When you’re a baseball team with a low payroll, you need to find talent any way you possibly can. It’s not always through the June Amateur Draft, trades, the waiver wire or free agency — a team may find a gem via the Rule 5 Draft every December. Look no further than Jose Bautista. “Joey Bats” was taken off the Pirates’ roster by the Orioles back in 2004. There have been a few other All-Stars who were once Rule 5 guys, but for the most part, they usually do not work out and are then returned to their original team.
The idea for the Rule 5 Draft was to keep teams from stockpiling young talent that were surplus to them but could play in the majors with another team. Any player drafted via Rule 5 must remain on the 25-man roster for the entire season or be offered back from whence he came. Players in their first three years after being in the June Draft are ineligible to be selected, as is the entire 40-man roster. Sometimes a useful player will slip through the cracks. Most teams forgo the Rule 5 Draft entirely, but the A’s have dabbled lately.
Two years ago the A’s made a waiver claim on first baseman Nate Freiman, a Padres player who had been selected in the Rule 5 Draft by Houston, who then cut him. The same rules applied to the A’s: they had to keep him the whole year or lose him. At 6′ 8″, 250, Freiman was definitely worth a look. Big Nate turned out to be a very tall singles hitter, clouting only four home runs in 80 games for the A’s in 2013. But he did hit .274 overall, and looked to be somewhat of an asset despite being extremely uncoordinated as both a runner and a fielder. But he played his way out of the league in 2014, batting a paltry .218 in limited action.
This didn’t deter Billy Beane from having another go this season. In all, 14 teams out of 30 dipped their toes into the Rule 5 pool. The A’s didn’t officially make a selection, however. When the Rockies grabbed the Marlins’ Mark Canha with the second pick, Oakland immediately got on the phone and worked out a trade. The A’s sent High-A reliever Austin House to Colorado for the former Cal bear. Trading Rule 5 picks is a good way to go, because the player you receive in return is not subject to the Rule 5 stipulations — he’s yours to keep no matter what. Think about the journey that pitcher Jandel Gustave has been on this year. He was selected by the Red Sox with sixth Rule 5 pick, then traded to the Royals, then cut by the Royals, then claimed by the Padres, then returned to the Astros. It’s rare to actually keep a guy for a full year, but the A’s are going to do it again this season.
Mark Canha was certainly worthy of notice. He had an impressive offensive line of .303, 20 and 82 with AAA-New Orleans last season. If the Marlins didn’t want him, the Rockies (and A’s) sure did. The former Bellarmine product then got off to a solid start to the present season by hitting .279 in April. But baseball in full of Mr. Aprils, and in May, Canha played almost every game yet hit just .169. His defense in left field and first base is wonky but spirited. He will never win a Gold Glove, but that would be OK if he drove in runs, which he doesn’t do very well. He is playing better lately but still is batting .200 since the All-Star break. I’ve seen enough.
Any team that has eyes on the postseason would not be playing a guy like Canha. He absolutely should not figure in any serious plans for Oakland’s future. But at this point, with the A’s scorched earth of a season, they might as well hold on to him for another six weeks, when he will officially become their property. But in the meantime, seeing an outfield with Sam Fuld and Mark Canha always fills me with dread, as they’re both automatic outs at the plate. At least Fuld is a good defender.