Sunday, February 28, 2021

Cub Crawl

 As games begin all over the spring training facilities and the seasons begin to come into scope, I'm very interested to see how the Chicago Cubs shape up. They're one of those teams that could go either way- they could compete, or they could rebuild. 

The thing is, they haven't lost too many of the big, formative pieces, honestly. Yu Darvish was a supplemental piece that became an ace last year, same with Jose Quintana. Caratini was a backup, same with Almora. And yes, Kyle Schwarber and Jon Lester are big pieces of the 2016 team, and ironically they both went to the same place, along with Jeremy Jeffress, but they were beginning to wane in the last few seasons.

The core guys that the Cubs have left all seem to have a few more years left in the tank. Kyle Hendricks is still looking at ace material, Anthony Rizzo and Kris Bryant still seem like league-caliber bats, Javier Baez is still one of the most dynamic infield performers in the game, and Jason Heyward is still a solid mid-lineup bat with great defensive ability. And they've still accumulated guys like Ian Happ, Alec Mills, David Bote and Nico Hoerner who can begin to carry more weight this year. 

But a lot of the moves that the Cubs made this season do point towards more of a rebuilding year. Joc Pederson will be starting in the outfield this year, after a disappointing year in LA. Jake Arrieta and Trevor Williams, leading rotations in smaller markets last year, are looking at lower-tier rotation spots. Even the backup outfielders, like Cameron Maybin and Jake Marisnick, speak to more of a piecemeal, open-ended strategy. 

The only real dynamic, team-lifting pickup the Cubs received this offseason may have been Zach Davies, in exchange for Darvish and Caratini. Davies is coming off of two straight excellent seasons, with only 2018's injury-plagued, disappointing campaign being a sorry spot on a fantastic career resume. He's hit 17 wins before, he's had several strikeout-friendly years, and his only issue is high WHIP. Slotting him in between Hendricks and Mills could prove to be a wise idea, and he could give another underrated, win-friendly season. 

But...I'm not sure if it's enough to really make this team a contender against teams like the Cardinals and Brewers this year. They could get a wild card spot, or they could really surprise me and take first, but...I have my concerns about this team.

Coming Tomorrow- One of the guys who left the Cubs. Looks to be starting for an AL team that should be a lot better than they are. 

Saturday, February 27, 2021

Breaking the Keuchel

 You know that custom card season has returned when this blog is filled with puns that are juuuust pushing it.

Okay, of 2021, the Chicago White Sox are basically back. They have a playoff appearance under their belt, a league-highlight roster and pitching staff, an MVP and a Cy Young winner plus several people who've either come close to our could feasibly win one in the future, the recipient of the highest-selling rookie card of the 2020 season, and two pitching acquisitions that may have put them entirely over the top. 

Now...let's examine the chance of failure. 

You're dealing with a few people, like Dallas Keuchel, Lance Lynn, Liam Hendriks, Lucas Giolito and Tim Anderson, who have had consecutive fantastic seasons yet have also had seasons in the past where they've struggled. So to assume that the White Sox contend this year is to assume that all five of those players compete exactly as expected. And in all these years of following baseball, I am confident in saying that there is always an unexpected variable that has to be taken into account. If it weren't for unexpected variables, the Yankees would be looking for their third straight title this season. 

You also have to factor in injury percentage. If Abreu, Moncada, Anderson, Grandal, Jimenez and Robert are all not only healthy but playing to the best of their ability, you've got a title. But you also have to look at Moncada, who's been peppy but doesn't hit for average, and Grandal, who now has more pressure without the safety net of James McCann behind him. Also, what if the big gun, Luis Robert, gets injured? What if Abreu's 34-ness leads to him breaking down? What if Kopech still isn't ready?

There are so many variables that could tank this team. And yet, if all of said variables click in line, this team could easily win the AL Central and be a major playoff competitor in an AL climate that, honestly, doesn't have many non-Yankee threats looming. If the Rays and Astros are both taking a step back, and the A's are a bit humbler without Hendriks and Semien, the White Sox could be a major player in the AL this year, and a definite favorite to take it all if everything goes the way the sportswriters are thinking it will.

All it takes is for everything to come together for the White Sox. And I kinda hope it does.

Coming Tomorrow- On the other side of Chicago, the closest thing we've had in about a decade to a rebuilding year. 

Friday, February 26, 2021

2020 Topps Final Edition: Cards #28-36

 As hinted on Monday, I'm expanding the rollouts for Final Edition to a monday-and-friday basis, cause I wanna get as much of these out as possible before this blog becomes inundated with 2021 customs and posts complaining about why I haven't gotten any retail product yet. 

So, here now are the next 9 cards in the set. Pretty standard bunch, these.

Card #028- Will Harris, Washington Nationals

After 5 years of exemplary relief work for the Houston Astros, Will Harris made a move to Washington on a decent contract. It was a move that, for some reason, went unnoticed by Topps, but considering how nonchalant they are about most relievers, I'm not exactly shocked. Harris had a 3.06 ERA in 20 appearance for the Nats, including 21 strikeouts, and was a bright light in a saggy, energy-lacking year for Washington. Hopefully with a rejuvenated team, and more bullpen support in the form of Jeremy Jeffress and Brad Hand, he'll be able to accomplish a lot more. 

