CHICAGO — While few would argue that having too many good players is a nice problem for a big-league club to have, there is a downside. So it was Friday for the Cubs when they activated veteran outfielder Chris Coghlan off the 15-day disabled list and optioned infielder Tommy La Stella to Triple-A Iowa.
The complexities of the move are evidenced in the respective 2016 stat lines of the two players. Coghlan, 31, is hitting .155 in 194 big-league at-bats. Meanwhile, La Stella, 27, is hitting .295 in 105 at-bats to go with a .388 on-base percentage and a .457 slugging percentage.
But La Stella had roster options remaining and Coghlan did not, and the talented Cubs face an ongoing challenge of managing their 25-man roster.
“Honestly, it's just about rules,” Cubs manager Joe Maddon said. “We talked about that the other day. It’s just getting Coghlan back; he was ready to come back. And Tommy had an option.”
La Stella played six games for Iowa earlier this season while rehabbing from a hamstring injury, but otherwise had spent the entire season with the big-league club. He had started seven games in July and overall hit .309 for the month.
How did La Stella respond to the demotion?
“Not well,” Maddon said. “Like you would not expect it. Not well, and he shouldn’t take it well. It’s just an unusual moment we’re in right now, where we have so many guys. This is definitely advocacy for a 27- or 28-man roster. It’s difficult. These are hard decisions.”
Coghlan played 148 games at five positions for the Cubs last season, hitting .250 with 16 homers and 41 RBI. He was traded during the offseason to Oakland for pitcher Aaron Brooks. But the Cubs found themselves short a lefty bat after the season began when Kyle Schwarber injured his knee, and they subsequently reacquired Coghlan on June 9 for outfielder Arismendy Alcantara.
Coghlan had been on the disabled list since July 3 with a right rib cage strain. After being activated, he was immediately placed in the starting lineup by Maddon and was scheduled to bat leadoff in Friday afternoon’s game against Seattle.
“I’m excited,” Coghlan said. “Anything I can add to the team, bring [mentally] to the team, getting on base. I’m just grateful for the opportunity to get in there.”
The Cubs have been carrying 13 pitchers on their roster, including three relievers added to the mix in the last couple of weeks in Mike Montgomery, Joe Nathan and new closer Aroldis Chapman. Three of the 12 position players are catchers, though Willson Contreras has spent time at the corner outfield positions.
That puts roster space at a premium and it’s only going to get worse when injured outfielder Jorge Soler is ready to return. Soler has been on the DL since June 7 with a strained left hamstring and is currently rehabbing the injury at Iowa. That puts the pinch on guys like La Stella, who has clearly enjoyed a big-league-quality season.
“It’s tough,” Maddon said. “It’s unusual to have this kind of volume of good players. It really is. To make the decisions, it’s been really difficult. I guess cold-blooded is a way to describe it.
“The players are never going to be satisfied. However, whether it’s cold-blooded or however you want to describe it, to me it’s just about honesty. If you’re going to do something, don’t make a convoluted story to the player.”