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The Athletics make good with the Rule 5 draft

There’s always one steal, and this might be it.

MLB: AL Wild Card-Tampa Bay Rays at Oakland Athletics Darren Yamashita-USA TODAY Sports

Unless you’re an avid prospects watcher the Rule 5 Draft doesn’t hold much meaning to most baseball fans. It’s an event that happens, but unless your team benefits (this benefit isn’t going to be noticed well into the regular season following the draft) from one of their selections, chances are the draft comes-and-goes without you even noticing. This is why it’s rare to hear about a team getting an absolute steal in the Rule 5 Draft. It can happen though, there are many examples of great selections throughout the years.

In the 2020 Rule 5 draft one team made a selection that should end up being the absolute steal of the draft. To very little fanfare the Philadelphia Phillies nabbed Vimael Machín from the Chicago Cubs. The Phillies then traded Machín to the Oakland Athletics. The move to the Athletics is what will make the selection a steal. When they made the trade, the A’s may have found what they were hoping to get from Jurickson Profar last season.

In Machín, the A’s are getting a solid all-around fielder. He can play every infield position competently and he won’t embarrass himself in a fairly large Oakland outfield. Sure, he’s not a world-beating defender at any of the positions he plays, but he’s good enough at every single one of them. Having Machín on the roster gives the A’s the same flexibility they had with Profar last year. In a Billy Beane structured ballclub, flexibility goes a long way. That’s one reason the A’s were keen to trade for Machín even though they knew that he would have to play on the big league roster all year.

Flexibility is fantastic but it’s not worth much if the player in question can’t produce offensively. That has been the problem with Profar his entire career, despite an outlier 2018 season. He is the dream of every general manager in Major League Baseball if only he could consistently hit.

I’m not ready to anoint Machín the next Ben Zobrist or Marwin González, however, based on what his bat has shown in the minors and unaffiliated ball, I see no reason it won’t translate to the major leagues.

At every step of his professional career, the former Virginia Commonwealth standout has progressed just as he should have — every time he tackles a new level there are some hiccups at first, but eventually, he settles in and his approach takes over. That approach is of a good contact hitter who doesn’t strike out much, takes his walks, and has in the past couple of years developed some gap-to-gap power.

Machín’s lack of true raw power is one of the reasons he may not seem like a big pickup by the A’s. That’s the wrong read on the skillset the Puerto Rican native will bring to Oakland.

Beginning in the 2016 season Machín has not posted an OBP below .343. With the exception of the blip on the radar that was his 2018 season, he’s never had a batting average below .274. Like I said earlier, he makes contact, takes his walks, and limits his strikeouts. That equates to a great eye at the plate and when combined with his ability to play anywhere on the diamond one has to wonder why the Cubs were willing to let him walk in the Rule 5 Draft.

I’m not sure there is a concrete answer to this question, especially when the needs of the 2020 Cubs are taken into account. Machín ticks all the boxes of what the Cubs have been looking for in terms of position player depth. Talking to various Cubs-centric prospect writers it’s clear they are as baffled by letting Machín go as anyone else. To a man, they tell me about Machín’s ability to make contact, work counts, get on base, and play wherever he is asked to play.

Maybe the Cubs are right and the A’s are wrong. Both front offices are well regarded and have put together consistent winners for some time now. Still, as I watch Machín excelling for Cangrejeros de Santurce in the Liga de Béisbol Profesional Roberto Clemente finals I can’t help but side with Oakland's perspective. When it comes to a super-utility player Machín has all the tools that a team wants. Come the end of the 2020 MLB season the A’s will be happy with the trade they made while the Cubs will wonder how they could ever of left Machín unprotected.