Tommy La Stella, Giants reach 3-year, $18.75M deal

Jayne Kamin-Oncea-USA TODAY Sports
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SAN FRANCISCO — Farhan Zaidi heard from his old Oakland executive counterparts Billy Beane and David Forst just how much Tommy La Stella meant to the AL West champion Athletics during the 2020 stretch run.

Zaidi could follow the veteran infielder’s success from close by, too, right across San Francisco Bay in his new gig with the Giants.

Praised for his plate discipline, the versatile La Stella completed an $18.75 million, three-year contract with San Francisco on Thursday, giving the club a reliable left-handed hitter with a track record of getting on base.

“San Francisco is where I wanted to be, so I’m very relieved we were able to get it done,” La Stella said. “The third year was important. I felt like wherever I went I wanted to be able to be there for a few years and to be a part of something.”

La Stella received the first three-year contract given by the Giants since Zaidi came aboard from the NL West rival Dodgers in November 2018.

The 32-year-old La Stella was a key contributor for the A’s last season after the 2019 All-Star got traded by the Los Angeles Angels in late August.

“Obviously I know the guys in Oakland really well,” said Zaidi, Giants’ president of baseball operations who spent 10 years with the A’s before departing for the Dodgers in November 2014. “Talked to them during the year, they were thrilled to get him in the trade that they made and I heard how excited they were about the job he did with them, less once the season was over and he was a free agent. And at that point it’s not an appropriate conversation to have.”

Zaidi values versatility, and La Stella figures to provide it. He played 33 games at second base during last year’s shortened 60-game schedule, 10 at first, six at third and another nine as designated hitter.

“Tommy has a rare offensive profile. The combination of excellent plate discipline and contact skills and some power is one we value,” manager Gabe Kapler wrote in a text message. “Tommy was obviously a key piece of Oakland’s run last year, and between the Angels and A’s, we saw the competitiveness up close. What people may not know is how Tommy constantly looks for the best way for him to get to and stay at his personal peak performance level. It’s as good as any player out there. His attention to detail has put him in this sought-after position.”

Kapler and La Stella had an extensive chat before the signing and connected right away. La Stella considers Kapler someone he can learn from at this stage.

La Stella is set to earn $2 million this season, $5.25 million in 2022 and $11.5 million in 2023. The contract includes La Stella making yearly donations to the Giants Community Fund of $10,000 this year, $26,250 in `22 and $57,500 in ’23.

Zaidi said such charitable contributions are becoming more common written into contracts and, “Very thankful that it was something Tommy was willing to do and speaks to not just his generous nature but his commitment to being part of this community.”

La Stella said the club approached him with the idea and he was eager to make his mark in the community, some of the details which are still in the works.

La Stella batted .281 last season between the Angels and A’s with five home runs, 14 doubles and two triples. His .370 on-base percentage helped make him one of the hardest players to strike out among qualified players with just 12 Ks in 228 plate appearances.

“I’ve spent an unhealthy amount of time just staring at his 27 walk to 12 strikeout ratio from last year. That probably says more about me than him although it does say a lot about him.”

La Stella could be slotted into any of the top four spots in the batting order.

“I feel and I think organizationally we feel like there are benefits to this kind of plate discipline and at-bat quality that go beyond the player’s stat line,” Zaidi said. “It makes it difficult for the pitcher, you can get starting pitchers out of the game sooner, the guy on deck gets to see more pitches, all of those things, the ability to grind out at-bats, just lifts the entire offense. That’s one reason we’ve been attracted to these kinds of guys and want to create that kind of offensive culture.”

San Francisco went 29-31 last year in Kapler’s first season, missing a playoff berth on the season’s final day with a 5-4 loss to playoff-bound rival San Diego.

To open room for La Stella on the 40-man roster, San Francisco designated outfielder Luis Alexander Basabe for assignment.

Zaidi said San Francisco would look to add a lefty hitter for the outfield, and hours later the club announced it had acquired LaMonte Wade Jr. from the Minnesota Twins for right-hander Shaun Anderson.

Biden praises Braves’ ‘unstoppable, joyful run’ to 2021 win

Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports
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WASHINGTON — President Joe Biden said the Atlanta Braves will be “forever known as the upset kings of October” for their improbable 2021 World Series win, as he welcomed the team to the White House for a victory celebration.

Biden called the Braves’ drive an “unstoppable, joyful run.” The team got its White House visit in with just over a week left before the 2022 regular season wraps up and the playoffs begin again. The Braves trail the New York Mets by 1.5 games in the National League East but have clinched a wildcard spot for the MLB playoffs that begin Oct. 7. Chief Executive Officer Terry McGuirk said he hoped they’d be back to the White House again soon.

In August 2021, the Braves were a mess, playing barely at .500. But then they started winning. And they kept it up, taking the World Series in six games over the Houston Astros.

Biden called their performance of “history’s greatest turnarounds.”

“This team has literally been part of American history for over 150 years,” said Biden. “But none of it came easy … people counting you out. Heck, I know something about being counted out.”

Players lined up on risers behind Biden, grinning and waving to the crowd, but the player most discussed was one who hasn’t been on the team in nearly 50 years and who died last year: Hall of Famer Hank Aaron.

Hammerin’ Hank was the home run king for 33 years, dethroning Babe Ruth with a shot to left field on April 8, 1974. He was one of the most famous players for Atlanta and in baseball history, a clear-eyed chronicler of the hardships thrown his way – from the poverty and segregation of his Alabama youth to the racist threats he faced during his pursuit of one of America’s most hallowed records. He died in January at 86.

“This is team is defined by the courage of Hank Aaron,” Biden said.

McGuirk said Aaron, who held front office positions with the team and was one of Major League Baseball’s few Black executives, was watching over them.

“He’d have been there every step of the way with us if he was here,” McGuirk added.

The president often honors major league and some college sports champions with a White House ceremony, typically a nonpartisan affair in which the commander in chief pays tribute to the champs’ prowess, poses for photos and comes away with a team jersey.

Those visits were highly charged in the previous administration. Many athletes took issue with President Donald Trump’s policies and rhetoric on policing, immigration and more. Trump, for his part, didn’t take kindly to criticism from athletes or their on-field expressions of political opinions.

Under Biden, the tradition appears to be back. He’s hosted the NBA champion Milwaukee Bucks and Super Bowl champion Tampa Bay Buccaneers at the White House. He joked about first lady Jill Biden’s Philadelphia allegiances.

“Like every Philly fan, she’s convinced she knows more about everything in sports than anybody else,” he said. He added that he couldn’t be too nice to the Atlanta team because it had just beaten the Phillies the previous night in extra innings.

Biden supported Major League Baseball’s decision to pull this summer’s All-Star Game from Atlanta to protest Georgia’s sweeping new voting law that critics contend is too restrictive.