Why Releasing Russ Canzler Was a Mistake: But a Small One

Russ Canzler seemed like a great pick-up in 2012. The Indians didn't have a starting first baseman and Canzler had just came off a season when he won International League player of the year. Canzler was just the kind of young player the Indians wanted to build the team around and looked to be under team control for a few years. Then in the following weeks the Indians signed Casey Kotchman and Jose Lopez, pushing Canzler back to AAA.

The Indians were in a similar situation going into 2013, but this time Canzler had just played a few games as a September call-up and impressed, totaling 26 games at four different positions over the last month. He batted .269 with three home runs and 11 RBI, impressive numbers compared to the rest of the team. This time, the Indians filled their hole at first base with Mark Reynolds, leaving Canzler on the outside again as he was dropped from the 40 man roster and released (and subsequently picked up by the Blue Jays). 

The problem with this is that there are still holes remaining on the roster that Canzler could have filled. Right field and designated hitter have no prospective players at this point and Canzler could have played either. There is also an opening for a corner utility infielder following the departure of Jack Hannahan, another role Canzler would have fit in perfectly. This would have been an ideal place for Canzler as he could play either corner outfield spot or first base on any day. He could even play third base if needed since he did so in the minors from time to time.

Instead of Canzler, the Indians decided to hold on to a few players that will almost certainly not be on the roster at the start of next season. David Huff is the first as he is out of options and the Indians rotation is completely full (Justin Masterson, Carlos Carrasco, Ubaldo Jimenez, Zach McAllister and Trevor Bauer) with extra to spare (Jeanmar Gomez and Corey Kluber). There is no way that Huff will pass enough of these pitchers on the depth chart during Spring Training to make the team, so he may as well be released now.

Lou Marson is another player there seems to be little reason to keep around. He has proven over the past three seasons that he has no desirable characteristics and the Indians traded a decent relief pitcher to get his replacement, Yan Gomes, on the team, so it would seem they think so as well. One option here would be to carry three catchers however, using Carlos Santana or Gomes as part time DH or first baseman.

Finally, there are a couple of players that seem close to the same value as Canzler in Thomas Neal and Rule 5 pick Chris McGuiness. Both players need to make the 25 man roster in 2013 or will be lost (Neal to waivers, McGuiness back to Texas). Both are secondary options for right field and at DH just like Canzler. The difference is that Canzler has more experience at the Major League level and can play multiple positions.

The Indians obviously believe that Canzler was the lesser of these three players, but I have to disagree. He has already proven at the major league level that he can contribute, something Neal and McGuiness (highest level was AA in 2012) have yet to do. To keep McGuiness, he will have to bypass AAA entirely, something most players are unable to do successfully. It would have been a much less risky proposition to simply keep Canzler and drop Neal, still taking a chance on McGuiness, or to release Huff and let the three of them battle it out in Spring Training.

This isn't a huge deal, as Canzler doesn't look to be a future Hall of Famer, but the Indians are not at a point right now where they can waste talent of his level. In fact the upside on McGuiness is almost certainly higher than Canzler's, but with that higher chance of reward is a higher risk as well.

Joseph Coblitz

About Joseph Coblitz

Joseph is the primary writer and editor of BurningRiverBaseball.com and has been since its inception in 2011. He also writes for The Outside Corner and the Comeback and hosts the Tribe Time Now podcast. He is a graduate of the University of Akron and currently resides in Goodyear, Arizona the Spring Training home of the Cleveland Indians. Follow on twitter @BurningRiverBB