traded, the fact that center field is now a strength is nothing short of miraculous.

Setting aside the marginal state of contention in which the Indians now find themselves, the key question is whether or not Almonte can do this next year.  Not post an .823 OPS necessarily, but contribute enough on a consistent basis that the Indians can devote their resources to strengthening positions other than center field.

The problem is that there are still only 120 at bats to analyze so far, and there will probably be about two hundred total by the end of the season, so in making decisions for next year the Indians will be balancing two hundred quality at-bats against ten years of mediocre play.  The risk is magnified because you are talking about a center fielder.  Recall this season, when the Indians shuffled four or five guys through right field but stuck with Michael Bourn in center until the wheels came off.  That’s because a guy who can even play marginal defense in center field is hard to find.  With a 25 man roster and possibly a three-man bench, odds are that the Indians won’t have two good center fielders on the roster, so if they rely on Almonte and he fails, the backup plan is probably Tyler Holt.

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As a switch-hitter who can play all three outfield positions, Almonte probably profiles as an ideal fourth outfielder for next year.  My hunch is that if you give him two or three hundred at bats in the right situation, he can be an asset, but that he would be exposed if he played every day.  That may mean that he takes Ryan Raburn’s job for next year, except that Almonte has not hit lefthanders well enough so far to project him as a platoon partner with someone like Lonnie Chisenhall.  If you acquired a regular center fielder and then found a way to have both Raburn and Almonte on the bench (that means no eight man bullpen, but choices have to be made), you could create a situation where five guys are rotating through the outfield positions and the DH role, which keeps everyone fresh and avoids being forced to stick with a guy who is struggling.

This is all good news, because a month ago we were hoping Holt or James Ramsey could step up, in spite of a bunch of evidence to the contrary.  Now the worst case scenario is at least a guy who looks like a real major leaguer.  It is tempting to just throw Almonte out there next year and hope he can hold down the fort until Bradley Zimmer is ready.  For a team that should be entering 2016 with legitimate postseason aspirations, though, that’s a risk that I wouldn’t take.

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