Sunday, January 31, 2021

Topps Cards That Should Have Been: The Gregg Zaun Chronicles

 I don't know if you guys have been keeping track, but January I was doing these Topps Cards That Should Have Been posts in alphabetical order. Just a little challenge. Ah, let's see if I can do a Q name, so on, things like that.

So that should explain why I'm posting a ton of customs of switch-hitting backup catcher Gregg Zaun on the last day of January.

......look, it was either him or Todd Zeile.

Nevertheless, there is a lot of things to talk about regarding Gregg Zaun and Topps' gaps in documenting his career on cards. It may be a niche guy to include, but he played throughout the 2000s and was a reliable choice for catcher when other guys wouldn't do. 

As this project starts in 2000, we begin with Gregg Zaun's 2000 season in Kansas City. In 83 games he hits .274, and the starting gig is his for a bit.

Flash-forward to 2003:

Zaun spends 2002 in Houston backing up Brad Ausmus, which he continues to do for 2003, as he hits .217 in 59 games as backup. That doesn't seem to cut it for Houston, and they release him. 

Only for the Colorado Rockies, who need a solid backup option for Charles Johnson, to pick him up. Zaun does miles better with the Rox, hitting .261 with 3 homers in 15 games. 

Then, in 2004, Gregg Zaun figured out that the key to his longevity in the bigs would be playing in Canada. So he signed a minor league deal with the Expos, which would have been an opportunity to play in Montreal in their last season. However, the Expos had Brian Schneider, strike one, and they were going forward with Einar Diaz as a backup, strike two. Which means the Expos had no use for Gregg Zaun, and released him.

About a week into the season, the Toronto Blue Jays realized that their catching options, including Kevin Cash and Greg Myers, were too thin, and they went...not far, and got Gregg Zaun. Zaun quickly became the starting option in Toronto, hitting .269 in 107 games with a 2.3 WAR. Here, Zaun's scorching run in Toronto begins, and the Jays fans couldn't be any more here for it.

Topps, on the other hand, seems to miss the boat. No Zaun cards in Update, which is a foresight, even if it is a low-tier Jays team.

It becomes even more infuriating in 2005 when Gregg Zaun has his best season. Yeah, that's right. Out of all the hitters in Toronto in 2005, including Vernon Wells, Orlando Hudson, Eric Hinske, Alex Rios and Aaron Hill, you know who has the highest WAR? SWITCH-HITTING CATCHER GREGG ZAUN. He only hits .251 with 61 RBIs, but his defensive numbers are so impressive that it propels him to a 3.6 WAR. Which is huge. No longer the backup, Zaun has a beautiful year in Toronto, cements his status as a Canadian legend, and doesn't have to worry about moving around for a bit.

After this season, Topps listens up and makes Gregg Zaun cards in flagship for the next 4 seasons. Zaun is the primary option at catcher for the Jays for the next few seasons, then in 2009 he signs with the Orioles to start. Only problem is that in 2009, the Orioles bring up a guy named Matt Wieters to play catcher, and Zaun's numbers aren't enough to stop him from usurping his playing time. So the O's trade him.

Thankfully they trade him to a decent team that needed catching options behind Dioner Navarro. So Gregg Zaun gets to compete with the Rays. Unfortunately, thanks to a dismal September, the Rays don't make the postseason. Zaun still hits .287 with 14 RBIs in 34 games. The trade happens after the Update cutoff, so no Topps card. In fact, Topps kind of checks out as far as Zaun is concerned.

In 2010, the Brewers sign Zaun to look over the two burgeoning catchers they have, George Kottaras and Jonathan Lucroy. Zaun's 39, he's clearly just doing this to play, not really worrying about numbers. He actually does fairly well, hitting .265 in 28 games. He's still a decent defender but he's...39. On May 20th, he gets injured, sits out the rest of the season...and it's not looking good for him as a defensive catcher. 

Zaun would try one more season, signing a minor league contract with the Padres in 2011. Just to see if anything was left in the tank. He tried his best, but he really couldn't find any of his former strength left, and retired out of camp. Dignified way to leave, but he did it on his own terms.

And he's been a Jays broadcaster ever since, which means, yes, Toronto has been very kind to him. For a guy who was thinking he'd be a backup in different cities, Gregg Zaun sure found a stationary home there, which is nice.

