After several days of speculation, the Cleveland Indians formally announced on Tuesday morning that the club had come to terms with free agent first baseman/outfielder Chris Colabello on a minor league contract with a non-roster invite to spring training.
The 33-year-old Colabello could provide the Indians with a veteran first base option behind Carlos Santana. Currently, the team has only Jesus Aguilar on the 40-man roster at the position, with last year’s primary first baseman Mike Napoli a free agent. The team has been linked to several potential big money free agent first basemen this offseason, but the addition of Colabello could soften the blow in the event that those players opt to sign elsewhere.
Shi Davidi of Sportsnet tweeted that the contract includes an opt out, and the New York Post’s Joel Sherman has reported similarly on Twitter that Colabello can opt out of the contract on June 1 if not on the 25-man roster.
A large chunk of Colabello’s 2016 season was lost to an 80-game suspension at the end of April after he was charged with violating Major League Baseball’s Joint Drug Prevention and Treatment Program due to the presence of the anabolic steroid dehydrochlormethyltestosterone (DHCMT, or Oral Turinabol) in his sample.
Colabello vehemently denied using the drug, stating that he had passed 20 drug tests over the previous four years and that the only supplements that he had taken had come straight from the strength and conditioning staff of the Toronto Blue Jays, his home organization of the last two seasons.
“I would never, have never and will never compromise the integrity of baseball. Ever. In my life,” said Colabello in his first interview following his suspension with Sportsnet in late April. “And whether that means taking a performance enhancing supplement – I just wouldn’t do it. I don’t do it. I haven’t done it. I won’t do it.”
He reported that he actually submitted his urine screen five days earlier than position players were scheduled to do so because he “wanted to get his out of the way”.
“I went in for pitchers’ and catchers’ physicals, knowing that there was a drug test and knowing that I had nothing to hide,” Colabello said in the same Sportsnet report. “I made the choice to go in five days early because, why wouldn’t I? There’s nothing for me to worry about. I don’t hide things. I don’t have to.”
Three weeks later, he was notified that he had tested positive for a metabolite in his sample that indicated the prior presence of DHCMT. He appealed, but was notified on April 22 that it was denied and that his suspension was set to begin immediately.
The weight of the situation likely played a big role in his slow start to the season. Through his first ten games, he was just 2-for-29 (.069) at the plate for the Blue Jays with a pair of singles, two walks, and one run batted in while making eight starts at first base and logging one inning in left field after a pinch-hitting appearance.
When eligible to participate in game action again, he hit safely in four of his five games with High-A Dunedin, but struggled after heading up to Triple-A Buffalo and was not recalled to the Majors after his suspension ended with Edwin Encarnacion and Justin Smoak holding down first base for the Blue Jays.
The minor league numbers never perked up for Colabello, who appeared in 40 games for the Bisons and slashed .180/.248/.288 with five homers and eleven RBI. He grounded into 12 double plays in 153 plate appearances, and his five homers accounted for all of his extra base hits during that portion of his season.
Despite prior big league and playoff experience, Colabello was not recalled by Toronto when rosters expanded in September.
The numbers were a dramatic difference from a season before, when Colabello broke out with his best season in the Majors after hitting .337 in the minors. He appeared in 101 games for Toronto in 2015, hitting .321 with 19 doubles, a triple, 15 homers, and 54 RBI.
Colabello was a late arrival into the professional game after spending seven seasons playing in the independent Canadian-American Association. The Minnesota Twins signed him to a minor league deal ahead of the 2012 season and he made his Major League debut at the age of 29 in 2013. He hit .194 that season in 55 games for Minnesota with seven homers and 17 RBI and split the next season between the Twins’ Triple-A Rochester affiliate and the parent club, hitting .229 with 13 doubles, six homers, and 39 RBI in 59 games for the Major League team that season. He was claimed off of waivers by the Blue Jays in December that year.
He was outrighted off of the 40-man roster by the Blue Jays on December 2 and cleared waivers, but declined his assignment to Triple-A, becoming a free agent.
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