Saturday, November 17, 2018

The Yankees Don't Need Manny Machado


Last year, around this time, I wrote a lengthy post on here, explaining the various reasons why we didn't need the guy that would end up becoming an integral part of our 2018 squad. The main reason I didn't want the Yankees to just snap up Giancarlo Stanton is because we're at an age where we don't NEED to rely on snapping up big contracts and stars just because we can. We can easily produce winning teams by not spending a ton on free agents (hey, it worked in '96!), and with this youth movement of Judge, Severino, Torres and Andujar, as well as low-cost young players like Didi Gregorius and Luke Voit, we don't necessarily need to spend a lot of money to be great when we're already in pretty nice shape.

And that minimalistic ideology constantly clashes with the Yankees' constant longing to be the best by spending the most. And it's clashing once again right now, as Brian Cashman is working on a mega-contract for the next big free agent, Manny Machado.

Now...from a distance, you can sort of see why the Yankees would need a Manny Machado in 2019. Didi Gregorius will be out next year, getting Tommy John surgery, and there will be a gaping hole at shortstop. The logical, immediate solution would be to use professional infielder Ronald Torreyes as our starter next year, and as he's started games before, it's not the worst idea. But is it...a Yankees idea? Is just getting a guy in-house to play shortstop when we could simply sign a guy to play shortstop for a longer period of time than either a low-priced backup or the current starter who, injury aside, is doing a bang-up job...a really good idea?

Cashman seems to think so. And apparently Machado has nixed several deals for a lot of money from the Yankees thus far, even if we haven't been given the exact details quite yet. So it looks like Cashman is pulling to get this guy...and it doesn't look like Machado especially wants to come here.

And honestly, it's because both sides have better fits elsewhere. Machado would fit much better into an offense like Philadelphia, or potentially a team out of the conversation. Plus, as the Phils' GM just announced he's ready to spend 'stupid money' this offseason, it's a giveaway that he wants Machado. It's also kinda obvious, at least from July, that Machado might want to play here. I'm not saying this just because I'm from Philly, this is all out there. It's a good guess at this point.

Also...for the Yankees, there are a TON better options for shortstop out there, at least on a short-term. First of all, Adeiny Hechavarria was a fantastic fill-in at short last year, and he'd be a cheap enough one year replacement. Everyone would love to have him back. If Cashman wants to spend a little more on a one-year deal, there's the case of Freddy Galvis or Jose Iglesias, both of whom would be a nice defensive fit in NY, as well as providing some cool offensive numbers. Plus, if you save money on shortstop, that frees up money to pursue a starting pitching option (like Patrick Corbin, Lance Lynn or...I dunno, there are a ton out there).

The bottom line is this is a very lowest-common-denominator deal by the Yankees, and it's definitely worth looking at from all aspects before making a serious go at it. Cashman needs to seriously consider the consequences of signing someone like Machado, like the lack of funds for other 2018 offseason purchases, the expendability of Didi, and the general douchiness surrounding Machado's 2018 finish.

Even as a Yankee fan, I'm saying the Yankees have a ton better options than signing Machado. And unlike Giancarlo Stanton, I'd rather not be wrong on this one.

Friday, November 16, 2018

2018 Topps Gallery, or Night of Too Few Stars


Last week, I examined a product by Panini that, while it nominally attempted to raze the spirits of dead card products and concepts, could only do so by sacrificing their own original ideas.

Today...Topps tries a similar approach.

2017 Topps Gallery was a gallant, if inadequate, attempt at bringing back a once-beloved product from yesteryear, and revitalizing it for the new generation of collectors. Design-wise, the set was impressive, though there were some hiccups in translation, as well as the low card-per-buck ratio that seems to inhabit Topps' better products these days.

For 2018, they tried again, using a similar approach. Additionally, they continued the idea of releasing it as a Walmart exclusive. Which is a novel, if flawed idea.

I bought a blaster of this today, and we're gonna see how it holds up. Not to old Gallery, but mostly to last year's. My standards aren't THAT high.