Saturday, January 30, 2021

Topps Cards That Should Have Been: 2015 Yoenis Cespedes

 Typically, if one of the biggest hitters in the game signs with a new get on that. You just do. 

I understand that Topps had a nice shot for Yoenis Cespedes as a Red Sock for Series 1, but...that's not a good enough reason. You know the Sox aren't gonna re-sign Cespedes. So just...wait until Series 2, cause by then you'll know who DID sign him, and go with it then. Don't wait around. 

What I'm saying is that the lack of a 2015 Topps card depicting Yoenis Cespedes on the Tigers, a team he played for in 102 games, could have been avoided. 

Like, let's look at all the Topps sets that DID depict Cespedes in a Tigers uniform- Bowman Chrome, Allen and Ginter, Archives, Finest, Gypsy Queen, Heritage, Museum Collection, Stadium Club, Triple Threads. That's the bulk of Topps' spring-to-summer lineup. So they at least did that, but...they missed flagship.

Even more importantly, they missed Topps Chrome. That's usually when players who've been in Topps flagship in outdated uniforms that won't get new cards til Update get seen in new uniforms. They've done it several times before. Except for some very strange reason, Yoenis Cespedes doesn't even have a 2015 Chrome card. Why would they omit him from Chrome, he's a big star in 2015. Did they just...not want to make a card of him on the Tigers?

I don't see why not. Cespedes hit .293 for Detroit, with 18 homers and 61 RBIs, enough to give him some comeback numbers that everyone could enjoy. So it's a bit maddening that he doesn't get one. You think they're just going 'oh, don't worry, you folks can wait, we'll give you a Cespedes Tigers card in Update'

...yeah. About that.

Cespedes gets traded to the Mets at the deadline, catches fire and becomes an MVP threat, helping the Mets into the playoffs and the World Series. So now, if Topps doesn't make a Cespedes Mets card, their ass is in the toilet. So they put one in Update, and placate the Mets fans who wanted that...while also infuriating all the collectors who never got the Tigers one. 

This is what happens when you wait. This is what happens when you put too many eggs in the next basket. Topps clearly learned from this, because these days if a player who signed to a new team in the offseason is traded by the deadline, they'll make FIFTY MILLION CARDS OF HIM with the FIRST team, like they did with Starling Marte on the Diamondbacks this year. That man was appearing in products as a Diamondbacks six months after he was traded from there! 

Regardless...I made this Cespedes to right one of the famous Topps wrongs. I might have to do a lot more work to right their 2020 wrongs. 

Friday, January 29, 2021

Topps Cards That Should Have Been: The Xavier Nady Chronicles

 Xavier Nady is one of those unsung heroes of 2000s baseball. He never made an All-Star team, but he was a prominent member of some very cool playoff teams, like the 2005 Padres and the 2012 Giants, and he was one of the stars of the late-2000s almost-good Pirates teams. 

Topps was, for the most part, on top of Nady's many moves, especially during the period from 2008 to 2011, where he spent time in New York injured before he could join the postseason effort there. For some reason they didn't make a card of him in 2005, mostly because his 2004 season was kind of uneventful and they figured it wouldn't be very worthy of a card. The joke was on them, as Nady hit .261 in 124 games, and solidified himself as a lineup presence. 

Stints with the Mets, Pirates, Yankees, Cubs, Diamondbacks and Nationals followed, and then Topps gave up. 

Unfortunately, that was the one point where Xavier Nady could have benefited from a Topps card. Nady gets released by the Nats in June then signed by the Giants in an effort to aid the outfield, then winds up in the middle of a Giants postseason run thanks to the Giants' hesitancy to play the HGH-friendly Melky Cabrera. In 19 games, Nady hits .240 with 7 RBIs, though he goes hitless in the playoffs. Still gets a ring, though. 

Nady splits 2013 between the Royals and Rockies and makes the team with neither, so he signs a minor league deal with a familiar team.

This is odd to me. Xavier Nady in 2014 Padres duds. Not as weird if it would be if he were wearing 2020 Padres pinstripes, but...weird.

Yes, it's true. Xavier Nady made the team in 2014 in San Diego, and got some starts alongside 2014-era Padres stars like Cameron Maybin, Yonder Alonso, Jedd Gyorko and Alexi Amarista. In 22 games, Nady hit a blistering .135, with 4 RBIs, 3 of them homers. His prime had clearly past, but it was kinda cool that he got to finish his career with the same team he started with. Yeah, he tried again after the Pads released him by signing with the Ms, but...he wasn't gonna top a full-circle ending. 

