Sunday, February 27, 2022

Topps Cards That Should Have Been: 2005 Padres

 Now that the Padres are competitive again, it's fun to go back to the mid-2000s teams to find a time when they were also competitive, but arguably with a lot less than they have now. Like, in 2005, the Padres finished only 2 games over .500, being the only team in the NL West over .500 as well. Three NL East teams that did not make the playoffs had a better record- the Phillies, Marlins and Mets. Because this was the pre-Manfred era of baseball, the division leader that squeaked into the playoffs didn't end up winning the whole thing. The Friars got clobbered by the Cardinals in 3 games, it wasn't gonna be close. 

There were some interesting things about this team as far as Topps non-documentation is concerned. Perhaps the biggest 'star' in this pack to discuss is Chan Ho Park, dealt from the Rangers at the deadline for some rotation depth. In 10 games, Park went 4-3 with a 5.91 ERA with San Diego, and didn't make the postseason roster. Fortunately the Korean fireballer would have a better season with the Padres in 2006, and make the transition to his late-decade relief work with Philadelphia. 

Ironically, before dealing with the Rangers for Park, the Rangers released Pedro Astacio, the longtime NL West starter, and the Padres had almost no choice but to bring him back into the division against his old teams in Denver and LA. Surprisingly, Astacio was solid in 12 games with the Friars, posting a 3.17 ERA and 33 Ks, along with a 4-2 record. He'd even get a postseason start out of it, despite said start being a loss in Game 2. 
Chris Hammond, at the very least, has an interesting MLB story. Original Florida Marlin, played every year from 93 to 98 for the Marlins except, of course, for the year they win it all. Starts a ton of games, gets shifted to the bullpen as the real arms come up. Bops around the minors for a few years, reinvents himself as a middle reliever in the 2000s and becomes an underrated unsung hero type. Coming off of three stellar seasons with Atlanta, New York and Oakland, he comes to San Diego. In 55 games he posts a 3.84 ERA, his highest since returning to the majors [he had a 0.95 with the Braves], and has 34 Ks. He only pitches one more season after 2005, but he was still in strong shape.

Tim Redding had been a decent starting option in Houston during the early 2000s. The Astros needed catching help, so they traded him for Humberto Quintero prior to the 2005 season. Redding disappointed in 9 games for the Padres, going 0-5 with a 9.10 ERA and 30 earned runs. He'd later be dealt to the Yankees in exchange for...

...reliever extraordinaire Paul Quantrill! People tend to forget this, but for four straight seasons, Canadian legend Paul Quantrill led the league in appearances, and from 2001 until 2004 had a combined 6.5 WAR, from stints with Toronto, Los Angeles and, of course, the Yankees. His 2005 Yanks numbers were comparatively a disappointment, so he was dealt to the Padres. While Redding only had 1 disastrous start for the Yanks, Quantrill was decent enough in San Diego, with a 3.41 ERA in 22 games. He was ultimately released at the end of August and picked up by the Marlins, with whom I could not find any images of Quantrill from. And after that he retired and helped his kid become a major leaguer himself.

I've talked about fringe icon Robert Fick on here before, so, to recap, after going from farmhand to all-star with the Tigers, Fick struggled to recapture the magic in stints with Atlanta and Tampa. So in 2004 he's dealt to the Padres, and in 2005 he actually becomes a halfway decent bench bat in San Diego. In 93 games he hits .265 with 30 RBIs and 61 hits, even if he's basically a replacement level player at this stage. He eventually becomes a similar bench bat with the Nats to finish out his career.

Eventually I'll go over the similar energy in the Padres' 2006 playoff run. 

Friday, February 25, 2022

Topps Cards That Should Have Been: 2007 Rangers

In 2010, the Texas Rangers ascended the AL West and made it to a World Series for the first time in their history. You can honestly trace the beginnings of the 2010 and 2011 teams back to 2007, when key pieces like Nelson Cruz and C.J. Wilson first emerged, as well as...lots of other odd contracts.

Wilson didn't have a card in 2007 Topps for some reason because the team didn't know what to do with him yet. He was still being used in relief at this point, and 3.03 ERA in 66 appearances, with 12 saves. A very useful piece that would eventually become more of a factor in the team, and would later become and starting hero.