Each blaster comes with an exclusive quartet of Artists Proofs, which is such a Donruss idea that I'm surprised Donruss didn't do it first this year.


These are the artist's proofs we got: What you'll notice immediately is that, design wise, this is pretty spot on, though it's a bit more reminiscent of Donruss Diamond Kings in its static photo usage. It's also, as you'll see, very rookie-based, as Kingham and Fried are here along with Sandberg and Jones.

You'll also notice that Mayumi Seto, the artist of last year's set, is not responsible for a lot of these, as Topps credits different artists for this year's product. While that is nice, as it brings back memories of National Chicle, it also loses some of the impressive quality of Seto's work from last year, not to disparage any of these artists.

Pack 1-

Now...you'll notice that there aren't any established stars in this pack.

You can make a case for the legitimacy of Walker Buehler (which I wouldn't argue with you on), or of Michael Taylor (which I...WOULD...argue with you on), but even if Buehler is a star, he's a rookie. As is 3/4ths of this pack.

I must bring hindsight value into this: if I were to open this box in 2028, at which point the careers of all of these people may either be over or on their last legs, would I be excited? Will I feel redeemed by it? And the answer is probably no, even if Villanuena learns to hit for average, or Buehler churns out 10 more seasons like this one. Taking out established stars, and secluding most of them to short print status, ruins the case for any pack of merely base cards to stand on its own. You can argue Flagship is like that, but there I still have a chance to pull someone from my team, a fringe player that wouldn't generally be in a set like Gallery, or an insert of a star. There's a chance to pull star cards in Flagship, and...less of one here.

Now, would this have been easier if Gallery was made a set simply consisting of rookies and second-year players? Possibly. We'd know what we'd be getting into. It'd also be similar to something like 2007 Heritage '52 Rookies. Yes, Topps' exclusive license would mean they may have to pepper in either retired stars or established ones in some caliber, but it'd be a little more contextually exciting than this.

I don't know, maybe it turns around, but...this isn't a great start.

Pack 2- This is an improvement, but not by much. Smoltz and Pujols are here, as established stars and Legends, but...just that. I'm not really seeing a middle ground yet.

Good news is the art and design are better here, especially with Smoltz and Peters. I dunno, the yellow is kind of nice.

Pack 3- Again, only rookies and second-year players are here, although Matt Olson is pretty close to an established star. It's also interesting to note that both A's photos are obviously Photo Day shots that have been redone. The hell's the point of just doing artist's portraits of publicity shots? They're artists! They can add in different backgrounds, change uniforms, edit in a goddamned T-Rex or something! It doesn't need to be just the exact same as the photo, or else it spells out how lazy the decisions are!

Pack 4: Okay, this is more like it. Posey is an established star, and McGwire, while a juicing cheat, is a fringe legend. So, even with Dominic Smith there, this still makes more sense than the last few packs.

We also have, more than halfway through the box, our first insert! And it's a really cool one of Reggie Jackson as a California Angel. Yes, doing a HOF insert set is kinda low-hanging fruit, but at least these look good.

Pack 5- The best pack yet! Not only are all four legitimate stars, despite rookies, but these four would be in a pack of this product if it wasn't so rookie-oriented. Plus, the Hoskins '52 insert is pretty cool, Didi looks great, Goldy's beard is cool on here, and that's a RC of the NL ROY. So...well done, Pack 5.

Pack 6- I'll admit things have gotten better, but only slightly. All four of these cards look great, and the Soto does have some artistic license taken with the background. Bregman's is a short print...and while I'll save my rant about short-printing stars for the hell of it for another day, the Bregman does look pretty cool.

Pack 7-
We finish with another rookie, some really cool Donaldson and Story cards, and a Sandberg that sort of counts as a double. A ho-hum finish to a ho-hum box.

So...guys, that was pretty underwhelming. Not just the box, but the set as well. It's a step-backward from the 2017 set...which was itself a step-backward from the entire 00's Gallery run. Aside from a nice design and decent inserts, the player selection for the base set is horrible, giving showcases to rookies that don't really need to be here, and shoving several established stars to short print status. And yes, Topps' argument is 'if they don't find base cards of stars initially, that'll get 'em to keep pulling more packs of the stuff'. Yes...OR...ALTERNATIVELY, it could have people stop buying the product altogether. Which...barring some mid-January card drought, I might.

