Saturday, April 29, 2017

The Trading Post #97: Nachos Grande

I've been pretty out of the Cardsphere loop lately. I entirely skipped the 30-day Card Challenge, for example, although I suppose I could do it all in one go, like Night Owl and Dime Boxes did this weekend. In fact, this is only my third post in April, my lowest monthly total since...well, February. Between watching half my fantasy team go on the DL in the first month (Bumgarner, Sanchez, Beltre, others, and now Cespedes), and keeping an eye on the Rockies' textbook April hot streak, I haven't had a lot of time for blogging. The weather's been getting nicer too, and I took a pretty strenuous hike last weekend with some friends, but since this weekend has brought us our annual spring snowstorm, what better time to pick my virtual pen back up?

Fortunately, I've had plenty of potential blog post topics, such as a trade sent by Nachos Grande long before the season started.

2013 Topps Heritage #164 Dexter Fowler
Dexter Fowler was a fan favorite around here, spending time with Houston, Chicago (of course winning the World Series last year), and now St. Louis. I was about to say that he's really made the rounds in the National League, but then I realized Houston moved to the AL. I remember, really, I do.

But back when 1964 took its turn in the Topps Heritage set, Fowler was spending his final season as a Rockie. This retro-themed shot of a hatless Fowler in the dugout offers a pretty intimate look at the day-to-day job of a ballplayer. The action shots are always a crowd-pleaser, but hanging out in the dugout while the other part of the batting order is taking its turn is roughly as common as playing the field. Many of them find interesting ways to pass the time, such as (Buster Posey's good friend) Hunter Pence coming up with personalized handshakes for each of his teammates.

2012 Elite Extra Edition #91 Tom Murphy
The injury bug has bitten the Rockies, too. Their shiny new free agent, Ian Desmond, has yet to play in a game this year. David Dahl and Jon Gray are on the DL, and CarGo narrowly missed a broken hand during an unfortunate foul ball last week. Catcher Tom Murphy is down as well, the subject of this red foil card from Donruss Elite. He's been called up to the big leagues twice, but his potential is still yet to be fully realized. For now, that means most of his cards are in the Donruss Elite and Bowman sorts of brands. But if he becomes the star catcher he's expected to be, we should be seeing a lot more cards of him.

I'm sure that's just a batting glove in his back pocket, but it looks slightly like he has a duck tail.

Anyway, Mark Reynolds and Tony Wolters have been filling in nicely in the Rockies' lineup, good enough to keep them in first place. Because they just won this weekend's series in Arizona, they've held on to first place into the month of May, barely, despite the absolute destruction that the Washington Nationals visited upon them this past week. But they've bounced back nicely with an exciting come-from-behind win and will go for the sweep tomorrow.

1994 Bowman's Best #R72 Ellis Burks
Bowman's Best did shiny red cards better than just about anyone. Ellis Burks, who had just joined the Rockies when this card was printed, was already an established power hitter. He even had eight grand slams to his name before becoming a founding member of the Blake Street Bombers, tacking on even more before his retirement in 2004.

Topps knew they had a hit on their hands with the production of shiny cards like this, a set that appeared after the seminal 1993 Finest set. I would like to know what the design in the upper left is supposed to be. It looks a bit like the NFL shield. But maybe it's just some sort of home plate thing.

Standard practice for close to two decades over at Bowman was to use red colors for veteran players, and blue colors for rookies.

1994 Bowman's Best #B11 John Burke
Fortunately for our exploration of this design, Chris was kind enough to include both. They look really good side-by-side, especially since the design elements are a mirror image. Burke's card is noted as a "Blue Chip", though Burke only went 4-6 in two seasons with the Rockies, his only time spent in the Majors. Burke was more of a speculative small-cap than a blue chip, but others in this set went on to do great things, such as Shawn Green, Jorge Posada, Derek Jeter, and Chipper Jones, to name a few.

I can only imagine what a green card from this set would have looked like. Throw in a yellow with that and you can make the Microsoft logo.

1994 Topps #780 Jason Bates / John Burke
Burke showed up again along with Jason Bates on the Rockies' Coming Attractions card in 1994 Topps. This movie theater-themed subset caught my eye, as I can still recognize the first factory set I ever bought in a split second. Jason Bates, who found a bit more success with the Rockies than Burke, is called out as a "switch-hitting shortstop with power." Burke, on the other hand, was at that time the career leader in strikeouts as a Florida Gator. Besides those one-sentence tidbits, this card gives us a rarely-glimpsed bit of info: the scout who signed the player. Randy Johnson (no relation to the Big Unit) signed Bates, and Bob Gebhard, the first General Manager of the Rockies, signed Burke.

I'm surprised that doesn't make it onto Bowman cards. It would be perfect for a prospect-heavy set like that, and might give hope to fans and collectors who want to be part of baseball but aren't good enough to play.

