The big story on Tuesday may have been free agent Nick Swisher’s visit to Progressive Field, but in other news, the team also made the decision to designate outfielder Russ Canzler for assignment. If the Indians cannot land Swisher, they will need to choose another right fielder before the season starts. Although Canzler seemed like the most probable in-house choice, he is no longer an option.
Canzler, who made 26 appearances with the Tribe last season, was cut in order to make room on the 40-man roster for the just-signed Mark Reynolds. The 26-year-old outfielder also played first base and spent time as the designated hitter after being called up from Columbus in September. During his time with the major league club, he batted .269/.299/.398, hitting three home runs in 97 plate appearances.
While Canzler is not exactly superstar material, he did have a nice season in Triple-A. He had an OPS of .815 with the Clippers, including 22 home runs. He should garner some interest from other teams seeking a fourth outfielder, or even an everyday player, at a low cost. Throughout his last three minor league seasons his ISO has been .216 or higher, so he has some nice power potential, although he struggles against right-handed pitchers. Canzler could be a valuable addition to a team like the Phillies or Mariners, who are short on outfield help and could make good use of him as a platoon partner.
Without him, the Indians have two main in-house outfield candidates: Ezequiel Carrera and Thomas Neal. Carrera seems the most likely choice. He would not provide the power the team needs—he has only 2 home runs in nearly 400 career plate appearances—but did hit .272/.312/.395 last year. If he were capable of more pop he would make a good outfielder, but he’s never been a powerful guy. His biggest upside is his speed. Carrera knows enough to take advantage of that skill, and very frequently—perhaps too frequently—tries to bunt his way on base. That’s fine when he hits the ball, but more often than not, he misses. Although he would make a great fourth outfielder, his offense is poor enough that he should not be used as an everyday player unless the team is desperate.
Neal is another interesting option. Although he spent the year in Double-A, he got a September call-up and made his MLB debut this season. While his Akron Aeros teammates were busy winning the Eastern League Championship, he was mostly warming the bench at Progressive Field. Neal had just 24 plate appearances in nine outings—and played only one complete game. In that incredibly small sample size, he had an OPS of just .511. However, the reason he got the call-up in the first place was because he had an excellent season in Double-A, hitting .314/.400/.467.
Neal is another player that most likely will end up in the fourth outfielder slot, but for now, he really needs to spend more time in the minor leagues and get consistent at-bats. If Neal can get some more major league experience, he should be able to prove himself at this level, but he needs to play regularly until then. Having only 24 plate appearances in over a month is not good for a young, developing player, and if they had no intention of playing him, the Indians should have left him at Akron until at least the end of the minor league season.
Of course, both of these players are backup options in case the Indians’ real plans fall through and no other trades can be made. Hopefully, Nick Swisher will decide to sign and will take over for Shin-Soo Choo in right field. The Indians’ presentation to him this week may have been cheesy, but they are trying hard to land a big-name free agent that they desperately need. If they can’t sign him, they’ll have to resort to using fourth-outfielder-types as everyday players, and that is a strategy they tried and failed at last year. However, no matter what Swisher decides, these two players seem eager to prove themselves and will be waiting for their chance to find a role with the Tribe.