So yeah, not a lot of people might remember Xavier Nady, but he was a fun little fringe player, and he still could have been more documented on Topps cards. 

Thursday, January 28, 2021

Topps Cards That Should Have Been: The Chien-Ming Wang Chronicles

The Yankees clearly have trouble with sustaining international success outside of their club.

Like, they book an international contract, it works really well for them, and then...the player doesn't really have much of a career after being with the Yankees. It happens nearly every time. It happened with Hideki Irabu, it happened with Hideki Matsui, it...okay, it backfired entirely with Kei Igawa. And now it's happening again with Masahiro Tanaka, as he'd rather go back to the Rakuten Eagles than play the waiting game with a bunch of MLB clubs that won't pay him what he's worth.

Perhaps the biggest example of this is, well, Taiwan's greatest gift to baseball, Chien-Ming Wang. I'll mention once again that my dentist, who came over here from Taiwan, always used to talk to me about Chien-Ming Wang. They loved him over there, and they followed his MLB career wholeheartedly in a way not exactly translated for other Taiwanese exports like Hong-Chih Kuo and Wei-Yin Chen. So I became a Wang fan not just because of his monster run from 2006 until 2008, but because my dentist's entire country was behind him. I loved that.

Wang has a rookie card in 2003 Topps, but they wouldn't document his actual playing career until 2006, which means his 2005 call-up, where he went 8-5 with 47 Ks in 18 games, was ignored by Topps.

That's the intriguing thing about Wang that made him such a unicorn in this era of baseball, where strikeout artists were becoming more and more rewarded- he didn't rely so much on strikeouts as he did mental games and making them hit it exactly where he wanted to. Wang was the master of the slider, and his slider was nasty enough to make him a lethal put-out pitcher even if he'd only get between 75 and 100 strikeouts in his two best seasons. 

However, Wang succumbs to some injuries during the 2008 and 2009 seasons, misses out on the World Series ring, then signs with the Nationals, where he has some more injuries and his control diminishes further. So he bounces for his last few years in the majors.

He actually spends training camp in 2013 with the Yankees, but they don't pick him up, so he instead found work in another AL East market.

This honestly sums up what the 2013 Blue Jays season actually was. They'd teased it to be a competitive year with Josh Johnson, Mark Buehrle, R.A. Dickey and Jose Reyes now suiting up for them alongside Bautista and Encarnacion, but in all actuality it was another bottom feeder year because the 2015 team hadn't exactly arrived yet. And you had people like Chien-Ming Wang being asked for starts, and delivering a 7.67 ERA over 6 of them. Yes, he was getting playing time, but his Yankees numbers seemed far behind him.

The bouncing continued. Between 2014 and 2015, Wang spent Spring Training with Cincinnati and Atlanta and didn't end up making the team, then signing with Chicago and Seattle during the season and not making the team there either. That says all you need to know when the 2015 Atlanta Braves, who've been absolutely picked clean by other teams [especially San Diego] say no-thanks to Chien-Ming Wang. 

Eventually, a team would give him one last taste of the majors...

The Kansas City Royals of late have a thing about turning a once-great starter into a reliever to give them some versatility points. They did it with Mike Minor, and with Ian Kennedy, and in 2016, defending a World Series championship, they did it with Chien-Ming Wang. At 36, Wang just felt honored to be given a shot with a team in general. These numbers with the Royals would be Wang's best outside of New York- a 0.3 WAR, denoting a 4.22 ERA and 6 wins over 38 appearances, 24 of them rounding out games. It is a dignified, respectable season in relief for the Yankee hurler, and a fitting season to go out on.

Because it happened in relief and with a non-playoff team, Topps shrugged. Of course they did. Not like there were dentists watching and hoping for some semblance of respect for their hero or anything. 

Wednesday, January 27, 2021

Topps Cards That Should Have Been: The Jason Varitek Chronicles

One of my goals with this project has been to right the various wrongs Topps has gone through with over the past 20 years, be it with omissions or contract issues or the like. One of the big ones that subsided right when I got into the hobby was that of Jason Varitek, the longtime Boston backstop.

From the beginning of his career until 2007, Jason Varitek did not have a contract with Topps, and therefore received absolutely zero Topps cards. The humanity. 