The reason Wilson only saved 12 games was that former Dodgers Cy Young winner and guy who took so much steroids that he literally blew out his arm Eric Gagne spent the first half of the season as closer. After two years of injuries, thanks to the aforementioned arm-blowing-out, Gagne signed with Texas to prove he still had some juice left [no pun intended], and though Topps would somehow be ambivalent, Gagne did pretty well through the first half, with a 2.16 ERA and 16 saves through 30 appearances. Ultimately Gagne would be dealt at the trade deadline to Boston for bullpen help on the way to their World Series win that would earn him a ring despite less savory numbers. This trade would be important for the Rangers, as it would land them a contact-hitting outfielder named David Murphy. 

Alright, onto the weird ones. Former Phillies infield star Desi Relaford bopped around a bit during the 2000s, and made his last MLB appearances in 2007 with the Rangers. In 14 games he hit .115 with 3 hits. That'd be all for him. 

And finally, you may recall back in 2002 the sudden rise of Jared Sandberg, who was a decent third baseman for the Rays, and did what he could to make some news in a dying market. Sandberg, the nephew of former Cubs HOFer Ryne Sandberg, was a decent bat but was mostly heralded for his defense. 2003 came with diminishing returns, and Sandberg would never reach the majors again, though not without trying. In 2007, he got a spring training invite from the Rangers, and at 30 he still potentially had some stuff left in the tank. He'd be competing with Hank Blalock, Michael Young and Ramon Vazquez, which probably goes to explain why he got cut.

More to come, as long as Manfred keeps being a schmuck. 

Wednesday, February 23, 2022

Topps Cards That Should Have Been: The Todd Hollandsworth Chronicles


In 1996, Todd Hollandsworth won the NL Rookie of the Year award as a member of the Los Angeles Dodgers. After Eric Karros, Mike Piazza, Raul Mondesi and Hideo Nomo, he was the fifth consecutive Dodger rookie to win the award.

However, the difference is that those four had long careers, with consistent numbers, and became fan favorites with the Dodgers, as well as other teams. Because of injuries, Hollandsworth was not only rejected by Dodgers fans after his ROY season...he was rejected by Topps. I've heard that contractual issues had to do with this, but for two seasons, 1999 and 2000, Topps did not produce ANY cards of Todd Hollandsworth. No flagship, no premium, nothing. It was almost like Hollandsworth didn't exist to collectors. And after his snakebitten 1998 season, he kinda didn't. 

In 1999, to his credit, Hollandsworth had a fuller season, playing 92 games and hitting .284 with 74 hits and 32 RBIs. It was definitely a comeback year, if not quite perfect yet. The problem, however, was that the Dodgers had settled on a new outfield, consisting of Mondesi, Gary Sheffield and Devon White, one that did not really need Hollandsworth. So unless he'd really brought it in 2000, he'd be looking at a bench position with the team that had rewarded him 3 years earlier. 

In 2000, while Hollandsworth was once again locked out of Topps products, he disappointed in 81 games as a Dodger, hitting .234 with the same number of hits as he did strikeouts. The outfield was set with Shawn Green taking over for Mondesi, and he didn't seem to have a place in it anymore. Even more of a stab in the gut, his brother in law Matt Herges was getting PLENTY of solid playing time in relief. In July, Hollandsworth would not only be traded...he would be traded for an outfield upgrade, Tom Goodwin, who would start in center for the remainder of the season in LA. 

The joke, however, was on the Dodgers- once arriving in Denver, Hollandsworth would produce the best WAR numbers of his career, even bigger than his Rookie of the Year numbers. In 56 games, he'd hit .323 with 23 RBIs and 11 homers, and find the offensive sweet spot he'd been looking for since 1997. The Rockies would reward him with a few more years of service, Topps would reward him with a return to their sets, and despite a few more injury plagued years, Hollandsworth would have a brief career renaissance, even being a World Series hero with the Marlins in 2003.

The numbers fell off in 2005, as he split the season with the Cubs and Braves. I could not find any images of Hollandsworth as a Brave, or else that'd be here as well. Topps would lose interest around here. Hell, Topps would do a 2006 Heritage card of Hollandsworth on the CUBS. Which would be THREE TEAMS AGO by the time the product would release.

By the start of 2006, Hollandsworth would find himself in a minor league deal with Cleveland. There he'd bat .237 with 27 RBIs in 56 games, primarily as a backup/bench guy. It wasn't much, but he was still playing. Midway through the season he'd be purchased by a team on the other side of the state. 

And that's how Hollandsworth ended up delivering his final career numbers with the Reds, who were dealing with injuries to Ken Griffey and had just traded Austin Kearns to the Nats. Hollandsworth actually produced decent numbers in Cincinnati, hitting .265 with 8 RBIs in 34 games, but, again, it was mostly as a backup. Just as he'd feared after 1999. He'd retire shortly after the season, and rest on the laurels of both his ROY win as well as his World Series victory. 

