Trading Tommy La Stella May Say More About the Roster Than the Finances

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Trading Tommy La Stella May Say More About the Roster Than the Finances

Chicago Cubs

Today, the Chicago Cubs traded pinch-hit weapon Tommy La Stella to the Anaheim Angels for a player to be named later or cash. It marked the end of a unique and productive relationship between the sides, which saw the Cubs reach the postseason all four years La Stella was on the roster. On that front, it always feels a little frosty to lose guys like that.

I don’t think we’re truly going to know the entire “why” of the trade until the offseason is over, and the whole of the maneuvering is put into the broader roster context. But I also don’t want to act as if – despite our general affection for having a really fantastic pinch-hitter on the Cubs over the past few years – trading La Stella now is a greater signal than it really is.

When paired with the trade for Ronald Torreyes, sure, it’s very easy to see the one-to-one correlation, and the fact that the Cubs might save a few hundred grand in the swap. Alternatively, it would be understandable to gripe that, thanks to Torreyes’ remaining option year, the Cubs certainly could have kept both, and thus this trade is only about saving the $1.2 million in La Stella’s projected salary.

If can say so without sounding too much like an apologist, though, I think it’s just a much more straightforward roster move.

As we explored earlier this offseason, the value in having a guy like La Stella on the roster all year was not entirely incomparable to pure pinch baserunner like Terrance Gore. Being an elite pinch hitter is a rare gift – it’s a hard job! – but it’s so tough to carry a guy like that on a four-man bench when the team clearly has no trust whatsoever in the player’s ability to play defense. (Additionally, it is not lost on me that La Stella was traded to the American League.)

I am also of the mind that, even if the Cubs do ultimately move Addison Russell out one way or another, they likely will thereafter pick up a regular second baseman, allowing Ben Zobrist to move around and also rest frequently (when he is at his best and most valuable).

In that event (or in the event that they keep Russell), consider that, on a four-man bench, the Cubs were going to have three spots for non-catchers. One of those guys would be Zobrist. So then there are two spots left for (assuming no outfielders are added, and assuming we call Kyle Schwarber the guy in left and Albert Almora the guy in center) Ian Happ, David Bote, Ronald Torreyes, and Tommy La Stella. And if you do want to see the Cubs add a bat in the outfield, then there are suddenly five guys fighting for two spots.

So, then, with Torreyes in place, the Cubs had the luxury of viewing their bench as a lot more crunched – maybe crunched enough that a bat-only pinch-hitter was not going to be guaranteed a spot in 2019. That’s not to say that Torreyes is even a lock to be on the bench to open the year; but he’s now in the house. And if the Cubs are – as I would hope – planning to make other addition(s) on the positional side, things were going to become more complicated than they are right now. Thus, trading La Stella now not only makes sense, but it also could be a signal that those other additions are, indeed, in the plans.

I say “could” because, of course, it really could instead simply be that this is a one-to-one situation, and the Cubs had a sudden chance to replace La Stella with a younger, much-lighter-hitting, much-more-defensively-deployable, slightly-cheaper guy in Torreyes, and get the 40-man back down to 39. I don’t mean to exclude that simple explanation. I only mean to offer up that there may have been slightly more nuanced, longer-term roster considerations in play, the end-vision of which we might not see on the outside for several more months.

As for La Stella, hopefully he takes well to Anaheim, and carves out a nice role for himself as a pinch-hitter, a utility-ish guy, and a part-time DH. The guy can hit. We know he can. Best of luck to him there.

(Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)


Author: Brett Taylor

Brett Taylor is the Editor and Lead Cubs Writer at Bleacher Nation, and you can find him on Twitter at @BleacherNation and @Brett_A_Taylor.