l’ll forgive you if you missed it in light of all the other rumors and reports, but the Cubs apparently brought 34-year-old Chris Colabello in for a workout this past Friday. Truth be told, I only knew about it via an early-morning message that I can only assume was imbued with as much bewilderment as my sleep-addled brain read into it.
A cursory search of the interwebs finds only the briefest mention of any such workout and it came via Colabello’s dad, Lou, who spoke with a radio station in Milford, Mass. about it.
— Craig D'Alessandro (@CraigMYFM) January 20, 2018
This isn’t anything to get excited about on the surface, and the same may hold true even if we dig a little deeper. But because I can never resist pulling on a loose string, I’m going to do just that and see if this leads anywhere.
The Cubs are well known for seeking out grindy veteran journeymen to hold down roster spots, so it’s easy to see why they might give Colabello a look. And we’ve seen in the past how they give extra preference to guys named Chris C., so that’s another mark in his favor.
Colabello’s career 104 wRC+ — skewed north by one aberrant season — is actually pretty decent, but his -0.8 fWAR in 723 plate appearances leaves a lot to be desired. My first thought was that this dude’s maybe a defensive wizard, though that was quickly dispelled by a -21.5 UZR (-44.6 UZR/150) in the outfield.
In fact, the only statistical mark of any real note is the .069/.156/.069 slash line Colabello posted with the Blue Jays in a final campaign that ended abruptly on April 20, 2016. Wait…wait. He batted and slugged .069 and his last MLB game was played on 4/20? C’mon, you can’t even make this stuff up.
Okay, now that I’ve exceeded my quota for sophomoric humor, let’s move on to the bigger implications of this workout as far as the Cubs are concerned. Admittedly, this will probably amount to nothing at all and I’m going to be digging a little bit here, but I think it’s worthwhile in light of another ongoing issue.
One of the big topics at this year’s Cubs Convention, as is always the case, was a potential reconciliation with Sammy Sosa. As he’s done every single time the subject has been brought up during the tenure of his ownership, Tom Ricketts once again laid out his thoughts on what it’ll take for the prodigal son to be welcomed back.
“Players from that era owe us a little bit of honesty,” Ricketts reiterated. “The only way to turn that page is to put everything on the table.”
Wait, so how did we get here from the thin report of a little-known journeyman getting a workout? Let me try to connect the dots for you. Under other circumstances, Colabello’s story could be the basis for a screenplay. Undrafted out of college, he toiled in the independent Can-Am League for seven years before getting his first shot with an MLB organization.
Colabello signed with the Twins in 2012 at the age of 28 and absolutely raked at AA, slashing .278/.358/.478 with 19 home runs and 98 RBI. He was even better the following season at AAA, hammering out a .352/.457/.639 line with 24 homers and 76 RBI in only 391 plate appearances. That was enough to earn a call-up, but the results weren’t quite the same when he got to Minnesota.
After making the Twins’ Opening Day roster in 2014, a thumb injury hampered his performance and he was only able to muster a .229/.282/.380 slash line. Combined with a 6.4 percent walk rate and 30 percent strikeout rate, Colabello was starting to looking like a AAAA player. He was placed on waivers following that season and was picked up by the Blue Jays, who outrighted him to AAA.
The 31-year-old earned his way to Toronto in 2015, where he went on to slash .321/.367/.520 with 15 homers and 54 RBI across 360 plate appearances. That’s a breakout performance by any measure and it appeared as though the longshot from Division II Assumption College was going to be in the Bigs to stay. Unfortunately, the feel-good story didn’t last long.
You see, it wasn’t that aforementioned poor performance that doomed Colabello in 2016, it was performance enhancers. Two days after his final at-bat, it was announced that he had tested positive for dehydrochlormethyltestosterone, aka Oral Turinabol, an androgenic-anabolic steroid made famous by the East German Olympic team, among others. Colabello was suspended 80 games without pay, after which he released the following statement.
On March 13, I got one of the scariest and most definitely the least expected calls of my entire life. I was informed by the Players Association that a banned substance was found in my urine. I have spent every waking moment since that day trying to find an answer as to why or how? The only thing I know is that I would never compromise the integrity of the game of baseball. I love this game too much! I care too deeply about it. I am saddened more for the impact this will have on my teammates, the organization and the fans of the Toronto Blue Jays. I hope that before anyone passes judgement on me they can take a look at the man that I am, and everything that I have done to get to where I am in my career.
The disgraced outfielder also sat down for a lengthy interview with Sportsnet’s Jamie Campbell in which he reiterated his innocence and expressed incredulity at the test results.
“I would never, have never, will never compromise the integrity of baseball, ever, in my life,” Colabello said. “I don’t do it. I haven’t done it. I won’t do it.”
I’m no expert, so take what I’m saying here with a grain of salt, but I have a really hard time buying excuses like this. Turinabol isn’t just one of those things that accidentally finds its way into that jug of whey protein you bought at GNC or that can of Monster you picked up at the gas station. Having enough of this stuff in your system to get popped is a pretty clear indicator that you knew what you were doing.
We’ve also got to consider the subject, a 32-year-old who had just posted a career year and who was looking to hang around MLB after more than a decade on the fringes. You think there might be a little impetus for him to seek a little extra help? Hell yeah there was. While I suppose it’s possible that Colabello’s use was accidental, there’s no doubt he used the drug.
I hope you can see where I’m getting at here, which is that this whole situation is strange at best and incredibly hypocritical at worst. Colabello could still have some good baseball in him (he slashed .301/.393/.494 for the Brewers’ AAA affiliate last year), but he’s 34 years old and doesn’t really offer anything the Cubs need. Remember those defensive numbers? Yikes. And that’s not something that’s likely to improve with age.
That’s kind of beside the point, which that I’m already belaboring here. What I’m driving at is that the Cubs are shunning one man — who was the only thing worth watching at Wrigley for a number of years — while possibly giving a shot to another who’s got no real value to the team. And though Sosa has been very heavily implicated in steroid use, the fact remains that he was never disciplined for it. Colabello…not so much.
And let’s not even get started on them bringing Manny Ramirez in as a coach. I’m actually pretty agnostic on the whole Sosa reunion matter, believe it or not, but I do think the statute of limitations on his exile has long since expired. And when we’re talking about the same organization being willing to extend even the most innocuous workout invitation to a man who’s been suspended for steroid use — even though he denies only that he knowingly used, not that he tested positive — any benefit of the doubt is thrown out the window.
Wow, betcha didn’t think you were gonna end up here when you started. And if this all felt a little heavy-handed or overwrought, I’ll end on this: Chris Colabellow hit .069 and ended his MLB career on 4/20.