Since Farhan Zaidi took over as the San Francisco Giants’ president of baseball operations in ahead of the 2019 season, he has shied away from long-term commitments. Zaidi and general manager Scott Harris have relied on one-year deals, handing those out to Kevin Gausman, Anthony DeSclafani, Alex Wood. Only Wilmer Flores has gotten two years guaranteed.
Before Thursday, the team didn’t have a single player signed beyond 2022. Johnny Cueto and Evan Longoria, leftover acquisitions from the Bobby Evans years, will be free agents by then (assuming the Giants decline Longoria’s option in 2023). The team-friendly extensions to the last remnants of the World Series-winning teams will have run their course. Buster Posey, Brandon Crawford, and Brandon Belt could all be gone come October. Players under team control like Mike Yastrzemski and Mauricio Dubón may still be around in three years, but so far, Zaidi and Harris have liked only one free agent enough to keep him around for a season or two. That player is Tommy La Stella.
La Stella has played in seven major league seasons, but he’s never gotten more than 321 plate appearances and only once has he played in 100 games or more. The only time he’s been an everyday player was in 2020’s two-month season. La Stella will be 32 by the time Opening Day rolls around, and that’s even if the season starts on time. He’ll be 34 by the time his contract is up, and yet, Zaidi and Harris are confident La Stella will be a contributor then. It’s a little weird, right?
It’s not that La Stella is a bad signing or anything. Far from it. There’s a lot to love about his game. Over the last two seasons, La Stella amassed 549 plate appearances and slashed .289/.356/.471 for a 124 wRC+. In 2020, he led all qualified hitters with a 2.25 walk-to-strikeout ratio. The next-closest was Ted Williams comp Juan Soto at 1.46.
As a left-handed bat, he fits in nicely in San Francisco which is down to the aforementioned Brandons, Yastrzemski, and Alex Dickerson for lefty hitters. (It’s no surprise that the Giants are still in the market for a left-handed outfielder like Jackie Bradley Jr. or Joc Pederson). At second, he could pair with Dubón or Donovan Solano, and at third he matches with Longoria.
La Stella started 10 games at first in 2020, but the right-handed Flores and left-handed Belt have that position covered. There’s also the (somewhat distant) possibility Joey Bart spends some time at first with Posey and Chadwick Tromp returning. Unless Flores or Belt are traded, I wouldn’t expect La Stella to get many starts at first.
For now, La Stella gives the Giants options where they previously had redundancy. La Stella didn’t get Zaidi’s first “longterm” contract because the kind of player that you “build around.” He got it because he’ll fit into whatever you decide to build.
Kenny Kelly is the managing editor of Beyond the Box Score.