A CTA Train Car Named Desire: Cubs Trade for (Tommy La) Stella

Shortly after the Bears had finished their battle of attrition with the superiorly-hapless Vikings, news of a Cubs transaction came across the wires. It didn’t involve Russell Martin or Jon Lester, but rather Arodys Vizcaino heading back to his old team in return for Tommy La Stella.

A 25-year-old rookie in 2014, La Stella played 93 games at second base for the Atlanta Braves, hitting .251 with one home run and 31 RBI. He’s a lefty with decent OBP skills (.328), but he’s basically just a one-trick pony. Then again, do the Cubs really need much more than that at this point?

In giving up Vizcaino, the Cubs lose a power bullpen arm, but that’s actually been a position of strength for them so it’s really not much of a loss. Had this happened in another other offseason, or with any other team, it’s probably not enough to crack the news cycle on an NFL Sunday.

But these are the Cubs, and we’ve all been chumming the waters for weeks in the hopes that The Big One will finally bite. Everyone’s gotten so tuned up that even when a little fish like this swims into view, we get all hot and bothered. Surely, it was reasoned, Theo Epstein and Co. had ulterior motives.

Is this just a move before “The Move?” Is it indicative of a position change for Javier Baez? Why else would a team with such a noted glut of middle infielders acquire yet another guy with limited positional flexibility? Inquiring minds want to know, darnit!

But sometimes a cigar is just a cigar and sometimes a trade is just a trade. Or is it? You see, it wasn’t just two rookie ballplayers who were swapped on Sunday; the Cubs and Braves exchanged four international bonus pool slots in the deal as well. And that, of course, got people talking about Cuban slugger Yoan Moncada.

That international pool factors very heavily for teams who want to be in the running for Moncada. According to MLB Trade Rumors, the Cubs received the Braves’ number four slot ($142K) in exchange for Chicago’s second ($458K), third ($309.3K), and fourth ($206.7K) slots.

Those numbers were actually courtesy of Baseball America’s Ben Badler, a gentleman who once followed me on Twitter in order to send me a direct message requesting that I remove a link to one of his articles that was featured in a post of mine, only to un-follow me directly after.

But like a jilted lover who continues to drive past his ex’s house, I just can’t quit Badler. He is, after all, quite good at what he does. That said, I’ll let him explain to you the significance of the bonus pool money involved:

With the 2014-15 international signing period beginning in three months on July 2, teams have received their bonus pools and slot values from the commissioner’s office.

Bonus pools are determined based on reverse order of major league winning percentage, so the Astros will have the highest international bonus pool for the second year in a row, while the Cardinals will have the lowest.

The main number that matters for a team is its total signing bonus pool, which it is free to spend however it wants, with penalties in place for going over. Major League Baseball arrives at the bonus pools by giving each team a $700,000 base along with four “slot values,” which are tiered from No. 1 ($3,300,900) through No. 120 ($137,600).

It’s expected that the Cubs and Rangers will not be allowed to sign a player for more than $250,000 during the 2014-15 signing period as penalty for going well beyond 15 percent of their 2013-14 bonus pools, unless they can find a way around the rules. However, they don’t lose any of their bonus pool money, so they are still free to trade those slot values.

You can see the full article, along with each team’s bonus pool amount and slot values, by going through the MLB Trade Rumors link above. I’d link directly, but this feels a little more clandestine, like calling someone and then hanging up as soon as they answer.

My juvenile social media gripe aside, this deal has certainly raised more questions than answers. The Braves get back the fireballer they gave up in the Paul Maholm trade two years ago, along with $832K in international bonus pool cash, and the Cubs get a light-hitting on-base guy who doesn’t really have an ideal fit in the organization.

In the end, maybe this is simply a MacGuffin, just some throw-away plot point with no bearing on the overall narrative. But that doesn’t feel very Theo & Jed, now, does it? No, this has all the markings of Chekov’s gun. If you say in the first chapter that there is a rifle hanging on the wall, it absolutely must go off. If it’s not going to be fired, it shouldn’t be hanging there.

And if that’s the case, it’ll certainly be interesting to see where this particular gun is being aimed.

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