Midseason call-ups like Manny Machado deserve a better chance at winning Rookie of the Year

September 18, 2012|Peter Schmuck

Orioles third baseman Manny Machado once again showed maturity beyond his tender years when it became a foregone conclusion that he would exceed the maximum number of major league at-bats to be eligible for next season's American League Rookie of the Year award.

He said all the right things. Sure, it would be nice to have a chance to compete for one of baseball's major postseason awards, he told The Sun's Dan Connolly earlier this week, but he's pursuing a bigger prize right now as a member of the first Orioles team to make a serious playoff bid in this century. And, anyway, there will be other opportunities to stock his trophy case.

That's the right attitude, since the rules are the rules, even if it has been demonstrated on several occasions that the eligibility requirements for the Baseball Writers' Association of America's Jackie Robinson Rookie of theYear Award in each league need some serious reconsideration.

Machado reached the threshold that limited his eligibility to this short-sample season when he recorded his 131st at-bat Sunday in Oakland. The eligibility rules dictate that a position player ceases to be a rookie at the start of a new season if he has accumulated more than 130 at-bats or 45 days service time (not including time served after major league rosters expand Sept. 1). For pitchers, it's 50 innings and the same service time thresholds. It's fairly clear-cut, just not very fair.

The fact that the Orioles had a burning need at third base in the final months of the season has disqualified one of the top prospects in baseball from consideration next year, while both Texas Rangers pitcher Yu Darvish and Orioles lefty Wei-Yin Chen were able to play the entire 2012 season as rookies even though they both played the equivalent of half a major league career as major stars in the Japanese professional league.

The Asian players obviously have a decided advantage and three Japanese players — five-year Japan baseball veteran Hideo Nomo, 32-year-old Kazuhiro Sasaki and nine-year veteran Ichiro Suzuki — have won Rookie of the Year honors since 1995. Suzuki also won the American League Most Valuable Player Award in his "rookie" season for the Seattle Mariners in 2001, leading the league with 242 hits and a .350 batting average to eclipse 20-year-old CC Sabathia's 17-5 rookie season with the Indians.

"They are no more rookies than the man in the moon,'' Orioles manager Buck Showalter said in a telephone interview Tuesday. "They are newcomers to our league."

Sasaki was the second-oldest player ever to win the award, which was given to 32-year-old former Negro League player Sam Jethroe in 1950 — just three years after Robinson was the first nationally elected recipient.

Clearly, there was a strong argument to be made for making veteran Negro League players eligible after Robinson broke baseball's color barrier, and it's hard to make a case for denying eligibility to players from leagues outside the United States even if it's obvious that the players with long experience playing professionally in Japan will continue to arrive in the majors with far more experience than American minor leaguers.

The only thing that can and should be done is to tweak the eligibility requirements to give someone such as Machado at least some chance to compete for the honor. That could be done by simply extending the negation of service time after the roster expansion in September to both the at-bat and innings requirements.

It wouldn't correct the problem, but it would create a greater opportunity for a young player to be eligible the next season, or — failing that — allow him to get enough at-bats or innings in the current season to make at least some impression on Rookie of the Year voters. For a hitter, combining 130 at-bats with a full September would equal almost a half-season. The innings rule might need to be extended slightly to give starting pitchers some equivalency, but it wouldn't be a complicated fix.

Showalter indicated on Tuesday that he would be in favor of a change that made the eligibility requirements more equitable for everyone — or at least created some way to avoid what has happened to Machado.

"I think that's right,'' Showalter said. "Because we felt like we needed what [Machado] could bring to our team, we penalized him in relation to that award. That would be a nice award for him, the organization and the fan base. Now, he might not win it [if he were eligible next year]. There's a Bryce Harper around every corner. But there's not a whole lot of rhyme or reason to it."

Read more from columnist Peter Schmuck in his blog, "The Schmuck Stops Here" on baltimoresun.com and listen when he co-hosts "The Week in Review" Fridays at noon on WBAL (1090AM) and wbal.com.

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