Canzler ready to settle in after offseason's twists
Looking to establish big league career, first baseman finally lands with Orioles
CLEVELAND -- It has been said that life is not about the destination, but the journey. That saying became a bit too literal for Russ Canzler this past weekend, when he felt the time had come to begin planning his journey south for Spring Training.
Canzler did not have a destination.
With his wife, Kim, and 10-month-old son, Henry, in tow, Canzler would load up their car and begin making the 1,200-mile trek from their home in Pennsylvania to Florida. They could swing by his sister's place in Maryland, and visit his wife's dad in North Carolina. Eventually, the Canzlers would see some more family down in Tampa.
Maybe, somewhere along the journey, a team would buzz Canzler's cell phone with some news. He had already been picked up or let go by the Indians, Blue Jays and Yankees. If his new team trained in Arizona, they would just catch a flight to Phoenix from Florida. Enough waiting and wondering.
"I said, 'Let's just go,'" Canzler said. "'Let's just go down there, see what happens and let it all play out.'"
As he made his plans with his family, Canzler's phone rang. It was Orioles executive vice president of baseball operations Dan Duquette, calling to welcome the first baseman to the Baltimore organization. The O's claimed him off waivers from New York, because they were looking for a right-handed hitter who could play a few positions and Canzler fit the mold.
Another member of Baltimore's front office got in touch with Canzler's agent to talk things over.
"He told my agent, 'We assure you he's not going to be designated for assignment before Spring Training,'" said Canzler, who then chuckled. "I think we're set. I think I can book a hotel now."
March 30, 2012: Indians option Canzler to Triple-A Columbus
Canzler's locker inside Cleveland's Spring Training facility -- located closest to the showers, and a few steps from the clubhouse exit -- had been cleared out and he was long gone. He came into camp as a long shot for a spot on the Opening Day roster as it was, but it was another matter entirely that prompted Canzler's disappearing act.
On March 29 -- technically Canzler's final day in camp with the Tribe -- his wife gave birth to their son. It was an emotional high that easily overcame any lingering disappointment over not cracking Cleveland's roster. Canzler was ticketed for Triple-A Columbus, where he would continue his push toward the big leagues, while balancing a growing family.
Then, tragedy struck Canzler's family.
A little more than a week into the season, Canzler's uncle, Peter Petrole, passed away suddenly. Within 48 hours, Canzler's grandfather on his mom's side (Peter's dad), died following heart complications. Canzler was close with both men, and the news of their deaths hit him and the rest of his family hard.
"My uncle Pete was a huge supporter of mine," Canzler said. "He sacrificed vacation time every year to come see me play. He was always the really loud guy in the crowd. You'd hear him from every part of the stadium yelling for me. He'll definitely be missed. I think about those guys a lot. They both meant a lot to me."
On the field, Canzler was hitting .236 with no home runs and just three RBIs through April 25. He admits that the situation off the field was weighing on him. It was hard enough trying to open some eyes and get a chance in the big leagues. Now, Canzler had a mix of both joy over his newborn son and grief over the loss of two family members toying with his emotions.
Canzler knew he had to pull himself together.
"It was a tough time," he said. "After the initial shock and having some time to think about it, and think about their memory and grieving for them, I thought about how they'd want me to be out here having fun, playing and not worrying about the next day."
Dec. 18, 2012: Indians designate Canzler for assignment
Canzler was excited about his potential future with Cleveland. The ballclub parted ways with aging designated hitter Travis Hafner and appeared to have at-bats available for Canzler at first base, DH or even in the outfield.
After his turbulent April, Canzler hit .270 with 22 home runs, 34 doubles and 76 RBIs across his final 112 games at Triple-A. He was promoted to the Majors on Sept. 1, and answered by hitting a respectable .269 with three homers and 11 RBIs in 26 games down the stretch. Canzler felt he took advantage of his opportunity.
He was a low-round Draft pick (selected by the Cubs in the 30th round in 2004) who, following nine seasons in the Minors, had finally been given a chance to shake the label of "fringe" player.
"I feel pretty good," said Canzler, standing at his locker in the Indians' clubhouse at the end of last season. "I feel like my confidence is high. I just think it was good for me to get the amount of at-bats that I did, because sometimes when you're in the Minor Leagues a long time, you can kind of get caught up in the aura of the Major Leagues.