Card #029- Jose Abreu ASG, Chicago White Sox

Unsurprisingly, Abreu would have been the starting 1st baseman for the AL All Star team. It would have been his fourth overall appearance and his second career start, and he would have gotten a TON of votes for it. I'm genuinely happy that Abreu is still delivering at the plate, and is still a steady lineup presence for Chicago, and I hope he keeps up the fantastic work. Also, by proportion, if the 2020 season had been all 162 games, Abreu's 19 home runs would have become 51. Which would have cemented that MVP, I think. [Also, by proportion, Voit would have had 59, so man if math was as accurate as real life, we'd be in business]

Card #030- Taijuan Walker, Toronto Blue Jays

After an impressive comeback as a member of the Seattle Mariners, Taijuan Walker was dealt to a contender at the deadline, in this case the rotation-desperate Blue Jays. Of all the Jays' August starter acquisitions, including Robbie Ray and Ross Stripling, Walker had the absolute best second-half numbers, with a 1.37 ERA and 25 Ks in 6 games. If the Jays-Rays series had gone to 3 games, he would have gotten the start, and lord knows how that would have gone for Tampa, but he boosted his stock in a month's time, and got a 2-year deal in Queens out of it.

Card #031- Anthony Rendon ASG, Los Angeles Angels

Unlike Abreu, Anthony Rendon would have to settle for a reserve spot on the ASG roster, thanks to the exploits of one Jose Ramirez of Cleveland. While Ramirez came out swinging like never before, Rendon's season took more time to gestate, before leading to a 2.3 WAR season with a .286 average and 31 RBIs, definitely career-caliber numbers for the former National. It'll be interesting to see how he does in a full season, especially with a slightly-fine-tuned Angels roster. 

Card #032- Darren O'Day, Atlanta Braves

After gestating in Atlanta for a few years following his sharp days as Baltimore's mighty set-up man, Darren O'Day finally found himself on an electric bullpen unit, and a charter member at that. In 19 appearances, O'Day flashed a 1.10 ERA, with 4 wins and 22 Ks. He'd go scoreless in the postseason up until a nasty run-in with the Dodgers' offense. The Yankees just signed O'Day, so hopefully more similar material is on the way.

Card #033- Pat Valaika, Baltimore Orioles

After being cut loose by the Colorado Rockies in favor of other infielders like Garrett Hampson and Ryan McMahon, Pat Valaika made it to the last oasis for failed infielders...the Baltimore Orioles. He surprisingly didn't do too badly, hitting .277 in 52 games, with 16 RBIs and 8 homers, but I feel as though he's not going to be relied upon as a major position player as the new kids begin to make themselves known in Baltimore. Perhaps a career as a super-ute is in the cards for him?

Card #034- Aaron Nola ASG, Philadelphia Phillies

The masses erupted in cries of slander after Zach Wheeler was removed from the ASG roster in order to make his Sunday start, but the mood rose once Aaron Nola, himself an unworthy snub, agreed to take Wheeler's place. Nola would have been an insanely valid ASG pick, and this would have been his second ASG nod...though that is far too few a number considering how excellent he's been in Philly. Considering that Nola is only locked up for a few more years, I sincerely hope he continues his mound dominance for us.

Card #035- Jazz Chisholm, Miami Marlins

Jazz Chisholm entered the majors with a lot on his shoulders to begin with, being the sole prospect traded from Phoenix in exchange for current staff ace Zac Gallen. As Gallen lit up the majors, Chisholm needed to establish that he could similarly get it done in the infield. While his fielding numbers were decent, his average fell below the Mendoza line, and his playing time faltered due to his one-dimensionality. I really hope he pulls it together in 2021, as the Marlins are still trying to figure out a few details of their infield situation.

Card #036- Chris Mazza, Boston Red Sox

Mazza was one of the many casualties of Boston's torrid pitching staff in 2020. After being waived by Boston from the Mets, Mazza was slotted in as a potential starting option following injuries to Chris Sale and Eduardo Rodriguez. Mazza's season was...alright. I mean, he had a 4.80 ERA in 9 games despite a massive WHIP, but I suppose he didn't get clobbered as much as other Boston starting options. The Sox, for his efforts, traded him to Tampa this year, so maybe he'll click in a more pitching-friendly environment.

I'll post the next 9 on Monday. Nice run of relievers in this one.

Wednesday, February 24, 2021

First Custom of the Year, 2021 Edition


At last, some culture.

Giving someone the designation of the first custom card of the year can either be a blessing or a curse at this rate. In fact, let's go down the line and see who's qualified for the first of the year since I started doing these from the start of the year in 2010.

2010- Roy Halladay, who'd just signed with the Phillies and was poised for a huge year. He had said huge year, and won a Cy Young along with pitching two no-hitters. I got it right, right off the bat.

2011- Zack Greinke, Milwaukee Brewers. Another recent traded player in a new team, this one seeming less like a good fit due to Greinke's nervous disposition on said custom. Greinke would take another 2 years before landing in a good market for his abilities, LA. 

2012- Yu Darvish, Texas Rangers. The big rookie from overseas. Darvish did pretty well his rookie year, and got a great deal of the hype that he'd deserved, but wouldn't become a fixture for a few more years. 

