Paging Tommy La Stella: Final boarding call for playoff roster?

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Tommy La Stella.

Is the clock about to strike 3 a.m.?

Cubs infielder Tommy La Stella, who has refused to report to AAA Iowa since being optioned to the minors on July 29, has forced the club to consider looking outside the organization for ways to replace the left-handed bat it expected him to provide.

“We have to think through things from the organization’s standpoint, and having really good left-handed bats and potentially left-handed bats off the bench is really important for us,” general manager Jed Hoyer said.

Hoyer emphasized the club continues to value La Stella – nicknamed “3 a.m.” for his 24/7 hitting ability – and to work with him on overcoming his reluctance to report to the minors.

La Stella, a starter in last year’s wild-card playoff game who was optioned because of a roster numbers crunch as Chris Coghlan returned from the disabled list, was placed in recent days on the temporarily inactive list until the issue is resolved.

“We love our depth right now and I think that may not necessitate a move,” Hoyer said, “but certainly we would have to look for left-handed bats [if La Stella fails to comply] to make sure we are prepared for a good right-handed reliever late in the season.”

Team officials stress La Stella has no health problems or personal, off-the-field hardships.

Teammates and team officials from president Theo Epstein and Hoyer to manager Joe Maddon and team psychologist Ken Ravizza have contacted La Stella, who is said to be working out and swinging a bat at home in New Jersey.

“We all have a different lens how we view the world,” Maddon said. “I know when I went through my Kurt Vonnegut stage I was kind of screwed up when I was 21.”

As much as teammates seem to appreciate La Stella’s contributions off the bench (.846 OPS in 122 plate appearances), his decision has puzzled many among a group that has gone out of its way to present a team-first image.

“I don’t know if anybody would say they say that coming, by any means,” said veteran Jason Heyward, who has reached out to make sure La Stella is “at peace” with his decision.

“I’ve never seen it happen before,” said Matt Szczur, who last year was optioned to the minors six times – often because of similar roster-numbers considerations. “But I’m really close to Tommy, and we’ve been talking back and forth. He’s trying to get in a good place, and I can only support him.”

Certainly, the absence of a guy at the end of the bench is not likely to make the difference in whether the Cubs achieve their October goals.

And it wouldn’t merit even this much of a story if not for how conspicuous the attitude looks against the grain of Maddon’s groovy, Bohemian harmony defining this clubhouse culture.

What’s certain is that La Stella’s not getting a return ticket to Chicago until he gets some AAA at-bats. And even then, that return might not be complete without some fence mending in the clubhouse.

“Tommy hears his own beat. And I love him for it,” Maddon said. “He’s a very interesting young man. He’s also a very good baseball player. Hopefully, he’s going to get back relatively soon. We’d love to have him back.”

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