More to come, I reckon. 

Monday, February 21, 2022

Topps Cards That Should Have Been: 2005 Nationals


In 2005, the Montreal Expos moved to Washington and became the Nationals, and were tasked with making a failing team work in a new market. Topps was also tasked with marketing this new team in their sets, and giving an accurate representation of the team while the season was still going on. They had an insert set denoting the team's inaugural lineup, they had plenty of Nats in the base set...but it wasn't enough, was it?

Here, for the record, is all the Nats Topps were able to provide: Termel Sledge, Brian Schneider, Tomo Ohka, Endy Chavez, Cristian Guzman, Tony Armas Jr., Sunny Kim, Nick Johnson, Chad Cordero, Esteban Loaiza, Vinny Castilla, Jose Guillen, Jose Vidro, Brad Wilkerson, Livan Hernandez, Marlon Byrd and Frank Diaz. 

Then, after the season, Topps apologized for their underrepresentation by producing a special retail set of the Nationals in mostly posed shots. This included some of the deeper roster cuts, like John Patterson, Gary Bennett, Ryan Church, Jared Sandberg, Brendan Harris, Zach Day, Luis Ayala, Jeffrey Hammonds, Jamey Carroll and Brandon Watson. And you'd think that'd cover the rest of the bases.

There are still cards I need to create for this. So while Topps tried to do an exhaustive job...there are still holes.

For instance, former Rockies all-star Preston Wilson, who was beginning to fall on hard career times, was traded to the Nats midseason. They had time to put him in Update...they didn't. Wilson was actually a nice piece of the second half for the Nats; in 68 games, he hit .261 with 43 RBIs and 10 home runs. Along with his Cards numbers in 2006, these were some of the last great numbers of his career.

The Nationals went through a ton of extra infielders in their inaugural season. First they had Junior Spivey, who did well with Milwaukee and Arizona. Spivey was another midseason trade, cause the Brewers weren't happy with his stuff. In 28 games with Washington, Spivey was a decent defensive option but hit .221. He'd never make the majors again after this season.

They also tried Deivi Cruz after a midseason trade, after some decent numbers with the Giants. Cruz, also for HIS last career numbers in the majors, hit .255 with 1 RBI in 20 games. Cruz was mostly used as a defensive substitution, and even his defensive numbers were failing by this point. 

And the Nats also went for former Expo Wil Cordero, who did very well for them in the early 90s as well as just a year or so earlier. Cordero had 29 games as a National and hit .118 with only 6 hits. After the cut, like the theme, he wouldn't make the majors again. 

CARLOS BAERGA WAS STILL PLAYING IN 2005, PEOPLE. After a couple years with the Diamondbacks, Baerga was clearly a bench guy, far from his status as an all-star second baseman with Cleveland. In 2005 he was a bench backup with Washington, and...look, these are pretty decent numbers. In 93 games, he hit .253 with 19 RBIs, but his fielding clearly wasn't to 1993 levels. Baerga would retire after the season. 

Even stranger, former Dodgers and Yankees reliever Antonio Osuna suited up for the Nats for four games. He'd done some strong, consistent stuff for years, but by 2005, he was running out of juice. In those 4 games he'd leave with a 42.43 ERA, with 11 earned runs in 2.1 innings. Oof. Like everyone in this post except Preston Wilson, the 2005 Nationals would finish off Osuna's career. 

I guarantee the next one's gonna be happier. 

Sunday, February 20, 2022

Topps Cards That Should Have Been: 2006 Dodgers

The trend in these posts have been that teams like the Mets and Dodgers have had the most entries in Topps Cards That Should Have Been because Topps will make cards of the stars and the newsmakers, which there are many on said teams, while glossing over the more interesting, fringe stories on them. The 2006 Dodgers were no different.

For instance- Topps made cards of Danys Baez as a Ray, to commemorate his 2005, and as a Brave, to denote his midseason trade in Update, but as it tends to happen, the team he actually started the season with was nowhere to be found. Baez started the year with the Dodgers in relief, had a 4.35 ERA in 46 games, including 9 saves covering from the arm-juuuuust-blown-out Eric Gagne and the yet-to-get-the-ninth Takashi Saito. He'd be swapped to the Braves, do alright, and bounce around non-competitors for the rest of his career.