2013- Michael Bourn, Cleveland Indians. This was my first huge miss. I was thinking Bourn and Swisher would lead to great things in Cleveland, when in reality neither especially made a great impact there. 

2014- Robinson Cano, Seattle Mariners. Yeah, he would have a nice season upon arriving in Seattle, but after a few more he'd overstay his welcome thanks to some illegal drug use suspensions. 

2015- Matt Kemp, San Diego Padres. Another miss. Yes, this was a big deal, and one of the many signs of the shift in power to San Diego, but like Bourn, it was a misnomer, and Kemp would be dealt to Atlanta as teams would play hot potato with his cripplingly large contract.

2016- Jason Heyward, Chicago Cubs. I'd say this was a valid choice, as J-Hey, while not 2015-good, would be one of the many Cubs hoisting World Series rings in October that year.

2017- Buster Posey, San Francisco Giants. A rare year where I just started off with an established player who didn't change teams just cause I liked the photo. Posey had a pretty good year, as well.

2018- Shohei Ohtani, Los Angeles Angels. Who else was I gonna do, anyway? Ohtani would snag Rookie of the Year from the jaws of the Yankees, so this was another solid pick.

2019- Ichiro Suzuki, Seattle Mariners. This was a weird case, because it took me a month or so to figure out how customs were gonna work due to my photo source crapping out on me. So it took until March for me to do one, and it was of immediately-retiring Ichiro. More of a legacy pick than anything.

2020- Gerrit Cole, New York Yankees. Another pretty valid pick, as Cole's first season in the Bronx was yet another strong one.

And now here we are. Francisco Lindor in Queens is the first offering of 2021. I have no idea if Lindor will have the season that we're all thinking he will, but if he does, the Mets are gonna be up to some big things this year. The NL East is gonna be crowded, but the Mets are being seen as a favorite due to how rejuvenated they feel, and due to their wise offseason moves.

Right now I think that this is a good choice, but talk to me in a year and we'll see how I did. 

Monday, February 22, 2021

2020 Topps Final Edition: Cards #19-27

 As the material for 2021 customs begins to trickle in, and I reckon some of those will start appearing on here in the next week or so, I still have a backlog of stuff to produce for 2020 Topps Final Edition. What I might start doing is doing Final Edition posts on Mondays and Fridays, cause there's a lot to get through.

Onto the next nine cards. Expect a lot of relievers.

Card #019- Ryan Tepera, Chicago Cubs

Fun fact- due to a tactical error on the part of a sportswriter, Ryan Tepera got exactly one MVP vote last year. It was a foresight by someone trying to vote for Fernando Tatis and missed. Honestly, it's kind of a cool stat, as Ryan Tepera did have a decent enough season in relief for Chicago. In 21 games, he had a 3.92 ERA and 33 strikeouts, and, yes, came 18th in MVP voting. Sadly, Tepera is still a free agent. 

Card #020- Alejandro Kirk, Toronto Blue Jays

Despite the platoon at catcher of Danny Jansen and Reese McGuire that continued in Toronto this year, the Jays still had time to throw rookie Alejandro Kirk into the mix. Kirk, a big, strong, hulking 22-year-old, took a massive swat at the 2021 catching race, and hit .375 in 9 games, including 9 hits and 3 RBIs. Heck, he even had a postseason hit during the Rays series. It'll be interesting to see if the Jays have any use for him this year, as he's clearly a nice asset for any team trying to rebuild. 

Card #021- Brian Anderson ASG, Miami Marlins

If the 2020 season had gone ahead as planned, Brian Anderson would have been the sole Marlin to make the team, as the big points of success [Starling, Sixto, lapping the Phils] would happen after the midpoint that I'm basing these ASG sims from. He would be a backup, and relieve Manny Machado at third as well as getting in an at-bat. With Anderson's strong season, making him just as crucial to the Marlins core as other infielders like Miguel Rojas, it would have been a well-deserved nomination.

Card #022- Kyle Zimmer, Kansas City Royals

The Royals, despite having another okay-at-best year in the AL Central, were able to sneakily build a relatively good bullpen without anyone looking. Kyle Zimmer was one of the assets that KC was able to build off of, with a 1.57 ERA in 16 games, with 22 Ks. Zimmer and the other up-and-comers combined with veterans like Trevor Rosenthal and Greg Holland to provide some bullpen strength that deserved a better team. 
Card #023- Darin Ruf, San Francisco Giants

It's always interesting when a player goes to international markets and returns to the US as a star. It hurts, though, when said player came up with your team. Darin Ruf was a Phillies prospect, was blocked behind Ryan Howard and struggled in the majors, and only found contact success when playing with the Samsung Lions from 2017-2019, hitting 30 home runs in each and finding the success he SHOULD HAVE in Philly. Then, he signs a deal with the Giants as a bench option in 2020, and gets off to a hot start, and hits .276 in 40 games. Yes, only 5 homers, but 18 RBIs. He wasn't starting every day, because...I mean, Yaz-Dubon-Dickerson is a strong enough outfield. But he was a crucial bench bat that helped a postseason effort, started at DH more often than not, and has a chance of factoring into the 2021 lineup. So he's finding success in the majors...with a team that isn't Philly, because of course.

