Earlier today, Ken Rosenthal reported that Will Venable was headed to Cleveland on a minor league deal. It made sense at the time, as the Indians' outfield doesn't inspire much confidence, and they could clearly use the depth. Venable isn't a white knight that was going to lead Cleveland back to the playoffs, but he's had success before, and signing him to a minor league contract was a no-risk situation.
However just a few minutes ago, the signing made even more sense, as we learned that Abraham Almonte, who according to the Indians' depth chart was slated to be the starting center fielder, was just hit with an suspension due to a positive steroid test.
MLB announces CLE OF Abraham Almonte has received an 80-game suspension after testing positive for Boldenone.— Buster Olney (@Buster_ESPN) February 26, 2016
In his brief MLB career, Almonte has never been a great hitter, although he was impressive in 51 games with the Indians in 2015. His career line in 560 plate appearances is .244/.297/.378, and while his offensive contributions won't necessarily be missed, his suspension does throw a wrench into Cleveland's plans. However there is a potential solution waiting in the free agent pool.
How many more hints to sign Austin Jackson do they need? https://t.co/BULEJ6L8LX— David Cameron (@DCameronFG) February 26, 2016
*Austin Jackson Googles "Cleveland apartments"*— Craig Calcaterra (@craigcalcaterra) February 26, 2016
Austin Jackson, while not a strong offensive force, would undoubtedly make sense for the Indians. In 2015, he was more than twice as valuable as Almonte, according to fWAR, and Jackson won't cost an insane amount of money. More than a few people have suggested that Cleveland could swing a trade with the Cubs for one of their outfielders, but that would likely force them to part with one of their starting pitchers, which makes that scenario less than desirable.
This is unfortunate news for the Indians, but it's not a season-altering change. Almonte wasn't going to carry them to the playoffs, and his loss won't suddenly send Cleveland into a tailspin. With Jackson available, they can replace his production easily, and likely get better defensively.