Meanwhile, a ton of innings went to former Red Sox and Mariners star Aaron Sele, who Topps, as discussed, basically stopped making cards of after 2004 for some reason. Maybe it's because he started being a relief option for the majority of his innings, and Topps just doesn't love relievers. In 15 starts, Sele had a 4.18 ERA, a 7-5 record 46 Ks. In 13 relief appearances he had a 6.05 ERA. Clearly he was better suited to starting, but the Dodgers had Brad Penny, Derek Lowe, Chad Billingsley, Mark Hendrickson and later Greg Maddux, and so he'd inevitably be the sixth man. He'd have diminishing returns with the Mets the following season, I think I already posted that one. 

Like Baez, Lance Carter got an ASG nomination for closing games for the Tampa Bay Rays. Also like Baez, Carter fell off after a few years and was eventually slated into the Dodgers' bullpen in 2006. In 10 appearances, Carter posted an 8.49 ERA, after which he was cut and never pitched again. 

Ricky Ledee has showed up in like 3 or 4 of these posts by now. I should honestly leave a sandwich out for him at this point. Ledee split this season between LA and Queens, and in 43 games as a Dodger, the former Yankee bench man his .245 with 13 hits and 8 RBIs. Like Sele, he was blocked for a larger gig. 

I mentioned that Sandy Alomar Jr. tried to make camp with the Mets in 2007, and got 8 games out of it, but the Indians catching legend's penultimate year was split between the Dodgers and White Sox. Alomar was actually the team's opening day starting catcher, due to Russell Martin...I dunno, being sick that day or something. In 27 games, the 40-year-old Alomar hit .323 with 20 hits and 9 RBIs, though his defensive catching let a lot to be desired, especially considering that there were other options there.

This also may have been Pat Borders' undoing. Yes, Pat Borders, the 1992-3 Blue Jays catcher, was STILL PLAYING IN 2006. Or at least trying to. After a backup role in Seattle that at least got the man a card in 2006 Heritage, Borders, at age 43, went out for Spring Training camp with the Dodgers. Restate everything I just said about Alomar, only ADD Alomar to the equation. Alomar was 3 years younger and was actually still hitting at MLB level. Borders tried, but did not make the team, and his career endeavors sadly end there. 

Look for another one of these soon enough, these are fun.

Saturday, February 19, 2022

Topps Cards That Should Have Been: 2007 Cubs

2007 and 2008 were the little blips on the radar in between the 'we almost made the World Series' year in 2003 and the eventual playoff runs under Joe Maddon for the Chicago Cubs. And that's something I always forget, because this was around the time I was getting into baseball and the hobby. The Cubs were GOOD. Sports Illustrated had a cover like 'THIS YEAR', but in Japanese because this was the Kosuke Fukudome season and everybody thought he'd be a thing past 2008. And while the Cubs couldn't get past the division series either of those years, they still brought forward some piecemeal efforts that do add to my ongoing project to connect the dots of Topps products.

For instance. Geovany Soto has a rookie card in 2006 Topps, and won the Rookie of the Year award in 2008. But he did not have a Topps card in 2007, because the Cubs had Michael Barrett, Jason Kendall, Koyie Hill and Henry Blanco to play catcher. Soto, to his credit, was brought up in September as a backup to mostly Kendall, and in 18 games he hit .389 with 21 hits, 8 RBIs and 3 homers, including another home run in the postseason. Slowly, Soto was becoming more and more of a viable catching option. For 2008, they'd let Kendall sign with Milwaukee, keep Hill and Blanco as backups and go forward with Soto, to great success. 

Onto fringier ones. In 2001 and 2002, Wade Miller was one of the most consistent starting pitchers in the NL, and was a big piece of the early 2000s Astros teams. Around 2004, injuries would dull his arm, and he'd make half the appearances he would in his prime, eventually being shuffled to Boston and then Chicago. In his final season, Miller made 3 starts and it was clear that his arm was no longer trustworthy, as he posted a 10.54 ERA with 16 earned runs. 

Steve Trachsel, as strong as a pitcher he was for the Cubs and Mets, is best remembered as the answer to a trivia question, that being 'who gave up Mark McGwire's 62nd home run of 1998'. I think he goes in the same category as Al Downing, a great, consistent starter known by one pitch to one batter. Trachsel was still kicking around in 2007, at age 36, and after a decent start in Baltimore, the Cubs came calling once again. In 4 stretch starts, Trachsel had an 8.31 ERA with, ironically considering Miller, 16 earned runs, and only 11 Ks. Trachsel would return to Baltimore in 2008 with similar results. Ironically again, Topps would document both Orioles stints, but not the Cubs one, despite the sentimental value. 

I'll figure out more of these to pull up. I feel like, given the stubbornness of the MLB owners, I'll be doing these for a bit this spring.