Tommy La Stella

Joe Maddon already has a new job, signs on with Angels

Joe Maddon already has a new job, signs on with Angels

Barring a Cubs-Angels World Series, the Wrigley Field faithful might not have much of an opportunity to welcome Joe Maddon back to The Friendly Confines.

It didn't take long for Maddon to find a job, as he reportedly agreed this week to join the Los Angeles Angels as their next manager. This was a widely speculated move after the Angels let go of manager Brad Ausmus just one year into a three-year contract immediately after the Cubs announced they were parting ways with Maddon. 

According to ESPN's Jesse Rogers, Maddon's deal will likely be for three years at $4-5 million a season:

Maddon came up as a coach in the Angels system, referencing his three decades there often during the course of his five years in Chicago.

Once the Cubs got rid of Maddon, it was obvious he would have plenty of suitors, as just about any team with a managerial vacancy would be interested in the future Hall of Famer. But instead of going to an up-and-coming team like the Padres or a squad on the cusp of the playoffs like the Phillies, Maddon opted to return to his baseball home.

That means he will most likely not face off against the Cubs over the next couple of seasons, as the Cubs hosted the Angels in 2019 and are not slated to play each other again until 2021 (which will take place in L.A.). Barring the aforementioned World Series meeting, Maddon and the Cubs likely won’t cross paths in Chicago for the next few seasons.

It also means Maddon will get to team up with the best player in the game (Mike Trout) and an exciting young two-way star (Shohei Ohtani) while inheriting a roster that otherwise has some major flaws. The Angels have struggled to build up a roster around Trout over his nine seasons, making the playoffs just once in 2014 and getting bounced from the ALDS by the Kansas City Royals that season.

But the Angels do have some intriguing prospects coming up the system — led by outfielder Jo Adell — and Maddon has experience taking a team and elevating them to contender status immediately. He also carries immediate clout that will help draw free agents to L.A., as he did in Chicago with Jon Lester.

Maddon will be reunited with former Cubs fan favorite Tommy La Stella, who was starring for the Angels earlier this season before a leg injury sent him to the shelf for several months.

In many ways, this is an ideal fit for Maddon, who will get to stay in a big market with a team willing to spend and a roster that at least has some incredible talent from Day 1. It would obviously be a difficult task to try to overtake the juggernaut Houston Astros in the AL West, but he accomplished a similar feat in Chicago when he led the Cubs past the Cardinals in Year 1 (and kept the Cards out of the playoffs for the next three years until their return to October baseball this fall).

The Cubs, meanwhile, have not yet announced a new manager, though David Ross still looms as the favorite to take over Maddon's former gig. Theo Epstein's front office interviewed Mark Loretta, Will Venable, Joe Girardi and Ross earlier this month and also planned to talk to Joe Espada and Gabe Kapler this week.

Epstein said the Cubs are "full speed ahead" to hire a new manager, so expect them to move quickly to finalize Maddon's heir.

Former Cub Tommy La Stella is having a special season

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USA TODAY

Former Cub Tommy La Stella is having a special season

If Tommy La Stella was still playing for the Cubs, he would be tied with Javy Baez for the team lead in homers (11) and would be second in OPS (.998) and third in batting average (.301).

But La Stella is not on the Cubs anymore, as they traded him to Los Angeles over the winter. There, the former pinch hitter extraordinaire is now serving as the leadoff man in front of Mike Trout and Shohei Ohtani in the Angels lineup.

La Stella had 4 hits Wednesday, including his 11th homer of the season. Trout only has 9 dingers to date.

Even more incredible: La Stella has more homers (11) than strikeouts (8) this season. He's the only player in baseball who can make that claim.

That puts the 30-year-old La Stella on track for 41 homers and 94 RBI this season to go along with a .301/.388/.611 slash line. Strangely, he's also only on pace for 8 doubles, as he has just a pair of two-baggers to date.

To say that power is surprising would be an understatement. La Stella already has more homers in L.A. in 2019 than he hit in his entire career prior to this season — 10 HR in 396 games (828 at-bats).

He only hit 9 dingers in four seasons with the Cubs, though he also made just 95 starts in that span while spending most of his time serving as Joe Maddon's main offensive weapon off the bench.

The Cubs have already seen La Stella this season — back in mid-April when the Angels came to town. Fans and former teammates welcomed him back with a video tribute and much of Cubs nation has been following his success all year, including his big game Wednesday:

La Stella became something of a fan favorite with the Cubs, who traded him away for minor-league pitcher Conor Lillis-White in November amid a roster and budget crunch this winter. 

Maddon has enjoyed seeing La Stella pad the stat sheet and even made a joke Wednesday in Cincinnati about why we never saw this kind of power output in Chicago:

La Stella still has one more game at Wrigley this season, as the Angels are set to return to Chicago on June 3 to make up the game that was snowed out back on April 14.

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Tommy La Stella speaks highly of Cubs in return to Wrigley Field

Tommy La Stella speaks highly of Cubs in return to Wrigley Field

At one point in his career, it was the Cubs or nothing for infielder Tommy La Stella.

La Stella weighed retiring from baseball in 2016 after the Cubs demoted him to Triple-A Iowa in a roster-crunch move. La Stella didn’t accept the demotion, instead going home to New Jersey for several weeks.

La Stella’s decision had less to do with being demoted as much as it had to do with him only wanting to play for the Cubs. He ultimately returned to the team on Aug. 31, playing two more seasons with the Cubs before getting traded to the Angels last offseason.

Friday, the 30-year-old returned to Wrigley Field for the first time since the trade and was full of praise for the Cubs organization.

“It’s cool, it’s a special place” La Stella said. “[It’s] a little different walking over to the first base side, but it’s awesome.

“I had a lot of great times here with some really special people, so it’s cool to be back and play again.”

Cubs manager Joe Maddon spoke highly of La Stella before the start of Friday’s game.

“Tommy’s been a big part of what we’ve done the last couple years," Maddon said. "He’s had so many big hits for us, he’s been a really productive member in the clubhouse also.

“I know he went through that one moment, but if anyone’s learned a life’s lesson, he has. I consider him a friend.

The big hits are still coming for La Stella, who already has three home runs in 12 games with the Angels after hitting five in 2018. While the infielder is no longer a Cub, the memories he made during his tenure in Chicago will last forever.

“It was a large part of my life and the bulk of my career so far," he said. "The people here are special, the organization is great. I made some friendships hopefully that will last a lifetime."

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