This country is an interesting piece of real estate, especially around this time of year, when elections are held and democracy plays out at its finest.

You get to hear all sorts of debate and argument. And if you listen closely enough, you can find politicians manhandling certain points of contention in ways that fit their argument on one day, and on another, twisting the same point to fit a different argument. 

The baseball world is no different. Some writers, analysts and people employed in Major League Baseball use the same sticking points to fit more than one argument, even when they directly conflict with each other. This is certainly the case when it comes to changing the rules for awarding each league’s Rookie of the Year Award.

The 2014 edition is set to be announced Monday, and the American League winner is an easy call. It will be Chicago White Sox outfielder Jose Abreu, who is 27 years old and played eight seasons in Serie Nacional, Cuba’s top league.

This again will spark debate about whether players like Abreu, those of advanced age and more experience than rookies coming from this country’s minor league system, should be taking home the hardware.

Unfortunately, a decent amount of fans, media members and people in the game feel the same way. What is also unfortunate is none of them have an idea how to tweak the current rules, which simply call a rookie exactly what he is: a player playing his first season in Major League Baseball, assuming he has not exceeded the innings pitched or at-bat rules during past call-ups.

The main argument against players like Abreu and Masahiro Tanaka, who would likely be a candidate this year had he not gotten injured, as well as Hideki Matsui, Ichiro Suzuki and Hideo Nomo before them, is that the players are either too old (Matsui was 29 when he finished second in the AL race in 2003) or have too much experience in professional leagues outside of the United States (Ichiro played nine seasons in Japan before winning the AL award and MVP in 2001).

Somehow, the critics say, this is clearly an unfair advantage.

They say the experience and age provides an uneven playing field. They say that those other leagues, particularly the top Japanese league, are so much better than Major League Baseball’s Pacific Coast League or International League, the Triple-A leagues in this country, that it would be insulting to equate them to our minor leagues.

Then again, those leagues are far too inferior to the majors to consider what a player might have accomplished overseas. After all, are we convinced that Matsui will be a first-ballot Hall of Famer, or Hall-worthy at all?

His numbers, in Japan and the big leagues combined, make him an easy inductee. But he probably won’t be such a tomahawk dunk when he is eligible in 2017. The argument there: The Japanese numbers can’t hold nearly the same weight as anything he did in the major leagues because that league is nowhere near as good as Major League Baseball.

So there we are. A double standard. The league is either good enough, or it is not. You can’t play both sides depending on the argument.

“It’s unfair to our kid — or any kid in any organization who’s coming out of our minor-league system in this country,” then-Tampa Bay Devil Rays manager Lou Piniella told’s Jayson Stark in 2003 when Matsui was up for the award. “When you talk about players like Ichiro and Matsui, you’re talking about guys who are much more farther along in their experience and development than our kids over here. It takes these kids three, four, five years to catch up with the guys from Japan, from a standpoint of experience and development.”

But few scouts believed they were seeing a star when evaluating Abreu, one of Cuba’s greatest hitters ever, before the White Sox signed him for six years and $68 million and led the AL in slugging percentage (.581) and OPS-plus (169) to go with 36 homers and 107 RBI.

“He’s turning 27 years old and has a career full of 85 to 87 mile an hour fastballs,” one international scout told Ben Badler of Baseball America. “He’s not an athlete and he doesn’t have bat speed. You’re asking a 27-year-old non-athlete to go to the big leagues and make an adjustment. Against 97 (mph), this guy has no chance. All of us who know him are all saying the same thing.”

Yet, there will be those who say Abreu should not be eligible for the Rookie of the Year Award because of his experience and/or competition level in relation to the minor leagues here. Nevermind the cultural and language barriers players like Abreu, Tanaka and others have faced, which can be far more difficult to navigate for some players than competing in the majors.

For reasons that make total sense, which is to say they are financial, major league teams do not scout players from Asian countries as teens unless one of them happens to come to America for a showcase or tournament. But no scout is flying halfway around the planet to look at an 18-year-old pitcher from Japan or Korea.

Instead, they leave the scouting and development up to the leagues in those countries. They use them as a farm system without ever having to pay for the player, unlike what teams do in the Dominican Republic, where baseball academies groom players before they’d be eligible to vote in this country. Then, if an Asian player shows enough potential to succeed at the highest levels of the sport, major league teams become interested.

Now, if teams truly thought those Asian leagues were that much better than the Pacific Coast League or International League, they’d be luring far more players to this side of the world at earlier ages. If those leagues were as good as some people want us to believe, people who want the Rookie of the Year rules altered, Japanese players would be as prevalent on major league rosters as Dominican players.

At age 20, Tanaka posted a 2.33 ERA in the Nippon Professional Baseball league. Do major league scouts truly believe he could have done something similar in the big leagues at that age? Probably not, and that is why they allowed Tanaka to pitch four more years in his home country before enticing his Japanese team to put him up for auction.

Also, if teams didn’t know of Tanaka before his World Baseball Classic experience, then it shows that MLB does not think enough of the Japanese league to scout it regularly.

If people care enough to change the rules, they should care enough to figure out how to make MLB’s minor league system better. Do teams really need three levels of A-ball and a short-season league? No, probably not, considering all the fringe players used to fill out rosters, guys with no chance of making it the higher levels.

For all the displeasure about the current rules for the award, which the Baseball Writers’ Association of America votes on, no one has come up with alternatives.

Do they want all international players excluded from consideration? That can’t happen because it takes away Canadian, Dominican, Mexican, Venezuelan and all other players not from the U.S. who might spend significant time in the minors.

Do they want to exclude players with professional experience in other countries? That doesn’t make sense since players who are in the minor leagues in America are professionals.

Do they want players who have played in certain leagues across the country excluded, or for a certain number of years? Again, nonsensical since no one thinks any other league can even sniff the talent in the majors, no matter how long a player competes in it. And that belief is accurate.

The first rule of griping about a perceived problem is having a logical solution. This argument has none.

Abreu is going to win this award, and he deserves it. And any other player who comes from any country or league that is not the majors should be eligible to win it, regardless of age or experience level.

By definition, they are rookies. They earn their numbers on the field, and they should be able to earn the accolades that come with them, now and in the indefinite future.


Anthony Witrado covers Major League Baseball for Bleacher Report. He spent the previous three seasons as the national baseball columnist at Sporting News, and four years before that as the Brewers beat writer for the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. Follow Anthony on Twitter @awitrado and talk baseball here.

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