Card #024- Tyler Thornburg, Cincinnati Reds

Before this season, Tyler Thornburg was best known for being traded for Travis Shaw [and Mauricio Dubon] and immediately getting injured for Boston. This was his first productive season since then, as he only had 7 games but still had a 3.86 ERA with 10 Ks. He's currently a free agent, but as a relief specialist he still has a lot of use left.

Card #025- Jeremy Jeffress, Chicago Cubs

This was one of my most disappointing omissions from the initial Topps Update set. Jeremy Jeffress had a Brewers card in flagship, he was on the Cubs for Spring Training, and yet Topps decided that Jharel Cotton and Josh Phegley needed Update issues instead. Jeremy Jeffress had one of the best seasons of any reliever in 2020. In 22 games, he hit a 1.54 ERA, then managed to steal the closing gig away from a struggling Craig Kimbrel and had 8 saves. The Nationals just picked him up for 2020, probably for setup work, and I hope he keeps it up.

Card #026: Willy Adames, Tampa Bay Rays

Like Anderson, Willy Adames wouldn't be used as a starter for the potential 2020 All Star Game, but he'd be a decent substitute at shortstop. With the season Adames had, especially with his surging Rays, he would have deserved an ASG nod. Considering that there's a major SS prospect waiting to come up in Tampa, I'm not sure if Adames will even get an ASG nod as a Ray at this point, but it'd have be nice if he got one in this season.

#027- Leody Taveras RC, Texas Rangers

One of the many Rangers prospects that saw playing time in 2020, Leody Taveras, whose cousin Willy also found success in Texan markets, had a 33-game call-up with the Rangers, hit .227 with 8 steals and 27 hits, and had a modest enough audition for the outfield spot next year, which he will likely get. As the Rangers reform back into a rebuilding contender, it'll be interesting to see how speedy contact guys like Taveras and Robinson Tejeda factor into things.

Friday I'll post 9 more. A few more decent relief picks and a good traded player. 

Monday, February 15, 2021

2020 Topps Final Edition: Cards #10-18

 Last monday, I debuted the first 9 cards in the 2020 Topps Final Edition set, righting the wrongs of Topps' production deadlines. This week, we get the next nine cards in the set, featuring some very interesting cases that I wanted to showcase with this project.

Card #010: Billy Hamilton, Chicago Cubs

Since leaving the Reds, Hamilton has played for five teams, and has struggled to return to the consistency and speed of his early seasons. The Cubs took a chance on him for the stretch, and Hamilton responded with a .300 average, 3 steals, and a brief postseason appearance as a pinch runner against Miami. Hamilton is yet-unsigned, but is still a valuable asset for any teams struggling with speed. 

Card #011: Jorge Lopez, Baltimore Orioles

After a breakout season in Kansas City in 2019, Lopez' abilities as a starter were put to the test when Baltimore selected him off waivers a day or so into the season. In 9 games, Lopez hit a 6.38 ERA while striking out 28, being a lower-tier starting option for the slowly-rebuilding O's. Lopez will most likely return to his roots as a bullpen piece for 2021. 

Card #012: Matt Joyce, Miami Marlins

Of late, Matt Joyce has become one of the most underrated and useful utility outfielders in baseball, making surprising seasons happen out of nowhere in Oakland, Atlanta, and now Miami. In 46 games, Joyce hit .252 with 14 RBIs, and became a useful outfield piece after Marte got injured. He'll be trying out for an OF gig in Philly this season.

Card #013: Ross Stripling, Toronto Blue Jays

Ross Stripling was one of the few casualties of the 2020 Dodgers, the one piece of the championship team that was traded right before the World Series win. Here, it was an odd move, a contender trading a starter to another contender, even a decent one like Stripling, but as Stripling's 5.61 ERA forewarned, the Dodgers needed to clear out some rotation space. So the Blue Jays took him on, started him for a few games, where he went for a 6.32 ERA and was later shifted to the bullpen, where he may start the season for Toronto this year.

Card #014: Pat Venditte, Miami Marlins

I couldn't resist making a Pat Venditte card. Of all the players that Topps doesn't make cards of year after year, Venditte might be the most sad but predictable one, the switch-pitcher that always manages to show up somewhere for a few innings. This year he submerged in Miami, and was scoreless in 3 games before an injury sidelined him for the rest of the season. Considering the 'we'll try anything' approach of the Miami bullpen this year, it was a sad loss but one that could be remedied with another unsung hero. 

Card #015: Blake Treinen, Los Angeles Dodgers

To me, this was one of Topps' biggest omissions in 2020. Yes, they made a card of Treinen for flagship back in Oakland, but he was traded and pictured as a Dodger before the start of the season, and could have easily been included in 2020 Update. Yet he wasn't. Considering Treinen's improved season, it seems a bit heartless. Yes, Treinen was coming off a down 2019, but he could have used a new-uniform release. Treinen had a 3.86 ERA as a Dodger, with 22 Ks, 31 if you include the 9 postseason Ks. He'll be back with LA for 2021, and looking for similar results. 

Card #016- Taylor Williams, Seattle Mariners

One of the early-season relief options that Seattle was thankful for was Taylor Williams, who they'd got from Milwaukee the season before. Williams, in 14 games, had 6 saves, albeit with a 5.93 ERA. He was up against teams that were better than him, and his ERA suffered, but he was still a nice enough relief option to get San Diego's attention, as he'd be included in the Austin Nola trade. He'd only pitch one game for SD before being sidelined with an injury for the remainder of a season.