This is a noble failure by Topps, proving once again that they would still rather sacrifice creative ideas for what works.

Thursday, November 15, 2018

MVPs: Predictable, but Impressive



On one hand, yes these are some obvious choices for the MVP award, but...on the other hand, players like these two didn't HAVE to be the obvious pick. We could have coasted on some obvious Trout-Bryant vibes for MVPs again, and instead we have two players who A.) have been good for the last few years, and B.) had their best seasons yet this year. And the fact that someone like Christian Yelich might typically be considered a fringe player illuminates the specialness of his win even more.

Mookie Betts' win was bound to happen eventually. This guy has reinvigorated the Red Sox lineup like no one else has, has been on top of things every year of his career, and was in the mix for an MVP for the past few seasons. He's also 25 with 800 hits, and had 180 of those this year, as well as finishing the year with a .340 batting average. Not only did he deserve this MVP, but he deserves to be among the stars of the game, alongside Trout, Kershaw, Judge and Bryant.

Christian Yelich just deserved it on account of him being a great player who'd gotten unlucky in brief moments of past seasons. The guy hit 36 home runs this season, and had never surpassed 30 before. He also had 180 hits, topped 100 RBIs for the first time of his career, and did this all in a new city, escaping the shadow of the guy who won the MVP last year. He proved that it doesn't just take home runs to rule a season- it takes just being really, really good. And Yelich, especially in August, September and October, was that good.

We're done with awards, and we've got 15 days til Uncustomed Heroes starts up, so expect box breaks, prompts, and other amusing things in the next 2 weeks.

Wednesday, November 14, 2018

Cy Youngs: The Statistical Insurrection


2010 Jordan would be SO PISSED at these two for getting Cy Young this year.

Blake Snell was a surprise pick for the Cy, solely because he was barely expected to be a part of the starting picture in April, and...he was the only constant starter in Tampa this year. And man, if this guy isn't a strikeout artist. If the Rays end up getting back into the playoff race, Snell will be one hell of an ace. I do worry that giving it to Snell rather than an established star like Verlander or Sale will doom Snell to be a one-off fluke, but...hopefully he'll keep things together.

Meanwhile, Jacob deGrom...falls into the 2010 Felix Hernandez category of 'does he really deserve it?' Unlike King Felix, the closest rival to deGrom already has 3 Cy Youngs, and the other closest rival is a guy who, while great this year, still has a few more prime seasons left for another shot at Cy (and hopefully, Aaron, you'll get there). So if anyone's gonna get it, it should be deGrom.

But...deGrom played on a team that stuck him with a crap W/L record, and squandered the game even when deGrom was throwing fire, which was every game. If he hadn't played for the Mets this year, I'd be a lot more firm in saying deGrom deserved this award. But the quality of his material despite the Mets' bullpen is the real take here- insanely low ERA, a ton of strikeouts, and some dominance that is the pinnacle of Jacob deGrom's tenure in Flushing. It's a win that may be contested in the future, but I'm perfectly fine with it, and I think it's about time deGrom won one.

Tomorrow, we get our MVPs. Like the Cy Youngs, these two races look predictable, but you never know who'll slide in a last minute Baez vote.

Monday, November 12, 2018

Rookies of the Year: An Inoffensive Pair



The odd part about Acuna and Ohtani is that there were, if I recall correctly, some prolonged lulls in their rookie seasons, around May or June, where they either were injured or just weren't playing up in the majors, that I thought would be taken into account by voters. However, enough of a case couldn't be made for either Andujar or Torres, which is fair, and apparently not enough people voted for Juan Soto, who would have been my ROY pick in the NL.

