COMMENTARY | The New York Yankees added a right-handed bat on Friday, Jan. 4, albeit one that hardly anyone has heard of.
Russ Canzler, a 26-year-old utility man who made 26 appearances for the Cleveland Indians in late-season action last season, was claimed off waivers from the Cleveland Indians, according to The Sports Xchange.
Canzler hit .269/.299/.398 in 97 plate appearances for the Indians last season, playing 11 games in left field, eight at first base and six at designated hitter. He had three home runs and 11 RBI.
That came after a full season at Triple-A Columbus, where he hit .265/.328/.487 with 22 homers and 79 RBI in 539 plate appearances. Canzler also led the International League with 36 doubles, so he has some pop.
According to the LoHud Yankees blog, Canzler was told to focus on third base and the outfield corners. If he can provide some defensive depth as well as a productive right-handed bat, Canzler will likely earn a spot on the 25-man roster come the end of spring training.
David Waldstein of the New York Times also tweeted Friday that Canzler still has a minor-league option remaining, so if he can't beat out recently acquired Matt Diaz in spring training (presumably, based on the current makeup of the 40-man roster), he could be sent to Scranton/Wilkes-Barre as additional depth.
It's been a much-traveled offseason for Canzler, who was claimed off waivers by the Toronto Blue Jays on Dec. 21, reclaimed by the Indians on Jan. 2 and then picked up by the Yankees on Friday.
Canzler was originally a 30th-round pick of the Chicago Cubs in the 2004 amateur draft but became a minor-league free agent after the 2010 season. He was signed by the Tampa Bay Rays-where he made his major-league debut in September 2011-and sold to the Indians last January.
To make room for Canzler on the 40-man roster, the Yankees designated outfielder Chris Dickerson for assignment. The 30-year-old journeyman is viewed by some fans as an actual prospect, but after failing to earn regular playing time for three organizations (the Cincinnati Reds and Milwaukee Brewers as well as the Yankees), Dickerson is a spare part at best who has the misfortune to be a left-handed hitting outfielder at a time when the Bombers are flush with better options from that side of the plate.
The New York Post reported on Saturday, Jan. 5, that the Yankees were also showing some interest in former St. Louis Cardinal Lance Berkman, who spent part of the 2010 season in the Bronx before signing with the Cardinals as a free agent.
Berkman, 37, played just 32 games for the Cardinals last season because of knee problems. Penciled in to replace Albert Pujols at first base in St. Louis, Berkman hit .259/.381/.444 with two homers and seven RBI in 97 plate appearances.
For his career, Berkman is a .296/.409/.544 hitter with 360 homers and 1,200 RBI, spending most of his career with the Houston Astros.
A switch-hitter, Berkman-if healthy-could provide depth at designated hitter and first base and he did play the outfield for the Cardinals in 2011, a year during which he hit .301/.412/.547 with 31 homers and 94 RBI and made the National League All-Star team.
Reportedly, Berkman is leaning toward staying close to his home in Texas if he opts to play in 2013. However, Berkman has always been a much better hitter left-handed than from the right side. As a lefty, Berkman is a career .307/.423/.585, compared to just .260/.362/.415 as a right-handed hitter.
Canzler, on the other hand, is younger, has hit big-league pitching when he's been given the opportunity and provides some defensive versatility. He may not be a huge name or a guy who will make fans flock to the ticket booths. But he might actually be able to make the New York Yankees both younger and better and that's never a bad thing.
Phil Watson was a writer and editor at several daily newspapers for more than 20 years and is now a freelance sports journalist and commentator based in Upper Michigan.
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