Card #017, Marcell Ozuna ASG, Atlanta Braves

Despite the OF credit, Marcell Ozuna would be the starting DH for the NL team in the 2020 All Star Game, had it happened at all. Ozuna's power-heavy and hard-hitting attributes made him a league-wide talent in 2020, and made it clear to the Braves that they needed to keep him around for the foreseeable future. 

Card #018: Spencer Howard RC, Philadelphia Phillies

One of the Phillies' many call-ups in 2020 was their pitching prospect Spencer Howard, who had been delivering fine numbers in the minors. Unfortunately, Howard may not have been ready for prime time. In 6 games, he had a 5.92 ERA with a too-high WHIP, and only added to the Phils' pitching woes rather than saving things. Hopefully in 2021 either he'll have more time in the minors to hone things or he'll be back in the majors ready for action.

Next monday, one of the reasons for me wanting to do this set in the first place is in the next nine.

Sunday, February 14, 2021

Reunions Are the New Big Thing

 2021 is looking like it will be a year of familiarity in the MLB. One of the most intriguing trends in terms of signings and acquisitions is teams getting in touch with players who used to excel for their clubs and getting them back. This was a lower key trend until the past few days, where Jake Arrieta returned to Chicago and James Paxton returned to Seattle. And now I have to look at the whole offseason from this perspective. Why are people coming back, what are they expecting to get from this, and are the fans cool with it.

Jake Arrieta, Chicago Cubs
Initial Impact: 5 seasons of exemplary work, a Cy Young, a no-no, a World Series, and membership into a mega-rotation that made it happen. 
Why Now?: Arrieta's three seasons in Philly have reduced him to a lower-tier, occasionally good starter, and perhaps returning to Chicago could refresh some of his memory.
Will the Fans be Receptive?: Oh yeah, they loved Arrieta in his heyday, and they weren't too betrayed when he left for Philly. They should be excited, even if Kyle Hendricks will still be the star of the show this year.

James Paxton, Seattle Mariners
Initial Impact: After some early-season struggles, became a key strikeout artist during the 2017 and 2018 seasons, notched a no-no of his own in Canada, and became a sure-to-be successor to King Felix's throne.
Why Now?: In his seasons in the Bronx, Paxton has yet to evade his ability to get injured at the absolute worst times. His 2020 was nonexistent almost, and featured several subpar starts that led to his stock dropping drastically in 2021. The Ms calling was all he needed.
Will the Fans be Receptive?: A little. They loved him then, but they know as well as anyone how unreliable he can be as far as health is concerned. 

Adam Eaton, Chicago White Sox
Initial Impact: Three seasons of high-contact, impressive-defense work that made him a fan favorite despite this being the heat of the Ventura era. 
Why Now? Adam Eaton is still technically on the same page as he was in 2017 when he left, but he only really had one complete, Chicago-tier season in Washington. The rest were either injury-truncated, or very, very mediocrely 2020. So maybe he wants to see if his previous environment will call for better luck.
Will the Fans be Receptive?: Slightly, but this is an older Adam Eaton looking for playing time in an outfield consisting of Adam Engel, Leury Garcia, Luis Robert and Eloy Jimenez. So he may have to DH.

Chris Archer, Tampa Bay Rays
Initial Impact: Archer was the prime ace after David Price's departure, having a Cy-Young-caliber season in 2015 and two ASG nominations, and keeping the Rays in the race. The unnerving thing is his current woes started about a year and a half before he left for Pittsburgh, and his ERA rising was probably one of the factors that led to trading him to Pittsburgh for some prospects that'd win them the East in 2020. 
Why Now? Archer's tenure in Pittsburgh has been mostly abhorrent. Last season, right when he was getting things together, he got injured and opted out. He needs to prove himself as a league-wide talent again, and a reunion with the Rays could help.
Will the Fans be Receptive?: Yeah, they're gonna love it for his first few starts just on a recognition factor, but unless he has some material left, he's in for a rude awakening.

Charlie Morton, Atlanta Braves
Initial Impact: A rookie season in 2008, a 4-8 record with a 6+ ERA, and not much support before being shipped to Atlanta for Nate McLouth
Why Now?: Next to Rich Hill, Charlie Morton is one of the best 35 and up pitchers in baseball, and seeing as Hill just took his spot in the Rays rotation, Morton still wants to compete and continue his success alongside a rotation of kids. 
Will the Fans be Receptive?: Yes, but for reasons that have nothing to do with Morton's previous Braves tenure. Look, Braves fans are gonna get a kick out of Charlie Morton in good form pitching for their club, I don't see why they wouldn't. I don't know if anybody has any 2008-era Braves Morton jerseys, but this season may call for some fans wearing some Nike ones. 