Still, looking at these two, I'm not seeing a ton of fluke-ish quality from either. I measure that by simply looking at Chris Coghlan's Rookie season, and going 'did they do better than that?' This game can be played with Bob Hamelin or Joe Charboneau as well, depending on age. You just look at everything they accomplished, and go 'are they just lucky? Or can they do some more of that next year?' And I look at both Ronald Acuna and Shohei Ohtani, and I think 'yeah, they can stick around for a bit'. I do think the Angels are going to figure out that keeping Ohtani at DH might be the better idea than having him pitch and risk injury (and this will have to be the case for 2019), but Acuna, along with Albies, could be a perennial star in Atlanta.

Overall, no complaints. These are the rookies of the year.

Tomorrow...we break for Manager awards, and then Wednesday we get our Cy Youngs.

Friday, November 9, 2018

2018 Panini Chronicles, or The Bride of Frankenset


I was intrigued.

I don't usually go for Panini products, mostly due to the lack of logos, but also because of the lack of supreme effort. A lot of Panini's baseball products look the same, don't immediately wow the eye, and skirt along on less-than-creative concepts.

So when I heard that Panini's latest effort, 2018 Chronicles, went the frankenset route by producing several different base designs along the same set, I was...puzzled, but intrigued.

Chronicles goes the route of having a blaster full of 4 packs of 5 (and one pack of 3), for 20 bucks. 23 cards for 20 bucks. Far from the era of 39 cards for 59 cents, are we?

The ubiquitous 3-card pack, billed even on the blaster box, was for the Revolution subset, which looked cool enough from the outside.


And...yeah, these are pretty damn cool.

It's a very 2000-era Pacific sort of design, mixed with modern bordering ideologies, and it amounts to a relatively eye-pleasing design. Note that the scan doesn't do the shininess justice here- these cards are very shiny, which isn't a problem in these less-dufex-reliant days.

The actual star power here is welcome- Trout and Bryant are two ubiquitous gets, and Hoskins is a hometown favorite.

Pack 1- So let's talk about what these subsets are, and represent.

Prizm we've seen before. Many times. If I'm not mistaken, Prism had its own release this year. So Corey Seager's 2004 Finest-esque card is, while welcome commonplace.
Rafael Devers is our Rookies and Stars subset, which evokes nice 00's Donruss memories. I'll say that the initial Rookies & Stars sets were a little more photo reliant than this one, which is very design-centric, but it still works.
The Sisco is a Studio subset. I know Donruss Studio, and you are no Donruss Studio. This is more of an SP or Elite sort of design. Also, the design scans a bit more purple than the card actually is. At least it looks cool.
And Chronicles is, while commonplace, a bit odd to name the set after. It's very basic, and very white based.

 This pack also spat out a super-cool Select blue parallel, which is numbered to 299, of Dominic Smith, the Mets 1st baseman of the future (that was supposed to be of the present). Relatively nice pull.

Pack 2- The more basic options here:
I get a Shohei Ohtani card and all is it is your basic, everyday Score. Which isn't bad at all.
I like the Acuna, which is a Donruss Classics, though perhaps they took the term Classics a bit too literally. This is more of a Donruss Originals sort of design. Classics would have been more grey and simple. I still like this though.
And Bryant's, which I initially thought was either a ripoff of Flair, Fleer Showcase, or Topps Gold Label, is called Illusions. So any resemblance to a former set by another company is merely an illusion. Again, looks cool here. This set definitely doesn't shirk on design.

These two Dodgers are the bulkier subsets. Crusades, which is the right kind of inspired, hoists Alex Verdugo over what appears to be a Welsh coat of arms. Sure.
And our Select is Cody Bellinger, who shows that this one still looks pretty cool, even without the blue parallel goodness.

 Pack 3-
Devers is a Contenders Optic. I do like that they're throwing sets from other sports in here, as Chronicles does kinda work here.
Clint's is a Phoenix subset, which is inspired but kinda falls flat. Good to pull a Clint though.
And two Acunas. One is a really cool one, a pink-based one called Status, which I really like because it reminds me of an old Football set they did a few years ago.
The other is Prestige, which, while muted, has a nice little mix of photo and design, and is a little more inspired than I initially gave it credit for.

This was a nice touch, though. A color board parallel of JAKE ARRIETA, newest Phillies fireballer, numbered to 299. Nice to nab a good numbered card of a Phillie.

