Blue Jays: Looking back at Chris Colabello

Feb 24, 2017; Goodyear, AZ, USA; Cleveland Indians infielder Chris Colabello poses for a portrait during photo day at Goodyear Ballpark. Mandatory Credit: Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports
Feb 24, 2017; Goodyear, AZ, USA; Cleveland Indians infielder Chris Colabello poses for a portrait during photo day at Goodyear Ballpark. Mandatory Credit: Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports /

After an unexpectedly successful 2015, Chris Colabello looked poised to be a member of the Blue Jays lineup for several years to come, until a failed PED test derailed his 2016 season before it had hardly begun.

Baseball can be a fickle game. One minute you’re a star on the rise, and the next you’re a borderline afterthought. Unfortunately for Chris Colabello in Toronto, that’s exactly what happened last season.

Having been mostly a journeyman minor leaguer prior to 2013, Colabello joined the Blue Jays before the 2015 season, having shown enough the previous year with the Minnesota Twins to spark the Blue Jays’ interest. They obviously saw potential in the 1B/OFer, but it’s hard to imagine anyone expected the kind of performance he put up in 2015.

The Massachusetts native had appeared in 114 games between the 2013-14 seasons while with the Twins, hitting .229/.282/.380 in 2014, the better of the two. While he showed promise, the then 30 year old had an uphill battle in order to earn regular playing time at the major league level.

In 2015, he got that chance as a member of the Toronto Blue Jays and he seized the opportunity, after having been claimed on waivers from the Twins. The 6’4 slugger finished with a slash line of .321/.367/.520 with 15 home runs and 54 RBI in 333 at bats. Opening the season in Triple A, Colabello made his way to the big league roster, and eventually overtook Justin Smoak for regular playing time at first base. By the time the Blue Jays reached the playoffs, Colabello was hitting 5th in one of the most dangerous lineups in Blue Jays history, slotting above the likes of Troy Tulowitzki and Russell Martin.

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Unfortunately for the likeable first baseman, he struggled out of the gate last year, before Blue Jays fans learned of one of the most disheartening 3-letter trios in baseball news: P.E.D. Colabello was suspended for 80 games due to a positive test for dehydrochlormethyltestosterone. The drug is a steroid often referred to as Turinabol.

Without re-hashing the entire thing, it always struck me as a very strange situation, and to this day I’m not convinced that Colabello knowingly did anything wrong. While he saw a spike in his performance that was largely unexpected, it wasn’t as if he suddenly developed other-worldly power. Turinabol is known for helping an athlete recover from wear and tear on their body, much more so than a physical power boost.

Watching him throughout the 2015 season, he was genuinely one of Toronto’s smartest hitters, regularly taking the ball to the opposite field when he was pitched away in the zone, and pulling strikes on the inner half. Armed with some of baseball’s most daunting hitters in their lineup, Colabello held his own and fully deserved the playing time and lineup position he was put in down the stretch.

As he learned the news at the beginning of the 2016, Colabello wasn’t able to share his fate with teammates until a week or two after he learned of it, and began the season playing with the secret in his back pocket. With the stress no doubt weighing on his mind, he struggled to find his groove before having to accept the fate of his suspension, and was just 2 for 29 at the plate to open the season.

While we may never know the exact details of what happened, it was pleasing to see some of his teammates come to his defence, including Kevin Pillar.

This past offseason, Colabello elected to try free agency, and it’s hard to blame him. The Blue Jays could have brought him back to the major league roster after his suspension was over, but for a variety of reasons they chose not to do so. For a player who may or may not have deserved his fate, it’s hard to hold it against him for wanting a fresh start with another franchise.

Colabello signed a MiLB deal with the Cleveland Indians this offseason, and will look to hook on with the 2016 ALCS champs. He may be hard-pressed to do so with the presence of Edwin Encarnacion, Carlos Santana and others with a similar skill set, but if he can perform even close to how he managed in 2015, it won’t take him long to find his way back to a major league roster.

Next: Spring Training Game 1- Prospect Parade

He started the Spring on a positive note against the Cincinnati Reds on Saturday, going 1-2 with a double in their first game of the Cactus League schedule.

I hope you’ll join me in sincerely wishing the now 33 year old the best of luck this season. It would be a shame to see the career of a classy guy like Colabello go out the way the story is currently constructed, and I’d personally love to see him change the narrative before he’s done.