The LaStella Legacy

It wasn't exactly A Day that Will Live in Infamy, but a year ago today the Cubs traded Tommy LaStella to the Angels for a PTBNL (who turned out to be LHRP Conor Lillis-White). 

LaStella was one of the best pinch-hitters in the National League and had one of the best single-seasons of pinch-hitting in Cubs history in 2018 (312/396/416 with 5 2B, 1 HR, 11 RBI, 2 HBP, 9/13 BB/K in 79 PA with an MLB-leading and Cubs single-season club record 24 pinch-hits), and then he hit a robust 295/346/488 with 16 HR in 80 games for LAA this past season (where he was the Angels' everyday 2B for the first half of the campaign, before missing the second half after suffering a broken leg on 7/2). 

However, despite trading LaStella, the Cubs did have four of the better pinch-hitters in the National League (including two of the top six) in 2019. 

Unfortunately, they also had five of the worst (including - THE - worst), which left them in the bottom third of the league overall in pinch-hitting  

Cubs pinch-hitters in 2019 (sorted by PA, minimum 10 PA):

Tony Kemp: 290/421/548 with 1 3B, 2 HR, 7 RBI, 2 HBP, 5/7 BB/K (38 PA combined HOU/CHC)
Daniel Descalso: 065/143/065 with 0 XBH, 1 RBI, 1 SF, 1 SH, 3/12 BB/K (36 PA) 
David Bote: 304/407/435 with 3 2B, 4 RBI, 4/7 BB/K (27 PA) 
Victor Caratini: 421/522/789 with 1 2B, 2 HR, 7 RBI, 1 HBP, 3/5 BB/K (23 PA) 
Albert Almora: 105/190/263 with 1 HR, 2 RBI, 1 HBP, 1/4 BB/K (21 PA)
Mark Zagunis: 176/333/176 with 3 RBI, 4/12 BB/K (21 PA) 
Ian Happ: 375/421/813 with 1 2B, 2 HR, 4 RBI, 1 SF, 2/6 BB/K (19 PA)
Kyle Schwarber: 000/143/000 with 2/5 BB/K (14 PA) 
Robel Garcia: 111/200/111/000 with 1/6 BB/K (10 PA) 

Part of the value of bench players (especially in the N. L.) is the ability to pinch-hit (that is, hit "cold" of the bench), and the Cubs clearly had four guys who did that in 2019.  

Of course other elements like positional versatility, defensive skill, and speed are factors in bench construction, too, but having reliable "bats off the bench" who can produce in the late innings can be the difference between winning or losing a close game. 

Imagine how things might have been different in 2019 if the "All-American automatic out" that was Daniel Descalso is replaced on the bench by Tommy LaStella. 

With the new 26-man roster rule scheduled to go into effect in 2020 (with the 26th man required to be a position-player), N. L. clubs will be better able to carry guys who can hit off the bench even if they don't provide any other value to the club (which is essentially LaStella's profile).

Comments

It's too bad Conor Lillis-White wasn't able to pitch at all, because I thought he seemed like a decent return for La Stella at the time and probably would have had a chance to help out last year if he pitched well. If Lillis-White had been another Rowan Wick or Brad Wieck type acquisition we'd all feel a little better about the trade. 

lastella not getting to play in the all-star game last year because of breaking his leg was horrible.  going from pinch hitter to all-star is a hell of an earned status.

given how "meh at best" his play is at 2nd/3rd (especially 2nd), finding a place for him to get enough PAs to make him all-star visible might not be so easy unless he keeps popping the ball out of the park like he was doing last year.

and TLS is a part of getting the gang back w Maddon et al

Was just thinking about this, maybe that isn't a good thing for TLS?  I wonder if Maddon will use TLS differently after seeing his success last year.  That's my gripe with people complaining about Theo trading away a player that turns into an All Star.  If TLS had stayed with the Cubs, Maddon would most likely kept using him in the same manner and with the same results. 

Why was Tommy moved last year? Too much money?

dunno any official reasoning, but his D is miserable and they decided to "upgrade" there with descalso for similar loot as well as getting a trade piece back.  the whole a.russell thing was lingering over the team.

it's not like descalso is great with the glove, but la stella plays a miserable 2nd and meh 3rd.

i do wonder if things would have turned out differently if russell wasn't due to miss significant time.

