It’s about this time of year when I’d normally begin writing “Cubs free agent target” articles noting some of the bigger names in baseball and hoping the Cubs would sign them.
That’s not going to happen this winter, with most reports having the Cubs slashing player payroll.
Tommy La Stella, who played for the Cubs from 2015-18, would seem to be the type of free agent the team would set its sights on, and I was going to write this article regardless but I see that Bruce Levine of the Score has written that the Cubs are actually interested in him:
Former Cubs infielder Tommy La Stella appears to be on the team’s radar again. Nico Hoerner progressed well at second base, but La Stella brings a skill set the Cubs lack. He was primarily a singles hitter in his first stint in Chicago. He still has that contact ability but now has more power, posting an .832 OPS in 2019 and an .819 OPS in 2020 in the two seasons since he left the Cubs.
I’m going to disagree with Bruce a bit here — Nico Hoerner didn’t really “progress well” at second base in 2020. Nico hit just .222/.312/.259 in 48 games and 126 plate appearances. Granted, small sample size in a pandemic-shortened season, but after starting 13 of the Cubs’ first 15 games this year, Nico became mostly a bench player. He could have benefitted from time in Triple-A, and he very well could wind up there in 2021.
The Cubs traded La Stella to the Angels before the 2019 season for minor-league righthander Conor Lillis-White, who didn’t pitch a single game in the Cubs organization before he was released in May.
The Cubs surely could have used TLS’ contact-hitting skills in both 2019 and 2020. In 2019, La Stella hit .295/.346/.486 and blasted 16 home runs, making the American League All-Star team before missing the second half of the year with a broken tibia in his right leg after fouling a ball off his leg. Healthy again in 2020, La Stella hit .281/.370/.449 with five home runs in 228 PA combined between the Angels and Athletics. He was traded to Oakland just before this year’s deadline for spare-part infielder Franklin Barreto — the Cubs surely could have matched that. He’d surely have been a much better trade acquisition than Jose Martinez, for example.
In basically one full normal season’s worth of PA (535) combined between 2019 and 2020, La Stella hit .289/.356/.471 with 21 home runs — and only 40 strikeouts. That’s exactly what this team needs. La Stella and David Bote would make a good platoon combination at second base, and Hoerner could get some experience at Triple-A in 2021.
TLS made $3.25 million in 2020. I’d think somewhere in that range could get him signed for 2021. After the strange situation that resulted in him going home instead of reporting to Iowa when he was sent down in 2016, he appeared to be a good teammate and popular in the clubhouse, even pulling pranks on Theo Epstein in 2018 when he had this kids’ bouncy house placed in Theo’s parking space at Sloan Park:
In response, Anthony Rizzo and the ballclub then made this video, which actually played on the Sloan Park video board between innings of the Spring Training game March 23, 2018:
La Stella set a Cubs franchise record for pinch hits in a season in 2018 with 27 — one short of the MLB record held by John Vander Wal. He’ll turn 32 in January, but he seems to be at a place in his career where he could give the Cubs a season, or maybe two, as a useful platoon partner at second base.
Get it done, Theo.
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