Pack 4-
We've seen Illusion before, but this Bader illuminates how cool of a set it is, to be honest.
And Mejia's is a Donruss base, which you can find in any dollar bin in the country.

We end, of course, on some Yankees. Because Panini knows what I like.
So, Aaron Judge is a Limited subset, which, while more of a Zenith kind of look, still looks great. Very 2000s UD, even.
Andujar's is yet another Select, which I'm fine with.
And Torres' is not only a Contenders one, but it's a red parallel, which is #'d to 199. A bonafide numbered Gleyber during his rookie year. Not too bad, Panini.

So, needless to say, this set is wild. Interesting, but wild. It's not like UD Timeline, where enough subset cards are seeded so that you know what everything looks like. This set has a wild card factor that you could pull anything at any time, which A.) makes it nearly impossible to collect, and B.) doesn't especially let any of the sets make a lasting imprint. It's the feeling of 'why get to know this set, when it might not even be in the next pack.'

I do like the set, and I think it's inspired idea by a company desperate for creativity, but...it's not completely there. If there were more cards per blaster, then I'd really get to know every set and feel better about it all, but...it's just not enough for me.

Thursday, November 8, 2018

The First Major Trade of the Offseason


I wouldn't normally choose to write about this one, but it's an interesting one. Very, very interesting. The Mariners and Rays just lopped off some players they've deemed as expendable, but it's very funny who gets to earn that distinction.

The big name of this trade, whether you like it or not, is Mike Zunino. Mike Zunino has a career .207 batting average, and has season-averages under the mendoza line twice in his career. This season, he finished with a .201, and has never finished with higher than a .250. Mike Zunino is a great defensive catcher with absolutely no offensive competence, aside from the occasional home run hitting. His only outlier was last season, 2017, where he did well in multiple offensive categories, and finished with a 3.3 WAR. But on the whole, he's a very risky bet on a roster, as he only does a few things really well, and does a lot more truly badly.

Zunino has also been the Mariners' sole competent choice at catcher. Defensively this makes sense. Offensively, this makes less sense. The M's did bring in Carlos Ruiz to be a backup/DH type thing last year, but they didn't need him often. The only other catching options the M's had to work with A.) weren't very good, B.) have just been dealt to Houston, or C.) retired voluntarily midway through the season to pursue a new job with an eating disorders fund.

Now, they're down to David Freitas. Which sucks.

Zunino, along with decent outfield platoon member Guillermo Heredia, have just been dealt to the ever-growing Tampa Bay Rays, another team in desperate need of a catcher, in exchange for Mallex Smith, a Rays outfielder.

Now, in terms of who gets the upper hand here...it's a close call.

Both Zunino and probably Heredia will get to start games in Tampa. Heredia's will depend on the question of whether or not the Rays will want to plug anyone else into that outfield with Kevin Kiermaier and Tommy Pham. Heredia would be a fine choice for that third spot, but we don't know if they have other plans. Zunino will be their starting catcher, and knowing Kevin Cash, he'll do a fine job, and probably figure out how to hit over .250 if he's lucky.



Mallex Smith, who first of all was already traded to the Mariners in 2016 for Luiz Gohara, before getting traded again for Drew Smyly, has become a great outfield fixture for Tampa, leading the league in triples this past year, and having his first 100+ hit season. He will also get a starting gig in Seattle, as their other options aren't coming back (Heredia and Denard Span, who was just released), and will share the outfield with Mitch Haniger and either Dee Gordon or another offseason pickup. Smith will definitely come into his own in Seattle, will be plugged into the leadoff position alongside Gordon and Jean Segura, and could have an even bigger year if the M's decide to come into their own.

This is a great trade for two teams that are on the cusp of winning seasons for 2019. The Rays could potentially sneak into the AL East race, while the Mariners will need a stronger pitching staff to take on Oakland and Houston. This is only the beginning of that conversation.

Perhaps not a scintillating trade from the getgo, but certainly one that's interesting to talk about. Hopefully we'll get some more interesting ones as the offseason plows on.