2014 Topps #237 Michael Cuddyer / Chris Johnson / Freddie Freeman LL
When it comes to League Leader cards, the players are much more likely to have found success than a pair of prospects. Michael Cuddyer won the NL batting title in 2013, one of many times that trophy has been brought to Denver. Rounding out the top three are two Braves. Chris Johnson hit .321 in 2013, but hasn't had a stellar career since. He broke a bone in Triple-A a few weeks ago, and was released by the Indians in 2015. The likelihood of him making a comeback is looking slimmer by the day.

Freddie Freeman, on the other hand, the second runner up to the 2013 batting title, is still performing well as a Brave. He went deep on Friday with a go-ahead two-run shot, and is finding a nice home at SunTrust Park, the Braves' shiny new stadium.

2014 Topps #20 Charlie Blackmon
I often remark on how different Todd Helton looks without his goatee. But that's nothing compared to Charlie Blackmon without his lumberjack beard. He has a little bit of scruff on this 2014 Topps card, but he looks like a completely different person. He's just as capable in center field as Fowler was, beard or no. And it's a Coors Field card, worthy of a spot in my Frankenset. This 2014 set does make me miss the previously ubiquitous silver foil and white borders that were once so familiar.

But what's still familiar is great trading partners, a Rockies team that is hot in April (though winning all these one-run games is a little weird), and shiny Topps cards from all eras of the Colorado Rockies.

Saturday, April 15, 2017

The Trading Post #96: All Trade Bait, All The Time

Dante Bichette always wore #10.

1997 Upper Deck #60 Dante Bichette
Except during the occasional Spring Training game, as pictured on this copper-heavy 1997 Upper Deck card.

I know a lot of people talk about 1993 Upper Deck as one of the best sets of the entire overproduction era, but all the little details, dates, and tidbits found on the 1997 set really appeal to me. Thanks to that little white line of text, we know the exact date that Dante Bichette suited up with #8. It's an appropriate card for today, which happens to be Jackie Robinson Day. Every Major League player wore #42 today, in honor of the player who famously broke the color barrier seventy years ago.

It can be a bit confusing to the casual baseball fan to watch when everyone is wearing the same number. But it's probably even more confusing to rabid fans when regular players are not wearing their normal number. On rare occasions, the uniform even has a mind of its own, as a number fell off a jersey mid-pitch during a recent Minor League game.

2017 Topps #152 Nolan Arenado LL
You can't quite make out Arenado's number on his League Leader card for 2016 NL Home Runs, but he wears #28, something I'm reminded of every day when I open my closet door and see his jersey. Just like in 2015, Arenado finished the season tied for the lead in home runs. In 2015, his 42 shots were on par with Bryce Harper, and he almost equaled that total in 2016, tying Chris Carter with 41. Since then, Topps decided to feature single-player league leader cards for the 2017 set, rather different from the three-player cards they had been using for quite a while.

Of course, that brings up the question of what to do about ties. Arenado played second fiddle to Harper on the 2016 card, but pretty much took over the entire 2017 card, getting the featured photo, team color coding on the back, and the first listing at the head of the top-ten list.

Maybe one of these seasons he will have the lead all to himself.

2017 Topps #17 Daniel Descalso
Daniel Descalso didn't lead any categories in 2016, nor is he even a Rockie in 2017. He migrated southwest in the offseason to sign with the Arizona Diamondbacks, so as a member of the NL West, he's sure to remain a familiar face to Rockies fans. He's no stranger to the division, either. Judging by those yellow seats, this shot came from Dodger Stadium, and offers one of the final images on cardboard of the Rockies' old shade of purple.

This Descalso card came from a recent PWE from All Trade Bait, All The Time, one of the many Dodgers fans in the Cardsphere. My Rockies and his Dodgers square off frequently, and the Dodgers were even the visiting team for the Rockies' home opener last weekend. The Rockies are on the road for now, playing in San Francisco. Tyler Chatwood turned in a marvelous pitching performance today, a complete game shutout, and he was perfect through 5.2 innings.

2017 Topps #311 Tyler Chatwood
Speaking of Chatwood, I didn't have this card originally selected when I started this post. But after that shutout against the Giants on the road, I gave it a second thought and decided to include it. I'm probably nearing completion of the Rockies team set in 2017 Topps by now, and while it may not go down in history as one of the great all-time designs, it is starting to grow on me. Especially that beautiful purple on the back.

2013 Topps #461 Drew Pomeranz
Like Descalso, Drew Pomeranz has moved on, even venturing to an entirely different league. An All-Star last year with the Padres, he now pitches for Boston. He built up a dismal 4-14 record in three seasons with the Rockies, but has turned things around since leaving Denver, good enough for about a .500 record in recent seasons.

And that's not a bad Coors Field card in the 2013 set, statistically likely to have been taken during one of his nine losses in 2012.