HAGSAG: I suspect going into his age 30 season and coming off a great year as a pinch-hitter, LaStella wanted a chance to be an everyday player, and since that obviously wasn't going to happen if he stayed with the Cubs, TLS (or his agent) may have asked the Cubs to trade him somewhere he could get that opportunity.

Of course the Cubs didn't have to trade him, but the fact that LaStella was traded the day before last year's contract tender date is probably an indication that the Cubs were planning to non-tender him, and the Angels showed interest in LaStella as an everyday player and agreed to trade the Cubs a lefty reliever (Conor Lillis-White) who was eligible for selection in the Rule 5 Draft (he could be the PTBNL in the trade only if he wasn't selected).

It's even possible that the Cubs were considering selecting Lillis-White in the Rule 5 Draft, but preferred waiting until after the conclusion of the draft to acquire him so that they wouldn't have to add him to the 40 (what with the cumbersome Rule 6 Selected Player roster restrictions).   

I don't think it was so much that LaStella would have made too much money via arbitration (he was projected to get maybe $1.5M) that might have caused the Cubs to non-tender him. I suspect the Cubs wanted him at a lower base salary (lower than he would have gotten via arbitration, like maybe $1M) with perhaps another $500K in performance bonuses (which are not permitted if the matter goes to an arbitration panel) based upon games played in the field making up the difference, and they also might have projected that they would possibly need his slot on the 40 later in the off-season for a free-agent.  

And in fact within three weeks of trading LaStella the Cubs signed veteran free-agent INF-OF Daniel Descalso as LaStella's replacement, and although he was two years older than LaStella, Descalso was consdered a better defensive player with more athleticism and versatility, and while not the pure hitter that LaStella is, Descalso displayed a lot more HR power (23 HR combined 2017-18). Descalso was also seen as a positive clubhouse presence (he is very good friends with Anthony Rizzo from their days with Team Italy in the WBC), which I'm not sure was always the case with LaStella. 

Unfortunately (for the Cubs), LaStella ended up becoming a big-time HR hitter with the Angels (hit hit 16 HR in just 80 games with LAA after hitting only 10 HR in his first 396 MLB games) and upped his game defensively at both 2B and 3B as well, while Descalso showed all the earmarks of a player who is washed-up, and (other than throwing some "live" BP at Extended Spring Training) Lillis-White missed the entire 2019 season.  

"Patrick Mooney of The Athletic writes the Cubs are in the market for impact starting pitchers but won't be shopping at the top of the market."

darvish, lester, hendricks, Q, (???, a.mills, t.chatwood)...pending trades

d.keuchel?  r.porcello?  trade target pitcher?

Looking for impact starting pitchers, but won't be shopping at the top of the market? So I guess they won't be in the market for impact starting pitching.

Still hoping they find a taker for Q.

keuchel doesn't have draft pick compensation attached to him and he's a decent enough ground ball pitcher...that will be attractive to a lot of clubs.  that would put 3 lefties in the cubs rotation (pending a trade) again, though.  not sure they want to go for that look again.

that said, i still imagine the cubs are probably looking to make this thing happen via trade.  it's hard to tell what their $$ situation is, but they've done a great job signaling they're not looking to spend $$ this offseason.

Addison Russell, to no one's surprise, was  non-tendered. I still think he has the talent to excel in the major leagues, but it'll take a new attitude for him to realize his potential. It can't be easy to deal with his baggage in front of millions of fans. I won't forget his contributions in 2016, or that beautiful play that used to be the banner of TCR.

he was due for a 3.5-4m payday (3.4m last year) at a minimum, anyway.

it's as good of a time as any to cut him loose.  nico hoener's spring just became a lot more important.

This was the easiest non-tender decision, maybe ever. As if there weren't enough off-field reasons alone, there were even more baseball reasons. He became a sub .700 OPS hitter with bottom of the order OBA results. His defense, formerly his strength, became inconsistent due to attention deficit issues. He turned himself into bench infielder with suspect skills which is someone you don't pay more than $1--1.5M/yr.

I think without the off-field issues, a front-office might at least be tempted to gamble on Russell's youth and dreams of his upside. But with what we all know about him now, the challenges of improving both on and off the field are too great to gamble on.

Humerous 30 minutes this morning when both Mark Gonzalez and Gordon Wittenmyer tweeted out that the Cubs would be receiving Conor Lillis-White as the PTBNL in the Tommy La Stella trade as if it were just now happening. 

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  • crunch 18 hours 53 min ago (view)

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    Mark Gonzales @MDGonzales
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    1pm central

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