And let's be fair- for the first few years of his career, Varitek was a replacement-level catcher who got by on decent seasons, and he doesn't start truly tearing up the league until 2003, so it wasn't a huge loss til around then. But still, Topps not making any cards of the catcher of the Boston Red Sox is a big deal, and one that I had no choice but to rectify.

So, starting in 2001, here they are. In 2001, Varitek mostly backs up Scott Hatteberg but hits .293 in 51 games. 

2002 is Varitek's first season with a WAR over 2, as the catching gig is all but his thanks to him playing 132 games behind the plate, hitting .266 and notching 61 RBIs. Not pristine, but he's beginning to benefit from being on the Sox with Ramirez, Damon and Ortiz all at once.

2003 is the breakout year. Tek hits .273 with 25 homers, a career high for him, 85 RBIs, another career high, and his first ASG appearance. He also gets MVP votes, postseason playing time, and a stranglehold on the position . Here is where Topps starts really regretting not signing Varitek to a contract.

And they begin to regret it even more in 2004, another strong year for Varitek with a .296 average and 73 RBIs, one that would see him win his first of two World Series rings. Tek has 11 postseason RBIs for the Sox, and cements himself as a reliable, necessary presence in the Boston dugout. 

So...Topps can't even make a card for the catcher of the World Series champions. Awkward.

It gets worse. In 2005, Varitek has his most impressive season yet, getting a gold glove, a silver slugger, more MVP votes, a 70-RBI year AND...

His second ASG appearance, marked by a card that would have shown up in 2005 Topps Update. This would have been a cool one, too, as it represents a great RBI moment from that ASG. 

And in 2006, Varitek would wind things down with a .233 average in only 106 games thanks to an injury [Doug Mirabelli would be on hand to back up]. 

2007, he'd have a posed shot against the Sox's maroon background, and from then on Topps would be on top of things giving him flagship releases. Again, I wish they'd acted sooner, but there's a lot you can't control about Topps. 

Tuesday, January 26, 2021

Topps Cards That Should Have Been: Pre-Yankee Gio Urshela

 Topps...being Topps...made cards of Gio Urshela for the first two years of his career, and didn't bother to make more until he became a fixture for the New York Yankees. Man, what is it with them and shiny objects?

It's not like Gio Urshela's work in that period was completely unmemorable, either. Especially his 2017 season, which he spent as a backup for Jose Ramirez in 67 games, and became a well-used utility type after two seasons of near-dormancy for him. Yes, he only hit .224, but he was still helping a surging Cleveland team return to the playoffs. I actually saw Urshela play 3rd, granted at Fenway. Took notes on how good of a defensive choice he was. 

I actually caught him the following year as well, in Toronto. Urshela had wound up with the Jays thanks to a minor deal during the offseason, and found himself as a substitution for Josh Donaldson during his injury-plagued 2018 campaign. In 19 games, he hit .233 with 10 hits, and spent most of the rest of the season in Buffalo. During Gio's at-bats during the game we witnessed at Rogers, there was a guy a row in front of us who, every time, would shout something to the extent of 'COME ON GIO, DO IT FOR JESUS!'. Which...okay, I'm not the most religious chap around, and while I respect piety and devotion and such, I don't especially see why this specific at-bat needed to be tied directly to religion. Then again, I'm not this guy, I don't see the world the way he does, and can't entirely judge. 

Still, Urshela somehow missed out on Topps cards in both occasions, and didn't get another one until his breakout year with the Yankees in 2019. Not that the two seasons in between were crucial [I thought the 2017 one was, but hey], but Topps should have known he'd eventually be a fixture somewhere. 

Topps Cards That Should Have Been: 2021 Hall of Fame Class Edition


I'll let this be the official announcement- I'm not doing a HOF ballot post this year. There's no use making one if the ballot is this bare, and if nobody I'm gonna vote for is gonna get in cause the only people charting over 70% right now are Bonds, Clemens and Schilling. So I'm just not gonna do a whole post. 2022, sure, there'll be more to vote for then. Not now.

So instead, I found some Cards That Should Have Been for a few members of the ballot. Perhaps the biggest one is this 2012 Topps issue of Omar Vizquel which they really should have done. Vizquel's last season was in 2012, he was capping off a legendary career, and Topps just wasn't there for it at all. In a bench utility role for Toronto, he hit .235 with 36 hits, and was still charting positive defensive WAR numbers at 45 years old. Topps would do an insert of Vizquel as a Blue Jay a bit later, but not a base card. Hence this. I hope Vizquel gets in someday.

