The Indians outfield, already seen as a rather glaring weakness for a team with intentions of contending, just took another hit. Marlon Byrd has been suspended for 162 games after testing positive for performance enhancing drugs, multiple sources reported Wednesday afternoon. It’s the second positive test of Byrd’s career; he was suspended for 50 games in 2012 after testing positive for Tamoxifen. Cleveland Scene’s Vince Grzegorek was first with today’s news, and FOX Sports’ Ken Rosenthal later confirmed it.
Byrd is far from a superstar, but he was a key part of Cleveland’s now-dangerously thin outfield depth. Before the suspension, he was doing precisely what he’d done the previous two seasons: hit for enough power to be a slightly above-average hitter while providing average-or-better defense in right field. He was a body capable of performing adequately in a major league outfield, and the Indians don’t have many of those left. Their current everyday outfield looks like this:
No platoon partners, nothing. That is, as my colleague Eno Sarris put it, a utility infielder (who, granted, has been Cleveland’s best hitter this year), a career fourth outfielder, and a platoon third baseman.
The immediate problem for Cleveland is that Byrd represented half of a right field platoon with Chisenhall, who owns a career 89 wRC+ against left-handed pitching. Davis would be a sensible partner in right with Chisenhall, if he weren’t being asked to handle center field on an everyday basis in the absence of Abraham Almonte (PED suspension which ends 30 days) and rookie Tyler Naquin (21 strikeouts and two walks in 65 plate appearances). Michael Brantley still has no timetable for his return to left field, and word out of Cleveland has not been optimistic about his 2016.
The stopgaps have done their job — between Ramirez’s exceptional play and Davis, Byrd and Chisenhall performing adequately, the Indians outfield currently ranks 10th in WAR — but they can’t reasonably expect this unit to maintain its current level of production. Our projections see the Indians outfield putting up just 3.1 WAR the rest of the way, the worst figure in the American League.
Top prospects Bradley Zimmer and Clint Frazier are both crushing Double-A, but Zimmer is striking out in 30% of his plate appearances and he’s supposed to be the more polished product. This Indians front office has been notoriously cautious with their promotion of top prospects, and so it seems unlikely that we’ll see a knee-jerk reaction that brings Zimmer or Frazier to Cleveland anytime soon.
It’s possible that they’ll just recall Naquin and hold pat — they still have the second-best playoff odds of any American League team thanks to their top-five rotation and middle infield tandem — but with the depth as thin as it is, it might be time for the Indians to revisit those offseason trade talks.
August used to cover the Indians for MLB and ohio.com, but now he's here and thinks writing these in the third person is weird. So you can reach me on Twitter @AugustFG_ or e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.