Jason Castro, Houston Astros
Initial Impact: Castro was the Toby Hall of the post-AL-move Astros, being a solid everyday catcher for the first few years until they figured out how to compete. He was a decent starting catcher, but his decency would lead to him being in Minnesota by the time the Astros won it all.
Why Now?: Castro has bopped around a bit in the last year, split 2020 with Anaheim and San Diego, and is starting less and less games. Houston gave him a backup role, but he's still receptive.
Will the Fans be Receptive?: I think so. The real Astros fans will respect Castro for his early-2010s play and love to see him back in any capacity. The new-age Astros fans will complain that Maldonado isn't starting

Mike Minor, Kansas City Royals
Initial Impact: Mike Minor was nearly out of a career after bottoming out of Atlanta when he wound up as a relief option in KC in 2016. There he had an incredible season out of the pen, reestablished his star quality, and got the eye of Texas, who converted him back to a starter and made him a star again.
Why Now? The pixie dust has worn off, and after a disappointing 2020 split between Texas and Oakland, Minor needs to reclaim as much of his former mojo as possible, so perhaps a reunion with the team that jumpstarted the comeback will work
Will the Fans be Receptive?: Not especially. There'll be a few diehards from 2016 who'll be relieved to see Minor again, but most Royals fans will be worried that he doesn't have anything left if he's washed up on this shore. 

Jed Lowrie, Oakland Athletics
Initial Impact: In two different tenures with the A's, Lowrie went from bench option and infield utility player to all-star second baseman and contact aficionado, nabbing his best full-season numbers of his career as an Athletic. 
Why Now?: His Mets tenure should have been a way of telling people he could play for a true contender, but he only played 9 games in 2 seasons. The A's worked for him before, maybe they'll work again.
Will the Fans be Receptive?: Yes, they'll wanna see the old-fan favorite again, but considering how far the team has come even in 2 years, will they WANT to see Lowrie taking reps at 2nd over Tony Kemp and Chad Pinder?

So yeah, that's some interesting storylines regarding the movement to bring players back. I hope it works for all of these guys, and that former environments lead to future success. 

Monday, February 8, 2021

2020 Topps Final Edition: Cards #1-9

We've discussed that 2020's Topps flagship releases were a bit upended by early print dates, late releases, and a dissonance between the season Topps needed to depict following 2019 and the 2020 season that actually happened. As the resident customizer who's begun doing customs of more contemporary designs, I figured...if I could master the 2020 Topps design, then I'd have a way of doing the 2020 Update set that should have been. 

So, here we are. I outlined and commandeered a 330-card Update set...for a 2020 set that already had an Update set. I took on an entire checklist full of traded players past the deadline, rookies that debuted throughout the 2020 season, and lots and lots of relievers and bit players that Topps didn't document throughout the year. Additionally, I created simulated lineups for what would have been a 2020 All-Star Game, and littered the set with the people that, if voting and selection had gone ahead, would have made ASG teams this year. 

I did a lot of work for just a set I'm doing for the blog. Who knows, maybe Topps will wander onto it, though preferably without their lawyers. I'm not doing this for profit, I'm doing this relatively legally, so the only thing Topps could give me that'd alarm me is, uh, a job offer. 

So, as we'll be showing these off on a weekly basis, nine cards at a time, let's look at the first nine times of 2020 Topps Final Edition

Card #001: Starling Marte, Miami Marlins

By far the biggest star to change hands at the August trade deadline, Starling Marte proved his worth in Miami, hitting 13 RBIs in 28 games in Miami. Unfortunately, a broken hand limited Marte's output for the Marlins, despite hitting .500 in one game against the Cubs in the playoffs. Marte will likely be a major player for the Fins in 2021, and hopefully he'll stay healthy enough to warrant the plethora of Topps Marlins issues he deserves. 

Card #002: Matt Andriese, Los Angeles Angels

A former starting option for the Tampa Bay Rays, Andriese was traded to Arizona in 2018 for Michael Perez, and bopped around as a relief options. 2020 was more of a relief year for Andriese, as the Angels utilized him in a setup role, where he posted a 4.50 ERA with 33 Ks in 16 games. Andriese will be spending 2021 with the Boston Red Sox, so I doubt many issues will exist of his fleeting Angels year, which was at least a good way of proving himself in relief.

Card #003- Anderson Tejeda, Texas Rangers

Although the infield in Arlington belonged to Isiah Kiner-Falefa in 2021, Anderson Tejeda's call-up did prove that the Rangers are beginning to explore their farm system a bit more. Tejeda in 23 games sported decent defensive numbers, hitting .250 and plugging himself in at shortstop as the season went on. With Andrus heading to Oakland, Tejeda might be a strong favorite for an infield spot as the Rangers rebuild themselves. 

Card #004- Craig Stammen, San Diego Padres

After three strong seasons of bullpen work in San Diego, the rise of the rest of the team left Craig Stammen spread a bit thin. In 24 games, Stammen posted a career-high 5.63 ERA. At 36, Stammen may be beginning to slow down a bit, but the Padres have him signed for at least one more year, so hopefully he'll rebound enough to play to 38. 

Card #005- Ryan Mountcastle RC, Baltimore Orioles

One of the first steps of Baltimore's new youth movement was calling up Ryan Mountcastle, their sturdy, contact-hitting outfield prospect. In 35 games with the club, Mountcastle hit .333 with 23 RBIs, sliding into a starting outfield spot and getting even more crucial playing time after Anthony Santander's injury. Mountcastle came eighth in AL ROY voting, and will likely be starting in left this year at Camden Yards.