The rest of these are guys who are on the ballot this year, and will probably leave the ballot this year.

2015 was the final year for Barry Zito, the former Oakland Cy Young winner and...future Nashville musician. Zito, when he wasn't learning some country chords, was drumming up a comeback in 2015 playing for Nashville's AAA team. It didn't get him particularly far, but he did get one last run as an Athletic at the end of that season, as a show of posterity. In 3 games, he had a 10.29 ERA with only 2 strikeouts, but he still ended his career in the same city where he came to prominence, and it was a solid way of leaving things.
Shane Victorino is the only case in this post of a player whose final undocumented year was a botched Spring Training stint. Topps did him well his whole post-Phils career, and he was pictured as an Angel in 2015 Topps Update, which capped his career. However, in 2016, the Flyin' Hawaiian signed a minor league deal with the Chicago Cubs. While Victorino didn't make the team, and with the talent they had that year it wouldn't have happened, he did play 9 games with Iowa, and hit .233. So he ended with some semblance of dignity as well.

Nick Swisher did get a final tribute issue from Topps in 2016, but because his trade to Atlanta from Cleveland came south of the trade deadline deal in 2015, Topps didn't have time to put him or Michael Bourn in Update. While Swisher was responsible for one nice walk-off moment with the Braves, he was elsewhere saddled with a .195 average and 23 hits in 46 games. Ouch.

The 2021 HOF ballot member with the most Topps omissions is, of course, the career reliever. LaTroy Hawkins played nearly everywhere, and while Topps had his number for the first 11 seasons of his career, things trailed off after 2005. Like Salomon Torres, it may have to do with landing in a weak market in 2006, like the Baltimore Orioles. Hawkins had a 4.48 ERA in 60 games, which was a bit more buoyant than necessary, but he still kept on. 

The big 'are you seeing this' year for Hawkins as far as Topps is concerned is 2007. With the Colorado Rockies, they of the longer carries, Hawkins came up with a 3.42 ERA in 62 games. And then, the following year, Topps and the Yankees come calling and he's good for a bit.

In 2012, things got away from Topps again- Hawkins spent the year with the Anaheim Angels, chilling with Pujols and Trout and riding their spotlight for a bit. A 3.64 ERA in 48 innings wasn't bad, but it was less populated than previous games.

And finally, Topps also missed Hawkins' stint with the 2013 New York Mets, where he had a wonderful 2.93 ERA in 72 games with 55 games and 13 saves. A tour de force comeback that put him back on Colorado's radar, and led to Topps not forgetting about him again. Hawkins probably won't make the HOF, but at least he was responsible for some fantastic seasons in relief for several teams.

Those are my 2021 HOF ballot customs. I'm expected disappointment when Schilling or some steroids guy gets in. 

Monday, January 25, 2021

Topps Cards That Should Have Been: The Salomon Torres Chronicles


More with Topps' vendetta against relievers.

From 2002 until 2008, Salomon Torres was one of the most consistent relievers in the NL Central, averaged a 3.61 ERA with 381 strikeouts and 57 saves, and was a middle relief rock for a market that was anything but consistent. 

However, you probably never knew that for five of those years because A.) Torres was a middle reliever and B.) Torres played for the Pittsburgh Pirates.

Topps would mostly shrug through issuing Pirates cards every year of their mediocrity in the mid-2000s. A lot of Pirates that'd show up in Topps sets in this period were educated guesses. Sure, maybe this veteran will have a good season there, maybe this rookie. Meanwhile, people like Nate McLouth and Ryan Doumit didn't get cards as Pirates until they were about to be traded, essentially. And people who deserved them, like Salomon Torres, got none in flagship. 

Heck, pulling a card of Torres' in 2004 Total was how I learned he'd hung on as a Pirate to begin with. I knew Torres from being a high-profile rookie in the mid-90s, making the cover of 1994 Stadium Club Series 3, and being a highly-touted Dominican prospect that didn't pan out in SF. So he bopped around the leagues, sat out for 3 years, had a comeback in Korea and starting in 2002 was a mainstay in the Pirates bullpen.

2003 was the first Torres year I could get images from. This season Torres was still being partially utilized as a starter but eventually moved to the bullpen, where his ERA would even out to 3.20 in 25 appearances. From here, the Bucs knew what to do with Salomon Torres.

