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Angels acquire Tommy La Stella from Cubs

Baseball’s most prolific pinch-hitter of 2018 is headed to the American League.

MLB: St. Louis Cardinals at Chicago Cubs Photo by Patrick Gorski-USA TODAY Sports

The Angels have acquired utility infielder and pinch-hitter extraordinaire Tommy La Stella from the Cubs in exchange for a player to be named later or cash considerations, per a club announcement Thursday afternoon:

The 29-year-old La Stella is arbitration-eligible this winter and was projected by MLB Trade Rumors to earn a $1.2 million salary in 2019, so considering the minimal return, this is likely a situation where he was going to be non-tendered by the Cubs on Friday if he hadn’t been dealt.

While La Stella clearly isn’t a massive difference-maker, he’s a versatile player who has proven his ability to contribute to a winning ball club, having been a member of four straight Cubs playoff teams from 2015-18. A season after posting a spectacular .288/.389/.472 slash line with five homers in 151 plate appearances, La Stella really didn’t do much at the plate in 2018, hitting .266/.340/.331 with just one home run in 192 PAs, but he was very good coming off the bench, posting a .307/.402/.420 slash line in 104 plate appearances as a sub, including a .312/.398/.416 line in a majors-leading 90 PAs as a pinch-hitter.

Obviously, La Stella won’t be in line for nearly as many pinch-hitting opportunities as he moves to the American League, but he may actually receive a more prominent role in Los Angeles; the Angels currently lack a proven starter at second base, and though they could either address that position through free agency or trade or find a better third baseman and move Zack Cozart to second, La Stella — along with David Fletcher — would seem to be one of the top two candidates to win the second base job as things stand today.

The Cubs seem to do a good job of inventing serviceable bench players, so they probably won’t have too much difficulty replacing La Stella. Not counting Addison Russell, whose future is in question following his domestic-violence suspension, the Cubs have 10 starting-caliber position players, so it shouldn’t be too hard to spread La Stella’s plate appearances among that group. Utility infielder Ronald Torreyes, who was acquired from the Cubs earlier this week, could be in line to take his spot on the bench next year.