Card #006- Monte Harrison RC, Miami Marlins

Called up in tandem with fellow Miami prospect Jazz Chisholm, outfield bat Monte Harrison made a decent impression in 32 games with 6 stolen bases and solid defensive numbers despite not even remotely hitting for average. Harrison is likely to factor into the Marlins' outfield as the contract players begin to phase out. 

Card #007- Chris Bassitt ASG, Oakland Athletics 

As much as it pained manager A.J. Hinch, who would technically still be the AL ASG manager in 2020, he had to include Chris Bassitt as one of the starting options for the AL team. Bassitt was not only the most adept arm in Oakland, but his 2.29 ERA in 11 games was a strong statement for an A's also-ran for the last few years, and a piece of evidence that the A's had finally found their ace. 

Card #008- Taylor Clarke, Arizona Diamondbacks

While Clarke's fellow late-rotation battery member Alex Young got a card in 2020 Topps, Clarke himself, who had the better season, was shunned in both releases. Even if his 2019 season was slightly more inflated than necessary, he outdid Young, and had a 4.36 ERA in 12 games, including 5 starts. Yes, it's easy for people for Clarke and Young to get lost in the shuffle considering all the big names in the D-Backs rotation, but Clarke is still a crucial member, and did some cool stuff when people weren't looking this year.

Card #009- Matt Foster RC, Chicago White Sox

In the grand tradition of Aaron Bummer and Jace Fry, Matt Foster was the new out-of-nowhere relief specialist to take the South side of Chicago by storm. In 23 games, Foster sported a 6-1 record with a 2.20 ERA and 31 Ks, being a nice safety net for the burgeoning, expanding bullpen for the White Sox. 

Next Monday, I'll post the next 9 cards. There's a few fun player selections in there. 

Saturday, February 6, 2021

What Could Have Been...


Am I the only one who's wondered what 2020 Topps' Update set could have been like if they waited two more months and took the 2020 season itself into account? What new players and uniforms could have come about?

I didn't think so.

I'll explain what I've been doing about it on Monday. Until's card #1. Starling Marte as a Miami Marlin in 2020 Topps. All things as it should be.

Friday, February 5, 2021

Balance of Bauer


So. The biggest free agent arm on the board just went to the reigning MLB Champs. Now what?

Honestly, Trevor Bauer taking his time did add to the intrigue of it all. His hinting around on twitter did foreshadow a potential small-market contract, and Toronto and Queens were very much in the race for the better part of the offseason. However, Bauer instead decided he wanted to play for a super-competitor, signed for 3 years with the Dodgers, and now...the rest of the league might as well just shrug this season.

Let's just...examine the Dodgers rotation for a moment. Kershaw-Bauer-Buehler-May is the core, while Julio Urias and Tony Gonsolin are hovering around looking for the fifth spot but still capable of relief numbers, and the big surprise mystery factor of David Price also potentially affecting the rotation. That's seven viable pitching options. Three are Cy Young winners, five are coming off fantastic seasons, and next to none of them feel like the 'safe option' for any opposing offenses. Also, the majority of the World Series lineup is back, including Seager, Bellinger, Muncy, Betts and Taylor, all of whom will likely be looking for another strong year at the plate.

And then you think about the other powerhouse of the NL West, the San Diego Padres, who have an outstanding rotation consisting of Yu Darvish, Dinelson Lamet, Blake Snell, Joe Musgrove and Chris Paddack, with Mike Clevinger coming back in 2022. So that's TWO NL West teams with entire rotations featuring really good pitchers you don't wanna have to face. I can't think of any other division that has more than one rotation like that, and mostly I'm thinking of teams that have the potential for huge rotations like the Mets and White Sox. the NL West too stacked? Are the rest of the NL teams going to really work hard to have to outmatch the Padres and Dodgers this year? Or is this the kind of thing that gets straightened out with unknown variables and the things you can't account for? It's probably that. I do think both of these teams will go far this year, but I don't think the balance of power in baseball is too badly affected. If anything, it's nice that it hasn't been bent too far towards the Eastern divisions like it usually does.

I'm still excited to see how Bauer factors into the Dodgers rotation, and how he helps them try to get back to October. 

Wednesday, February 3, 2021

Topps Cards That Should Have Been: 2004 Topps Raul Mondesi


The career of Raul Mondesi is one that most collectors know a degree. Like...Rookie of the Year with the Dodgers in 94, big hitting years for LA and Toronto, lands in New York in 02, then can't stay in one place for the rest of his career. 

Topps, to their credit, did document Raul Mondesi's stints on the Yankees, Diamondbacks, Pirates and Braves. slipped through the cracks. The most boring one.

In May, after the Pirates have already released Mondesi after hitting [checks notes] .283 WITH 14 RBIS IN 26 GAMES??? WHY THE HELL WOULD THEY RELEASE THAT? Was he just making the rest of the team look too good???

Jeez. Anyway. The Pirates foolishly release Mondesi, and he signs with the Angels, who...apparently need outfield help? With...Garrett Anderson, Vladimir Guerrero and Jose Guillen starting? This is making less and less sense the further I get into it.

This part does make sense- in 8 games with the Angels, Mondesi hits .118 with only one RBI, a home run. It's a very unspectacular run, and the Angels release him just as quickly as they pick him up. Because he's been released way before Topps' Traded deadline, they just don't put him in the set at all. Figures. They do give him a Braves card in 2005 for some reason, but...maybe they were just being nice.