In 2004, Torres raised his productivity, pitching in 84 games with a 2.64 ERA. His 2.3 WAR that season would be a career high. 
2005 was similar- 2.76 ERA in 76 appearances, and still one of the better performers on the team. 

In 2006 Torres pitches in a league-high 94 games, and gets a 3.28 ERA with 72 strikeouts. The league is recognizing Torres' versatility and consistency, even if Topps won't. 

And in 2007, Torres powers down a bit with a 5.47 ERA in 56 games. Though in the past two seasons he's accumulated 24 saves, he's still a middle reliever and his 2007 struggles seem to point to the end of his era in Pittsburgh. 

After the 2007 season, he's traded to Milwaukee for a pair of prospects. Milwaukee rewards Torres by giving him the closing gig and letting him save 28 games with a 3.49 ERA. Topps rewards Torres by finally, FINALLY including a base card of his in Update. I think it's very telling that they waited until he joined a team that was A.) playoff-contending and B.) not the Pirates in order to do this, but thankfully they gave him the final sendoff he needed. 

Sunday, January 24, 2021

NFL Championship Games: ZZZZZZZZ Edition


Prediction: Hard-fought game, but the Packers are the better team and on their own turf, so they should stick it out.

Reality: WHAT DOES IT TAKE? WHAT DOES IT FRIGGING TAKE FOR THIS TEAM TO WIN AN NFC CHAMPIONSHIP? We've tried playing teams that aren't as good as ours, we've tried playing teams with no offense, we've tried playing teams with the homefield advantage for once. Nothing works. Regardless of how good this Packers team was, the Bucs' defense was better, and made for a truly disappointing end to the season. Now Tom Brady goes to another super bowl, and the Packers, who deserved to, don't.

Bills- Chiefs

Prediction: I'd LIKE the Bills to win but the Chiefs are the better team, especially with Mahomes back

Reality: Yeeeahhh, this one wasn't even close, was it? As good as Josh Allen was, Patrick Mahomes was better, and had some explosive TD plays all night. Yes, Eric Fisher won't be heading to Tampa in 2 weeks, but Tyreek Hill, Travis Kelce and the whole gang were on fire tonight, and dwarfed a Super Bowl-caliber Bills team. 

So now we're looking at a Bucs-Chiefs Super Bowl. Brady vs. Mahomes. How absolutely boring. This is the kind of outcome that people predicted early in the season that I shrugged off because it couldn't be that cut and dry. But, sure enough, the Chiefs repeat as AFC Champs, and Brady and the Bucs sniveled their way to another Bowl themselves. I guess I'm rooting for the Chiefs again? I dunno, it's a conflictingly bland matchup, and I'm glad I can just watch it as yet another Super Bowl I don't have a vested interest in than to actually have a horse in it. 

Whatever. It's a Super Bowl at home, but this isn't really the genuine Tampa Bay Buccaneers, is it? It's a team that Tom Brady has hijacked in an effort to win a seventh ring that he doesn't need. The only excited Bucs fans that are gonna be there in 2 weeks will be bandwagoners.  And yes, maybe a few diehard fans, but this isn't really a homegrown, earned team like the 2003 one was, is it? 

Whatever. We're nearly back at baseball season. You'll hear less of my grumblings over time. 

Friday, January 22, 2021

Topps Cards That Should Have Been: The Will Smith Chronicles

No, not the actor. Not the catcher, either. And not the guy that co-wrote The Thick of It. This guy.

Will Smith was a strong, consistent reliever for 8 years, and nobody knew who he was until he became a surefire closer in 2019 for the Giants. If people were paying attention, they would have seen it coming. Topps, of course, wasn't.

In 2012, Smith makes his debut as a starter with the Royals. He has a 6-9 record in 16 games, with a 5.32 ERA and 39 Ks. Not much to report, especially. 

In 2013, Smith is moved to the bullpen.  3.24 in 33 innings of relief isn't bad, but it's also not much to really hang onto. In 2014, the Royals are moving to October and need outfield help rather than bullpen help, so they trade Smith to Milwaukee for Nori Aoki.

Smith comes into his own with the Brewers, suffice to say. He appears in a league-record 78 games, with a 3.70 ERA, 86 strikeouts and a few too many runs given up, suffice to say. But he's still a trusted member of the Brewers bullpen and keeps things going for them for 3 years. 

