The Mariners announced that they have signed infielder Tommy La Stella to a one-year deal. To create room on the 40-man roster, left-hander Justus Sheffield was designated for assignment.
La Stella, who turns 34 later this month, has some strong seasons on his track record but is coming off a rough patch. From 2016 to 2020, he walked in 9.6% of his trips to the plate and struck out in just 10.6% of them. He only hit 29 home runs over those five years but produced a batting line of .282/.358/.435. That production amounted to a wRC+ of 114, indicating he was 14% better than league average.
He parlayed that strong run of play into a three-year, $18.75MM contract with the Giants going into 2021. Unfortunately, things started going poorly for La Stella as soon as the ink dried on that deal. He only got into 76 games in 2021 due to various ailments and hit just .250/.308/.405 for a wRC+ of 93. He underwent achilles surgery in October, which was originally reported as occurring on his left achilles but was reported almost a year later to have been on both of them, per Andrew Baggarly of The Athletic.
Things got even worse in 2022, as injuries limited him to just 60 games on the season and he spent most of those as a designated hitter. He only took the field for 76 innings all year, getting brief amounts of time at first, second and third base. He hit just .239/.282/.350 for a wRC+ of 78. Though there was still one year left on his contract, the Giants cut bait and released him.
That makes this essentially a no-risk move for the Mariners, since the Giants are on the hook for the $11.5MM that’s still owed to La Stella. The M’s will pay him the prorated league minimum for any time he’s on the roster, with that amount being subtracted from San Francisco’s tab.
Though La Stella hardly took the field last year, he’s played more second base than anywhere else in his career. The Mariners were looking bolster their middle infield this offseason and already did so by trading for Kolten Wong. If the club views La Stella as a viable defender, he potentially gives them some extra cover there while adding a left-handed bat into their position player mix. Some of the clubs most obvious designated hitter candidates are right-handed, such as Teoscar Hernández and AJ Pollock. La Stella hits from the left side and has traditional platoon splits, having produced a 105 wRC+ against righties but just an 87 against lefties.
Though there’s no real financial cost for the M’s, they are paying the price of potentially losing Sheffield, who turns 27 in May. He was a first round selection of Cleveland in 2014 but was twice traded in headline-grabbing deals. He went to the Yankees in 2016 as part of the Andrew Miller trade and then went to Seattle in the 2018 James Paxton deal, frequently appearing on top prospect lists in that time as well.
Unfortunately, he hasn’t been able to live up to that pedigree thus far. He’s pitched 186 innings over the past five seasons but has just a 5.47 ERA to show for it. He’s gotten grounders at a healthy 49.5% clip but his 18.2% strikeout rate and 10.6% walk rate are both worse than league average. He hasn’t been faring much better in the minors either. He made 24 starts for Triple-A Tacoma last year and posted a 6.99 ERA in that time. The Rainiers play in the hitter-friendly Pacific Coast League but his rate stats were all fairly similar to his big league work and advanced defensive metrics were only slightly kinder, such as a 6.27 FIP and 5.64 xFIP.
It seems those poor results have been enough to push him off Seattle’s roster. They will now have one week to trade him or pass him through waivers. He still has one option year remaining and just over two years of service, which could make him appealing to a club that thinks he can recapture the form that made him such a touted prospect.
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