A day before they were required to either tender contracts to salary arbitration-eligible players or cut them loose, the Angels traded future considerations for a career backup infielder and released Jabari Blash, an outfielder on the fringes of their major league roster.
Blash was moved to make room for Tommy La Stella, a 29-year-old who spent the last four seasons with the Chicago Cubs. La Stella is arbitration-eligible for the second time in his career this winter and is projected by MLB Trade Rumors to earn $1.2 million in the process.
General manager Billy Eppler said after the 2018 season he was disappointed with the Angels’ inability to reach base consistently in front of the powerful bats of Mike Trout, Justin Upton and Shohei Ohtani. The team managed a meager .313 on-base percentage, which ranked 20th out of 30 teams, and scored only 721 runs despite slugging the seventh-most home runs (214) in baseball.
Blash, an eighth-round draft pick of the Seattle Mariners in 2010, did not provide a viable solution to the Angels’ woes. He is a prolific triple-A hitter — he owns a 1.000 on-base-plus-slugging percentage with 244 RBIs in 318 games at that level — but he has not translated that success to the major leagues. After joining the Angels via a spring-training trade with the New York Yankees, he shuttled between triple-A Salt Lake and Anaheim all season, pairing his minor league batting average of .317 with a paltry .103 average in 24 major league games. He has batted .186 with a .306 OBP and 35 runs scored in 123 games since debuting with the San Diego Padres in 2016.
La Stella may not be an everyday option to plug the hole in the lineup, but he has proved himself a steady left-handed bat off the Cubs’ bench. He has batted .278 with a .394 OBP in 192 pinch-hit plate appearances since debuting with the Atlanta Braves in 2014. He set a Cubs record with 24 pinch-hits last year and led the majors with 11 pinch-hit RBIs.
La Stella, who made headlines for refusing to accept an assignment to the Cubs’ triple-A affiliate during the team’s playoff run in 2016, offers more reliable consistency for the Angels. He batted .274 with a .360 OBP while playing at second and third base the last three seasons. His experience could also help shore up what had been lacking in the Angels’ infield from Taylor Ward and David Fletcher, who have played a combined 120 major league games and are expected to contribute in the big leagues next season.
“I’d like to thank the Chicago Cubs for an amazing experience over the last four years — a special group of people who taught me about so much more than just the game of baseball and who supported me when they easily could have chosen not to,” La Stella said in a statement provided by the agency that represents him. “Thank you to the fans and everyone in the organization, especially to the boys. Being around you guys was some of the best times I’ve had playing the game. And lastly, thank you to my new team, the Angels. I’m excited for this new opportunity and can’t wait to get it started.”
With the acquisition, the Angels’ 40-man roster remains full.
The Angels must decide by Friday’s 5 p.m. deadline whether to offer contracts to nine salary arbitration-eligible players. Since they remain interested in upgrading their starting rotation, it is likely the Angels decline to tender contracts to a couple of them. Among the nine are oft-injured pitcher Matt Shoemaker and fellow starter JC Ramirez, who had elbow-ligament replacement surgery in April and will not be ready to pitch for the Angels until June 2019 at the earliest.