In 2015, Smith gets a suspension for a foreign substance on his arm, and he's sort of downplayed by the Brewers that year. He also gets injured prior to the 2016 season, which leads the Brewers to think about trading him. 

They eventually deal Smith to the Giants at the trade deadline, odd, because the Topps cutoff in 2016 did allow for trade deadline acquisitions. So they should have done a Smith card that year in Update...yet they didn't. He has a 2.95 ERA in 26 games, which is a great start. 

Smith sits out all of 2017 with an injury, which explains...

...why Topps doesn't make a 2018 Topps card for him. But...nothing in Update? By Update, he was relieving games, even if he wouldn't get his 14 saves until after the cutoff. Still, the 2018 season, where he has a 2.55 ERA in 54 games, is enough to establish him as a force to be reckoned with, and enough to garner the ninth inning job for 2019. He's not closing as many games in Atlanta these days, but he's still a trusted bullpen option for a team once starved for relievers.

Thursday, January 21, 2021

Topps Cards That Should Have Been: The Fernando Rodney Chronicles

Fernando Rodney may have been one of the most important relievers of the first 20 years of the 21st century. He may not have had the flashiest stats or the most saves, but his career spanned years and teams that people wouldn't even predict they would. 

2003 would have been the first season he could have gotten a Topps card, so I won't be sad that they didn't cause he was...just a lowly reliever for one of the worst Tigers teams of all time. He averaged a 6.04 ERA his first two seasons, over 47 appearances. He wasn't handed the ninth quite yet, and that'd take a few more years of people like Ugueth Urbina and Todd Jones closing games in Detroit, but he was beginning to be plugged in more and more.

2004 he sits out the year with an injury, which also explains why he doesn't have a card in 2005 Topps:

Rodney's 2005 season is a breakout year for him in the Tigers bullpen; In 39 games he posted 42 Ks and a 2.86 ERA, complete with 9 saves. The closing gig isn't his yet, and won't be until late 2006, but he's still trusted. 

'06 and '07, he gets Topps cards. In 2007 he doesn't close games thanks to Todd Jones, and mostly doesn't do much more than middle relief...

Which explains, I guess, why Topps didn't bother making a base card of his in 2008. Gotta admit, this move even surprised me as a young collector. I'd thought Fernando Rodney was a necessary relief inclusion, even in 2008, before he really took off. I was very confused. Rodney's 2008 was a step back in the right direction, saving 13 games even with a 4.91 ERA. 

From 2009, Topps doesn't miss a beat. They make flagship cards of him in Detroit, Anaheim, Tampa and Seattle, even in his waning Ms years. From 2012 to 2014 he saves 133 games, and it's absolutely huge, but he can't sustain the magic.

By the end of 2015, the Mariners give up on him in favor of Tom Wilhelmsen. So they deal him to the Cubs at the waiver deadline, which means Topps won't get to see the...very odd sight of Fernando Rodney as a Cub. This is incredibly odd. In 14 games in middle relief, Rodney had an 0.75 ERA and 15 Ks. Plus, he got to COMPETE for the first time in a while. He did well in early rungs of the playoffs but got beat up by the Mets in the NLCS. 

By 2016, Topps still wasn't convinced that Rodney was back, even if the end of the 2015 was at least worth a card. So they shrugged and missed out on Rodney's LAST ALL-STAR STINT. Yes, they got it in Update, but they had cards of him on the Marlins, which he showed up in for the ASG. Forgetting, of course, that his INSANE 0.31 ERA with the Padres was the thing that got Rodney there in the first place. In 28 games, Rodney had 33 Ks and 17 saves. These were the final indicators to Topps that Rodney was finally worth making cards of again. 

From 2017 to 2019, Topps would be pretty prompt with Rodney issues. D-Backs, Twins, A's...all good.

Yet the final stop on Rodney's journey, and the one that gained him that coveted World Series ring, went completely ignored by Topps. Yes, Fernando Rodney was a trusted relief option for the 2019 Nationals, pitching in 38 games with a 4.05 ERA and 35 Ks, and getting some postseason playing time as well. It was a great season to go out on, despite Rodney not officially throwing in the towel until the dust had settled on the 2020 season. I just wish Topps had produced a card of it, rather than making me finally branch out into customizing the relatively-tricky 2019 design. 

Still, Fernando Rodney had a long, prosperous career, marked by so many Topps cards that DID happen, that it should be a compliment to him that Topps missed so many times.