The Mariners announced they have signed the infielder Tommy La Stella to a one-year contract. To create space on the 40-player roster, the lefty Fair Sheffield was designated for assignment.
La Stella, who turns 34 at the end of this month, has some solid seasons under his belt, but he’s coming off a rough patch. From 2016 to 2020, she walked 9.6% of her trips to the plate and struck out in just 10.6% of them. He only hit 29 home runs in those five years, but he produced a .282/.358/.435 batting line. That production amounted to a wRC+ of 114, indicating that it was 14% better than the league average.
He parlayed that hot streak of play into a three-year, $18.75MM deal with the Giants through 2021. Unfortunately, things started to go wrong for La Stella as soon as the ink dried on that deal. He only appeared in 76 games in 2021 due to various ailments and hit just .250/.308/.405 for a wRC+ of 93. He underwent Achilles tendon surgery in October, which was originally reported to have occurred on his hamstring. Achilles left, but it was reported almost a year after having been in both, for Andrew Baggarly of The Athletic.
Things got even worse in 2022, as injuries limited him to just 60 games on the season, spending most of them as the designated hitter. He only took the field 76 innings all year, getting brief stints at first, second and third base. He hit just .239/.282/.350 for a wRC+ of 78. Although he still had a year left on his contract, the Giants cut the bait and released him.
That makes this essentially a risk-free move for the Mariners, as the Giants are on the hook for the $11.5MM still owed to La Stella. The M’s will pay him the prorated league minimum for any time he’s on the roster, and that amount will be deducted from San Francisco’s account.
Although La Stella barely took the field last year, he has played more second base than in any other part of his career. The Mariners were looking to bolster their midfield this offseason and have already done so by trading for Kolten Wong. If the club sees La Stella as a viable defender, he potentially gives them some extra coverage there while adding a left-handed bat to their position player mix. Some of the clubs’ most obvious designated hitter candidates are right-handed, such as Teoscar Hernandez Y Pollock. The Stella hits from the left side and has traditional platoon splits, having produced a 105 wRC+ against righties but just an 87 against southpaws.
Although there is no real financial cost to the Ms, they are paying the price of potentially losing Sheffield, who turns 27 in May. He was a first-round pick out of Cleveland in 2014 but was traded twice in headline-grabbing deals. He went to the Yankees in 2016 as part of the andres miller trade and then went to Seattle in 2018 james paxton deal, frequently appearing on top prospect lists at the time as well.
Unfortunately, until now he has not been able to live up to that pedigree. He’s thrown 186 innings over the past five seasons, but he only has a 5.47 ERA to show for it. He has ground balls at a healthy 49.5% rate, but his 18.2% strikeout rate and 10.6% walk rate are worse than the league average. He hasn’t fared 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 their index stats were pretty similar to their big-league work and advanced defensive metrics were only slightly kinder, like a 6.27 FIP and an xFIP of 5.64.
It seems that those poor results have been enough to drop him from Seattle’s roster. They will now have a week to redeem it or pass it through waivers. He still has an option year and just over two years of service remaining, which could make him attractive to a club that believes he can recapture the form that made him such a touted prospect.