Monday, February 1, 2021

Online Dime Box A-Go-Go

I'd been getting packages sporadically from for the last few months. They have a good catalog, there's a lot of cool stuff that can be found there, and it does take some hours of scouring but it's worth it. 

For instance, a few weeks back I just started leafing around in places I hadn't looked, got a nice cart together and went with it. And then a few days ago the package arrived, and most of the stuff which I'd forgotten I'd ordered popped for me even more. It's a very nice feeling. 

Like, I'd forgotten I went for the 2000 BowChro Jim Morris, aka the subject of the 2002 Dennis Quaid film The Rookie. That's insanely cool, even if it is a niche sort of thing that only odd collectors like me are willing to go for. 

This shipment had a lot of interesting stuff like that.

Relatively Recent Stuff:

The idea of getting current needs was not on my mind, but some of these stuck out to me. I thought I'd had all the necessary Calling Card inserts from 2012 Topps, and yet there was a Phils one, yes of general awful person Jonathan Papelbon, still floating around out there?

I think I'm gonna be finding 2019 Big League singles I need until the end of time. How did I not have that awesome LoCain throwback? 

Some recent GQ and Heritage. Somehow, this is the only Bartolo Colon card in this post. I know.

Three rookies I was surprised to find for 10 cents each. Garcia's gonna be tearing down the NL East in a bit, Matt Manning is one of the many Tigers pitching prospects, and that 2012 Vogey is his XRC, and a zero-year card as he never played any games with the Cubs. He looks odd here. Still big, but odd.

And yes, for the only Panini card in this shipment, here is technically the first Diamondbacks card of Madison Bumgarner.

...I know. He's...yeah. I'll have to get another one from later in the season. 

2000s Sets I'm Familiar With:

I got a bunch of 2005 Fleer Autographics back in the day, not as strongly as the 2004 stuff I've mentioned but enough to whet my appetite. So this Peavy, while it was the only one I could find, was enough. 

These two UD sets I got several packs of in 2007, but somehow didn't get these. That Rolen should have been in my collection years ago. 

I've been looking around at some A&G singles that I've missed over the years, and they had a few from the 2010 set, which I mostly sat out. That Halladay seemed to be everywhere in 2010, which is why it's criminal that I hadn't gotten it yet. 

I somehow had missed out on these 2015 A&G Starting Point inserts, which are cool because they mention team stints that Topps doesn't usually go for. Here, we have Jose Bautista on the O's and Nelson Cruz on the Brewers. Weird stuff. Plus, rookie Rodney!

Mid-2000s Stuff:

Yeah, like with most collectors, the mid-2000s is my blindspot, which is why I've slowly been getting more and more mid-2000s semi-premium stuff off of this site, cause it fills lots of needs. All three of these Marlins are from sets I'm not too familiar with. 2005 Artifacts I think was entirely new to me. 

This is 2005 SpX. I have never seen a single card from this set until now. It's not very impressive but there you go. Rangers Gonzalez made this a must-have, and that pre-fame Lee isn't bad either.

2001 Fleer Futures is another one I don't have a great deal of, but I'm always down for a non-Dodger Nomo. Cool-looking set, too.

2004 Leaf Certified Cuts. Striking-ass set, but I don't have much. They scan oddly. That Nomo does look cool, and I'm fine with Phils Wagners every now and then.

2005 Sweet Spot I've been getting a lot of thanks to this site, and these three are the next ones. 

2003 Fleer Showcase, also kinda new to me. Very odd how different this set looks from Showcase's more familiar run from 2004-2006. 
2005 Zenith, favorite of repacks from the 2006-2008 era of retail. Tim Hudson looks mighty new as a Brave. This is a minimal if interesting set. Kinda wonder how this one would have evolved if Playoff had survived past 2005.

2003 Leaf Certified Materials. Another set that's new to me, though I'm familiar with the run. A 2004 E-Mart is always cool, as is the usual Rolen's and Abreus I've been finding on this site. 

2005 Donruss Classics. Again, more familiar with earlier releases from this brand. Interesting that this became full-body photography, kinda like Elite. A-Gon and K-Rod look great here. 

And finally, a 2001 Bowman's Best CC Sabathia. Not quite a rookie, but entirely awesome.

90's Stuff:

These two 94 Topps star cards have evaded me for so long that finding them for 10 cents a pop felt cathartic. I still have some HOF singles from that set left to find, but these two will make things easier.

Assorted 90s UD star cards that I didn't have...for some reason. That Stewart looks awesome. 

Lofton and McGriff. If these guys didn't pop up in a order post of mine, something may have gone wrong. Plus, it's Giants Lofton, which is relatively rare.

Always down to add some new Dutch cards to the collection. All of these are from 93 and 94, the last great period of his career. 

And finally, two 'never in a million years' cards for me- Dale Murphy in Denver. The left is from 1993 Pinnacle's Cooperstown insert set, which at the moment is very ironic, and the one on the right is from 1993 Fleer Ultra. Didn't know either of these existed til I saw them in the catalog, thought he only did a Pacific card in Colorado. Glad to have both of these, as it's an odd final portrait of a Braves legend. 

So yeah, pretty satisfying stuff overall. Might go back eventually, they've been doing me well. Might look even deeper, go for even weirder stuff.