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What Giants future holds for La Stella after another lost season

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SAN FRANCISCO -- On May 17, in his second game back from the IL, Tommy La Stella swung so hard at an elevated sinker that both feet momentarily left the ground. The ball landed 464 feet away at Coors Field, and barring a surprising blast from any of his teammates over the next three days, it will go down as the longest homer of the Giants season by more than 20 feet. It will also go down as one of the few highlights of La Stella's second season in orange and black.

The Giants placed La Stella on the IL on Sept. 12 because of neck spasms, and as expected, he never returned. While they were coy about his status over the next few weeks, La Stella's locker was quietly cleaned out in recent days and he wasn't around for the final homestand. Manager Gabe Kapler said Sunday that the staff already had an exit meeting with La Stella, who is back home for the winter. 

When La Stella went on the IL after two weeks of essentially not playing, it was clear the Giants wanted to use any available at-bats for younger infielders like David Villar and Jason Vosler. The writing seemed to be on the wall long-term, but before Sunday's game, Kapler said that's not the case. 

"He's still very much a part of this team and the last conversation was exactly as you might expect, it was let's get ready for '23 and work your ass off and put yourself in position to be a great baseball player for the Giants next year," Kapler said.

 

That is what you would expect to hear from a manager at this point of the season, but the conversation won't be as straightforward in the offseason. La Stella is owed $11.5 million in the final year of a back-loaded contract that was the first three-year deal handed out by Farhan Zaidi. Through two years, he has appeared in 136 games and has been worth negative 0.3 Wins Above Replacement, per FanGraphs. 

The contract has been one of the worst moves made by this front office, but for as much as they have churned through players the last four years, it would be a tough pill to swallow to have to eat that much money. At the same time, the Giants are headed for an offseason where tough decisions will be necessary, and new rules for 2023 will put an even greater emphasis on athleticism.

Zaidi has said multiple times in recent months that the Giants need to get younger and more athletic this offseason. They put defense aside to get as many bat-first players in the lineup as possible in 2022 and it ended up being a disaster. In 2023, defensive range will be even more important because of the bans on shifts. 

RELATED: Kapler vows Giants will be stronger in 2023 after tough year

La Stella didn't move well after having Achilles surgery last October, and it turns out he actually had a procedure on both legs, something the Giants hadn't previously disclosed. Asked if La Stella can play infield with the new rules, Kapler said he is a believer, but "I think he's going to have to come into camp in really exceptional shape."

The Giants have prioritized keeping as many roster spots as possible available for waiver claims and minor moves, but given La Stella's contract and his past success, they may push a decision to next spring. Kapler said La Stella's foundation for 2022 "wasn't especially stable" after the surgeries but he is hopeful a good offseason can get La Stella back to form. 

"It's getting back to the version of himself and that is what we saw at times in (2021) and a few times this year as well," Kapler said. "High quality at-bats, looking for pitches to drive, laying off the pitches that you can't, and then tuning up the athleticism as much as he can possibly do."

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