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Why Didn't Tampa Want Canzler?

Editor's Note: Dan Hennessey will be joining Let's Go Tribe as a front-page author. He's blogged before at ESPN's SweetSpot, several independent blogs and SB Nation's Athletics Nation. Even though he's blogged about other teams, he's always been an Indians fan, and I think he'll fit right in here. Please join me in welcoming Dan to LGT. (Ryan)

I’m typically scared when the Indians do business with smart teams. The Red Sox. The Rays. The Rangers. All 30 teams are getting smarter, but there are still some that are a cut above the rest. And yes, I consider the Indians to be in that top tier. But in most trades, especially those with teams that have a strong track record, I always have the feeling that they know something we don’t. There’s got to be a reason why they’re willing to give away whatever they shipped out. So the question today is simple: why did the Rays give away Russ Canzler?

On the surface, it could be a really simple answer. He’s a first baseman-type who isn’t a great hitter. As afh4 said yesterday,

Canzler has a lot of swing-and-miss in his game, and his power, while good looking the SLG column, is more tied up in doubles than any Canzler-devotees would like to see. Stop me if you've heard this one, but AAA doubles are often the product of poor fielding combined with some decent contact, and at the big league level, those balls stop finding inflated gaps.

Which is exactly right. Let's also not forget that the Rays expect to make the playoffs (three of the last four seasons) and have less room for error in the American League East. Giving away even 100 at-bats to someone who can't do the job hurts them more than it might hurt the Indians.

Canzler’s also right-handed, which doesn’t help his case. But the Rays spent a significant amount of money last year on Johnny Damon, Manny Ramirez, Casey Kotchman, and Dan Johnson to play first base and be the designated hitter. Of course, Ramirez lasted about a week with the Rays, and the other three players are a) left-handed and b) not especially talented hitters. Damon had an OPS+ of 110, not great for a 150-game DH, and Kotchman’s 128 OPS+ was inflated by an .335 BABIP that was 30 points higher than his previous career high and almost 60 points higher than his career average. Why couldn’t Russ Canzler be right-handed caddy for one of those guys last year?

Canzler was DFA’d to make room on the 40-man for Jeff Keppinger, who the Rays seemingly signed to compete for a spot in their utility infielder rotation with Sean Rodriguez, Reid Brignac, and Elliot Johnson. Seems like a lot of guys for two jobs. Johnson is older than the other two guys and not as talented; he’s also not going to play at Triple-A with Tim Beckham on his way there. If the Rays needed Keppinger, why was Elliot Johnson kept over Canzler?

The Rays also added Carlos Pena and Luke Scott this offseason, both of whom hit left-handed. Ben Zobrist and the quick ascent of Desmond Jennings give them a lot of added flexibility, so there are a lot of moving pieces in play here, including All-Star outfielder Matt Joyce. But it seems silly for the Rays to give Canzler away for nothing; their willingness to part with him for almost no return indicates to me, no matter how much I might talk myself into him, this move is probably nothing to be excited about.

Of course, no matter why the Indians got him, what really matters is what he can do in Cleveland. Because he’ll only cost them cash and a roster spot that no one else is claiming, the bar is set pretty low. From everything I’ve read, we can forget about third base or left field, because he can’t passably play either one. But there’s no reason he shouldn’t get a chance to show he can hit; hell, Matt LaPorta has been getting that chance for years. Even if Canzler is just a decent major league player, maybe someday he’ll turn into something that is really special. The Indians have a decent history of turning mediocre ballplayers into potential stars.