Friday, June 18

Tommy La Stella trade analysis: Athletics show playoff urgency, Angels give up hope

The Athletics and Angels struck a deal Friday night that resembled the last significant trade the clubs made with one another, back in 2013.

The move seven years ago sent platoon infielder Alberto Callaspo to Oakland for fading prospect Grant Green. This one sent infielder Tommy La Stella to Oakland for fading prospect Franklin Barreto.

La Stella, though, is a more important asset to the A’s than Callaspo was in 2013. Unlike Callaspo, who primarily hit against southpaws, La Stella has made a career out of smashing right-handed pitching. The 2019 All-Star be a key figure at second base for the rest of the campaign as he tries to continue his impressive mid-career breakout.

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Oakland (22-10) is gearing up for a playoff run; Los Angeles (10-22) just wants 2020 to end as soon as possible.

Here’s a breakdown of what the trade means for the A’s and Angels:

Why did the A’s want Tommy La Stella?

Before La Stella fractured his tibia in a freak injury in July 2019, he was having by far the best season of his career. He had hit 16 home runs in 78 games and was sporting a .300/.353/.495 slash line.

The 31-year-old, who is set to become a free agent after the campaign, is off to a strong start this year, elevating hopes his 2019 was not a fluke. In 28 games this season, he’s slashing .273/.371/.475 and has walked 15 times to just seven strikeouts. That last figure might have been particularly intriguing for an A’s team that often swings through pitches it doesn’t smash out of the ballpark. When the club acquired Callaspo in 2013, it was in large part because of his low 9.2 percent strikeout rate. La Stella’s career mark sits at a similar 11.1 percent.

La Stella should also provide platoon punch alongside Chad Pinder at second base. La Stella has a career .760 OPS against righties. Pinder has a career .773 mark against lefties. Clump them together and there’s hard-hitting middle-infield production where there once wasn’t.

Oakland gains depth from its acquisition of La Stella. It can now move Tony Kemp into a freewheeling utility role that probably better suits his skill set than being a regular starter.

“Having too many good options is never a problem,” general manager David Forst told reporters after the trade. “[La Stella] plays a majority at second base and provides a threat from the left side for us. I think we’ll have no problem finding a spot for him in the lineup.”

What does this trade mean for Oakland’s 2020 outlook?

The A’s know they will need to make tough financial decisions on their homegrown stars in the coming years, likely losing key pieces of a core pushing toward a third straight postseason bid. That has added urgency to 2020 despite the campaign being shortened to 60 games and fans being kept from the stands.

Barreto wasn’t a factor this year, and La Stella will almost certainly improve Oakland’s already potent offense. This isn’t a game-changing transaction by any means, but it does put the rest of the AL on notice that the A’s plan to be aggressors ahead of the Aug. 31 deadline.

Do the Angels see value in Franklin Barreto?

Barreto is still just 24 and has parts of four big league seasons under his belt, but there are abundant red flags in his game. He leaves the A’s ranking eighth-worst in baseball history in strikeout percentage among non-pitchers with at least 200 plate appearances. He almost never draws walks. He came up as a shortstop prospect but is now viewed as a second baseman.

That said, the Angels might as well roll the dice with someone under team control beyond this year. Barreto possesses above-average pop for his position and was once a consensus top-40 prospect. He is the kind of player underperforming teams love to take on as a low-risk flier.

What does this trade mean for the Angels’ 2020 outlook?

With more than half the season already finished, this appears to be the official surrender flag from the Angels, who finished Friday in last place behind the rebuilding Mariners. It’s been quite the nosedive for a team that came into the year genuinely believing it could contend.

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