CLEVELAND – The Indians have added an MVP to their roster, and a possible replacement at first base.
Cleveland acquired versatile Russ Canzler, the top player in the International League last season, on Tuesday from the Tampa Bay Rays for cash.
The 25-year-old Canzler played four positions — right and left field, third and first base — last season for Triple-A Durham, where he batted .314 with 18 homers and 83 RBIs in 131 games for the Bulls. Canzler made his major league debut for the Rays on Sept. 11 and had one hit in three games.
He was expected to be on Tampa Bay’s roster this season, however, the club re-signed first baseman Carlos Pena and free agent infielder Jeff Keppinger, making Canzler the odd man out. The Rays designated him for assignment last week after signing Keppinger.
Canzler led the International League in doubles (40) and slugging percentage (.530), finished second in runs (78) and third in hits (149). He appeared in 41 games in right field, 33 in left, 40 at third base and 17 at first.
He could be an answer at first for the Indians, who have been deeply disappointed in Matt LaPorta. The two may compete for the starting job at first this spring, and Canzler’s versatility could help him win a utility spot with Cleveland.
The Indians have struck out so far in trying to add a powerful bat to their lineup this winter. Prince Fielder was out of their price range, Carlos Beltran signed with St. Louis after the Cardinals lost Albert Pujols and Pena reportedly turned down a one-year offer from the Indians. Cleveland may still have interest in free agent Casey Kotchman, who batted a career-best .306 in 146 games for the Rays in 2011.
Canzler was drafted by the Chicago Cubs in 2004 and signed as a minor league free agent by Tampa Bay before last season.