Most Chicago Cubs’ fans know the story of Tommy La Stella. Sent down to the minors, wouldn’t accept the assignment. He even considered retiring. It’s one thing to say “he only wanted to play for the Cubs”. But it’s more complex than that.
When the Chicago Cubs acquired Tommy La Stella in November of 2014, they knew one thing. He could absolutely rake. Back then, the infield was a crowded place to be. It still is, but not with the same faces that are here now. In 2014 his competition looked like this: Starlin Castro, Javier Baez, Arismendy Alcantara, Logan Watkins and Luis Valbuena. Addison Russell was on the cusp as well. But now, only Baez and Russell remain from that group. Ben Zobrist and Kris Bryant have been added making at-bats tough to come by.
But last season, the drama that La Stella brought to Chicago turned a lot of people off to him. When you look back at it, it’s somewhat of a surprise to see how many of the Cubs players–and staff–supported what he was doing. The fans? There’s a clear line of those that chose to support him and more that were ready to see him retire. So after starting the year with a tight hamstring and getting his first at-bats on Saturday, what’s the expectation for La Stella?
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To go along with that full infield is a full roster of talent. And it’s not as simple as “these infielders and those outfielders”. Thanks to Joe Maddon and his love of versatility, the roster situation is a bit more fluid. But that’s also what complicates it. The two frontrunners for a spot–La Stella and Matt Szczur–are strictly an infielder and an outfielder, respectively.
Injury has given Szczur the advantage
To make things more difficult on La Stella while he’s been slowed with the hamstring issue, Szczur has been one of the top hitters so far in camp (.357, 5-for-14, 2 3B, 4 RBI). And Szczur is out of options. If he doesn’t make the team, he’s likely to be headed elsewhere. If the decision comes down to these two? No offense Tommy, but I’m taking Szczur.
So the question remains, with two options left, would La Stella gracefully accept a minor league assignment? Or will it be another “tantrum” like last year? Whatever the reason was, the Cubs stuck by La Stella and supported him. For a team that isn’t big on distractions, that says a lot. But the Cubs need to do what’s best to protect the roster.
Last season, the Cubs chose to go with Neil Ramirez in a similar situation. With no options remaining, Ramirez got the last spot on the Opening Day roster. And while it didn’t work out, that move helped protect the options of other players on the roster.
The Cubs would be wise to take advantage of La Stella’s options and keep Szczur on the roster. For at least the chance of holding on to him and trying to work a trade with another team. That could be difficult as some GM’s might assume the Cubs are considering putting him through waivers and not taking the bait. But if that’s the situation it comes down to, getting something for Szczur would be better than nothing.