Starting at Second Base for Your Chicago Cubs…Tommy La Stella?

Despite spending most of the last two months of 2014 with the Cubs, there have been some indications that Javier Baez may start the 2015 season in AAA. The Cubs’ acquisition of Tommy La Stella from the Braves early in the offseason and reported interest in Stephen Drew and Ben Zobrist has led to some to speculate that Baez will not start the year off in Chicago.

The issues that have plagued the slugging phenom have been well documented. In short, he strikes out way too much and doesn’t seem to be interested in altering his feast-or-famine approach (41% K%, .169 AVG, with almost a 30 HR pace over the course of a full season).

That kind of power potential from second base is tantalizing, but the noticeable holes persist and rumblings of the need for more seasoning in the minors have gotten louder as the offseason has progressed. At the time of this writing, Baez has struck out 21 times while taking 5 walks in 11 Puerto Rican Winter League games.

When the Cubs traded for La Stella my first thought was “why did they do that?” There were some out there who thought it meant that the Cubs would move one of their middle infielders in a trade for a pitcher, but as of yet that has not happened.

Now as the calendar has moved into 2015, I have seen more and more people putting La Stella out there as a starter for the Cubs, and, on the surface, that does make some sense. He is the opposite of the all-or-nothing Baez. La Stella is patient and doesn’t strike out much at all (10% BB%, 11.1% K%), but has next to no power (1 HR, .66 ISO).

This is a point of opinion, but the Cubs don’t really need a 20-30 HR potential hitter at every spot in their lineup. Putting someone that can make contact consistently while getting on base at a decent clip in front of the power hitters would be a smart move.

Defensively, it truly is about a push (La Stella -2.1 UZR and Baez -3.2 UZR), though I do think Baez’s arm is night-and-day better than La Stella’s. In reality though, that is mitigated by playing second base…unless you count relay throws. But really, are there enough of those to even matter?

The risk associated with La Stella is much lower than that with Baez, but so is the potential reward. La Stella is a contact hitter that can take a walk and play passable defense, but the power that Baez can provide is so tempting. Let’s look at some projections for 2015 from Steamer600 (based on a player getting 600 ABs):

Triple Slash





Javier Baez






Tommy La Stella






Okay, so not a great difference ultimately between the two players, as both have a WAR of 1.4. I do think the strikeout projection for Baez (30%) may be on the low side. Unless he decides to alter his approach, he may be looking at more like 200+ Ks for the year. Granted, neither guy will probably get 600 ABs, but it does give an idea of what each may bring to the team.

Of course, the other players I mentioned earlier (Stephen Drew and Ben Zobrist) could be signed/acquired and make this debate worthless. Stephen Drew and his reported $9-10 million price tag does not sound enticing, but I, like probably every other Cubs fan, would love Ben Zobrist. He is battle tested, versatile, productive, and is a great leader by all accounts.

I do think the cost in terms of players may sting a bit even though Zobrist is in his walk year and will be 34 a couple months into the season. He is so valuable to his team because he can play pretty much anywhere on the diamond (except for catcher) and produces at an above-average rate (averaged over 5.5 WAR the past 4 seasons).

For argument’s sake though, let’s say the Cubs don’t acquire Zobrist and go into the season with who they have now. Is a team with power at several spots already better off with Javier Baez and his mighty potential or with a table-setter, a contact hitter that can get on in front of the boppers?

I for one would love to see Baez get a little more seasoning (maybe a month) in Iowa, letting La Stella start the season as the everyday second baseman. Ideally, Baez would make the necessary adjustments and would come up to hit .250 and slug 25-30 HRs for the rest of the season with a K rate below 30%, relegating La Stella to bench duty. Wishful thinking?

Okay, screw it, go get Zobrist!

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