Almost two weeks ago (July 29), the Cubs activated Chris Coghlan from the disabled list and optioned Tommy La Stella to Triple-A Iowa.
Under normal circumstances this would have been a routine transaction. This Cubs team has quite a bit of talent and management apparently felt they needed Coghlan more than TLS, even though the latter was having a good season -- .295/.388/.457 in 105 at-bats, with nine doubles, a triple and two home runs, and improved defense at second and third base.
It's a numbers game. The Cubs have more talent than they can use, so Theo & Co. figured they'd stash TLS at Iowa for a few weeks, recall him in September, and very likely give him a place on the postseason roster.
At first, it was announced that TLS was being given "extra time" to report -- generally, players sent down get 72 hours maximum. But that time went by, and then more, and more... and Tuesday, there was finally some comment on what's going on:
La Stella has been placed on the temporarily inactive list for now. #Cubs— Carrie Muskat (@CarrieMuskat) August 9, 2016
The temporarily inactive list is used for minor-league players. Since TLS has been optioned, he's officially a minor-league player. Here's what that list is used for:
TEMPORARY INACTIVE LIST- This list is used only during the season for short absences and may be used at the team's discretion for bereavement leave, family events which require a player to be away from his team, or other non-injury related reasons.. Players placed on the temporary inactive list must remain on the list for a minimum of three consecutive days.
Beyond that, general manager Jed Hoyer and manager Joe Maddon said this about TLS:
#Cubs Hoyer on La Stella: "He's processing a lot of different things right now. We're trying to give him the time to do that"— Carrie Muskat (@CarrieMuskat) August 9, 2016
Maddon says he respects La Stella's decision. "He's just at that point where he doesn't know what to do" #Cubs— Carrie Muskat (@CarrieMuskat) August 9, 2016
Both Maddon and Hoyer said La Stella will have to go to Minors to get at-bats before he could re-join #Cubs— Carrie Muskat (@CarrieMuskat) August 9, 2016
I can understand TLS' thinking here, I believe, up to a point. He was a productive big leaguer, and the team asked him to go to the minor leagues. You can understand why someone might be upset at that. On the other hand, Justin Grimm (who, admittedly, isn't having quite the year TLS is) was also optioned, and Grimm has quite a bit more major-league service time than TLS. Grimm reported to Iowa; he'll also be back in September and will be in the mix for the postseason roster.
There's more on the TLS conundrum from Mark Gonzales in the Tribune:
"We have to think through things from an organization standpoint," Hoyer said.
"Having really good left-handed bats and potentially left-handed bats off the bench is very important for us," Hoyer said. "We love our depth right now and that may not necessitate a move. But certainly we have to look for left-handed bats to make sure we're prepared for a good right-handed reliever late in the season."
Read between the lines there and it looks like management is looking around for another lefthanded hitter who could help out during the postseason, and that TLS might have damaged any chance he has to be on the Cubs' postseason roster. Based on the third Carrie Muskat tweet above, it seems clear that TLS will have to eventually report to Iowa if he wants to return to the Cubs.
I'm not going to make any comment here on TLS' motives or thought process, because I don't know what they are. None of us does. It just strikes me as odd that someone who's in this position wouldn't be a team player and do what's necessary both for him and the club. It puts both him and management in an awkward position. Gonzales further writes:
Meanwhile, the Cubs — from President Theo Epstein to manager Joe Maddon to sports psychologist Ken Ravizza to teammate Matt Szczur — have remained in contact with La Stella, who is pondering his future at his New Jersey home. He can't become a free agent until 2021.
La Stella declined to elaborate in a text message Tuesday, 10 days after writing that "all is well. I'm doing great."
The Cubs want La Stella, who was batting .295 in 105 at-bats, to return to the organization and get some at-bats at Iowa. Hoyer said he wasn't disappointed in La Stella.
"Hopefully we'll have a resolution sooner rather than later, but we're just trying to give him time," Hoyer said. "I would say it's somewhat deeper than a level of frustration."
And so, we wait, and hope this situation has a positive resolution for everyone.