"But when you're up here every day and you're competing against these guys, it's the same game. I know I belong here."
Here is just no longer Cleveland.
Things changed for Canzler after the Indians -- with their 40-man roster at capacity -- signed Mark Reynolds to be the full-time first baseman. Suddenly, those at-bats at first for Canzler were no longer available, and he became expendable.
"It was a really difficult decision," Indians general manager Chris Antonetti said of removing Canzler from the roster. "We were in a roster crunch. We were at 40 and we had to clear a spot. We examined a lot of different ways to clear that spot, but in the end, we felt that Russ was the guy we needed to designate."
Canzler understood the situation, and he accepted it.
"I have a ton of respect for Chris and for the Indians organization," Canzler said. "They gave me an opportunity last season. I think it was one of those situations where, it's definitely a baseball cliche, but you hear, 'Right place, right time.' That's so true."
Jan. 4, 2013: Yankees claim Canzler off waivers
Canzler was beginning to feel like he was getting a crash course in the business of baseball.
"I've had a lot of good conversations with different general managers this winter," he said with a laugh.
On Dec. 21, following being let go by Cleveland, Canzler was claimed off waivers by the Blue Jays.
"That was definitely a shocker," he said.
It was not Toronto general manager Alex Anthopoulos who called the first baseman, though. Canzler spoke with another member of the Blue Jays' front office, and it quickly became clear that he probably would not be sticking with the Jays for long.
Toronto has grabbed the spotlight this offseason was a slew of blockbuster additions, but the club has also been one of baseball's most active teams on the waiver wire. The Blue Jays have claimed an assortment of players with the goal of building up their depth at Triple-A Buffalo. A player such as Canzler, however, would need to clear waivers in order to be sent to the Minors.
Canzler was exposed to waivers again by the Jays, and he was claimed back by the Indians on Jan. 2.
After signing free-agent pitcher Brett Myers, though, Cleveland once again tried to pass Canzler through waivers. This time around, the 26-year-old first baseman was claimed by the Yankees. New York had a need for a right-handed hitter, and Canzler seemed to be the type of player who might get a real shot at filling that role.
Playing in the Yankees' system seemed like a match made in baseball heaven, too. Canzler could train in Tampa near relatives and, if he did not make the Opening Day roster, he might've suited up for Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre. The Canzler's just moved into a house roughly a half hour from that Minor League stadium.
"We were all set," Canzler said. "We thought it worked out."
The Yanks then entered talks with Hafner about bringing the DH to the Bronx -- an idea that had Canzler excited. Last September, Hafner and Canzler were a few lockers apart, and the veteran did his part to make the first baseman feel at ease in the Majors.
"He was really nice to me, really nice to the younger guys," Canzler said. "He was kind of that calm presence that made us all feel comfortable and helped us enjoy our time."
When the Yankees signed Hafner, though, Canzler had a sudden realization.
"It hit me," he said. "I was like, 'Oh, wait. Uh oh. Wait a minute. We're at 40 on the roster again.'"
On Friday, the Yanks designated Canzler for assignment.
Feb. 5, 2013: Orioles claim Canzler off waivers
Canzler has done all he can to maintain a sense of humor throughout this whirlwind of an offseason he and his family have experienced.
"It's been fun," Canzler said. "I was thinking about buying all the hats of the teams I've been on this winter."
He is hoping that the list stops at four now that Baltimore has added him to the fold.
In a previous year, Canzler is not sure how he would have handled the uncertainty that this winter has thrust upon his life. After the ups and downs of last April, and the taste he received of the big leagues in September, he feels he has been better equipped to not only accept, but to understand the reality of what has taken place in the past two months.
"Let's face it, we play a game where there's not a lot in our control," Canzler said. "Especially in my situation right now. I'm one of those fringe guys. You can tell by what's been happening. I think a lot of teams look at me and say, 'Man, this guy can really contribute.' But at the same time, I don't know if I've had the experience, and I think that's what's killing me right now.
"I've told teams, I've said, 'Listen, every guy whose made a name for himself has gotten his break somehow, and gotten his opportunity and jumped on it.' That's all you can ask for as a player. I think I got the opportunity in Cleveland in September, and I think that's why I've been getting claimed and not clearing waivers."
On Wednesday, Canzler and his wife, Kim, finished loading their car and began their journey south toward Florida.
They are thrilled that they now have a destination -- for the time being.