9:59pm: La Stella went on the record with ESPN Chicago’s Jesse Rogers and explained his perspective in a lengthy interview that I’d highly encourage all readers to check out in its entirety. La Stella harbors no ill feelings toward the Cubs for optioning him, stating that he told the team he “completely understand[s]” that it had to make a business decision. Rogers spoke to numerous Cubs players, including Jason Heyward, who offered La Stella nothing but support.
La Stella explains to Rogers that he contemplated retirement this offseason but came back for the 2016 season because of the close bond he shares with his Cubs teammates. He emphasized to Rogers that his decision to head home wasn’t a reaction to being sent down, but rather was made because he has no desire to play anywhere other than with the Cubs. “There wasn’t much more that went into it than ’this is where I want to be,'” said La Stella. “It was as simple as that. It didn’t feel right to me to go be somewhere else just to continue playing. That’s not what my thoughts center around, being a ballplayer and making it happen anyway possible. We all have a right to dictate what we do to some extent.”
Further demonstrating that his decision isn’t a product of trying to leverage his way back into the Major Leagues, La Stella said he’d rather “step away” from baseball entirely than be traded to another club, even if it meant being on a big league roster. He added that conversations with president of baseball operations Theo Epstein have been positive, and Epstein understands where he’s coming from. La Stella still hopes to return to the Cubs.
La Stella’s comments, like recent ones made by Jonathan Lucroy when explaining his decision to veto a trade, serve as a reminder that despite the large salaries and extraordinarily public nature of their employment, there are human elements behind all of the transactions that we, as observers, often take for granted. La Stella cites a history of injuries and other factors that he deems personal in nature as contributing elements to his view of the game and his current situation. Again, MLBTR readers are strongly encouraged to go read all of La Stella’s comments in Rogers’ story linked above in order to add further context to the matter at hand.
5:45pm: La Stella has been placed on the temporarily inactive list in the minors, GM Jed Hoyer told reporters (Twitter link via Mark Gonzales of the Chicago Tribune). Beyond that, he adds that La Stella is not presently ill and concedes that his situation has created a need for the organization to seek a left-handed bat.
5:03pm: Infielder Tommy La Stella has yet to report to Triple-A Iowa after being optioned to the minors by the Cubs back on July 29, and manager Joe Maddon appeared on the Spiegel and Goff Show on 670 The Score today to address the issue (transcript with audio link available).
“I’ve texted and talked to him, and we’ve had other folks talk to him also,” said Maddon. “Right now, I don’t have any kind of conclusion for you honestly. He’s working out back near his home in New Jersey. He’s hitting, he’s running, those kinds of things. So we’re just waiting for him to decide exactly what he wants to do. … Pretty much, the ball is literally in Tommy’s court right now. We love having him here. He’s a great teammate. He’s a very good player. Do we want to have him back? Absolutely, but pretty much, it’s his decision that he has to make for himself.”
La Stella was optioned in order to make room for outfielder Chris Coghlan to be activated from the DL and reportedly did not take the news well. The 27-year-old’s frustration with the move is understandable, as he’s been quite productive in 2016, hitting .295/.388/.457 with a pair of homers in 122 plate appearances while playing both second and third base. La Stella, though, had minor league options remaining, whereas Coghlan did not. As such, the Cubs optioned the far more productive hitter — Coghlan owns a woeful .158/.253/.276 slash in 229 plate appearances — due to the fact that Coghlan could not be sent down without first being exposed to waivers.
Players typically have 72 hours to report to the minors after being optioned out, though Tommy Birch of the Des Moines Register reported last week that the Cubs gave La Stella some extra time for what a team spokesperson called personal reasons. Based on Maddon’s comments, it’s unclear when or if La Stella will ultimately report, and the skipper acknowledged on the radio that the unusual circumstances have potentially strained the relationship between team and player: “…just doing what he’s doing right now is probably going to create a little bit more strain in the sense of regarding him coming back.”
Regardless of whether or not he plays another game in the Majors this year, La Stella will finish the season with more than two years of big league service time, making him controllable through the 2020 season and arbitration-eligible following the 2017 season (assuming he accrues the necessary service next year). He’s a career .263/.341/.358 hitter in 577 plate appearances.