Two AL West rivals made a swap on Friday evening as the Oakland Athletics acquired infielder Tommy La Stella from the Los Angeles Angels in exchange for fellow infielder Franklin Barreto, according to Ken Rosenthal of The Athletic.
Angels acquiring Franklin Barreto from Athletics for Tommy La Stella, sources tell The Athletic.— Ken Rosenthal (@Ken_Rosenthal) August 29, 2020
La Stella, 31, was acquired by Los Angeles from the Chicago Cubs ahead of the 2019 season in exchange for a PTBNL. (That player ended up being minor league pitcher Connor Lillis-White, who hasn’t appeared in an affiliated game since late 2018.)
Always a sub-1.0 fWAR player who hit right around .270/.350/.400 in Chicago, La Stella burst onto the scene with the Angels, earning an All-Star selection in 2019 while recording 2.0 fWAR. He finished the year slashing .295/.346/.486 with a 6.2 percent walk rate and a career-low 8.7 percent strikeout clip. While limited to just 80 games thanks to an injury, La Stella still produced an impressive season and entered 2020, a contract year, with huge expectations.
So far, through 28 games, he has posted a .273/.371/.475 slash line. He’s on pace to record a 6.0 percent strikeout rate, which would be the best of his career, and a 12.8 percent walk rate, which would be his second-best clip.
Heading the other way is Barreto, who was once a top prospect but has struggled since his MLB debut in 2017. In 95 big-league games (219 plate appearances), Barreto is slashing just .180/.210/.360 with a .264 BABIP, .241 wOBA, and 50 wRC+. His career -0.6 fWAR is equally frustrating. These stats might spark pessimism, but Barreto proved in the minors that he can produce at an All-Star level.
The area where Barreto has struggled the most since being signed as an international prospect is his vision at the plate. In his 95 MLB contests, Barreto has a measly 3.2 percent walk rate and incredibly high 42.0 strikeout rate. His struggles at the plate in the minors were equally concerning; his walk and strikeout rates weren’t as drastically woeful, but they were still far worse than they should have been.
So why did the Angels trade a veteran All-Star with dual-threat success in the field and at the plate for a former top prospect who hasn’t amounted to much in the majors? Well, it’s all about building the future. The Athletics are in win-now mode, valued La Stella’s continued success, and had already been struggling to find playing time for Barreto. Meanwhile, the Angels were set to lose La Stella to free agency in a matter of months and instead flipped him for a once-top prospect who could bounce back with increased playing time, too.
Barreto is under team control and eligible for arbitration through 2024, giving him at least four years to adjust his approach at the plate and re-find the tools that made him a highly-regarded international prospect and farm system gem.
While inter-divisional trades are rare, this one just makes sense in a season that has already seen its fair share of confusion.