2016 Topps Chrome Youth Impact #Y-I5 Jon Gray
Jon Gray took the hill three times so far this season for the Rockies, but was pulled early from Friday's game after aggravating a foot injury. Turns out he has a broken bone in his foot and is likely to miss more than a month. The Rockies are still in second place, not that unusual for the month of April, but the injuries are piling up at an alarming rate. Trevor Story is off to a slow start, many of the names that sportswriters picked as key players for the 2017 Rockies are injured, and if not for strong starting and relief pitching, a surprising performance by Mark Reynolds, and Tyler Chatwood's complete game shutout, things would be looking pretty bad.

At least Jon Gray can spend the next month admiring this awesome insert card from 2016 Topps Chrome. It could easily pass for a Topps Finest card, shows off his uniform number 55 perfectly, and evokes images of stained-glass windows. The color scheme is muted a bit on the back, but this will be an eye-catching specimen no matter which direction I display it in the binder.

I always like writing with a ballgame on, but especially so when I can write about a trade during a Rockies win. April is a fun month for Rockies fans, no matter what the uniform numbers say.

Sunday, April 2, 2017

The Trading Post #95: 2x3 Heroes

It's finally Opening Day!

Baseball has come out of its long winter hibernation. Well, not counting the weeks of spring training and the World Baseball Classic. But you know what I mean.

Writing with a ballgame on in the background is one of my favorite pastimes, especially when someone from my fantasy team is playing. I happen to have Madison Bumgarner on my team, who was on the hill for the Giants this Opening Day. He took a perfect game into the 6th, and became the first pitcher to hit two home runs in a single Opening Day game.

That makes today the perfect day to write about a stack of cards that Jeff from 2x3 Heroes sent as part of his annual 'Tis the Season giveaway.

2016 Topps Opening Day #OD-133 Greg Holland
Greg Holland didn't actually appear as a Royal in 2016, as he was recovering from Tommy John surgery, which he underwent shortly before the Royals' World Series championship in 2015. But he still got a card in 2016 Topps Opening Day, a perfect set to highlight on a day like today. Holland, of course, signed with the Rockies in the offseason, and while it's not certain he'll spend all season as the closer, he'll be a solid late-inning reliever to support the Rockies' rotation.

Or maybe he'll end up in more of a high-leverage sort of role, similar to what the Indians have been doing with Andrew Miller. ESPN ran a pretty interesting article the other day, about how the whole idea of the Save statistic has effectively shaped the modern closer role, and perhaps not always for the best. The argument is that it makes more sense to put your best reliever in during the diciest late inning, not simply the 9th where a Save can be earned. Leaving your best reliever in the bullpen in case a save situation materializes isn't necessarily the best strategy. For example, the Orioles famously didn't use their star closer Zach Britton in last year's AL Wild Card game against the Blue Jays, and that ended up costing them dearly in the 11th inning with Edwin EncarnaciĆ³n at the plate.

2016 Topps Opening Day #OD-152A Carlos Gonzalez
Slugging outfielders are a lot more consistent with Rockies history than elite closers. Carlos Gonzalez has been holding down various outfield positions at Coors Field for the better part of a decade, and he's no slouch on the basepaths either. He's sliding into third at AT&T Park against the Giants, a common location for Rockies cards and other NL West teams. CarGo's season doesn't kick off until Monday, as only six teams played their first game today. As usual, the Rockies begin their season on the road, a four-game set in Milwaukee.

2016 Topps Bunt #59 Trevor Story (RC)
Trevor Story is also expected to be in the Opening Day lineup, and while he didn't get a card in 2016 Topps Opening Day, he did get a card in Bunt. Of course, the gray back of this card mentions his "unprecedented" start to his rookie season, in which he hit ten memorable home runs in his first 21 games. Not bad for a rookie in a 200-card set that also includes retired legends.

2016 Topps Opening Day #OD-148 Robinson Cano
I watched part of a Rockies/Mariners spring training game on Friday, one that ended in a 5-5 tie. Robinson Cano is one of the key players for Seattle, but from what I saw he wasn't doing anything special at second. Maybe he was just getting the last minute kinks out, but he's definitely been supplanted by Jose Altuve as the best second baseman in the league.

By the way, I did it! I finally remembered the Astros are in the AL without having to think twice about it!

The Mariners' colors do look good on this card, and especially on Cano's batting gloves. And seeing all those aqua-colored knuckle pads on his batting gloves line up appeals to me. I liked when the Seahawks had similar colors, before they moved to airport-gate-worker electric green.

2016 Topps Opening Day #OD-139 Dustin Pedroia
Dustin Pedroia was once toward the top of the 2B rankings, and he also won the Rookie of the Year award in 2007. He's got quite the career under his belt, but he's no longer the elite second baseman he once was. Still, I did pick him for my fantasy team as the final hitter, with DJ LeMahieu as the primary second baseman. It's nice to have a Rockie this year; it will make watching Rockies games that much more interesting.

Also, with the trend toward beard and facial hair throughout the Major Leagues, it's a bit odd to see Pedroia clean-shaven now. It's even more odd to see Hunter Pence with a much shorter beard than before.

2016 Topps Opening Day #OD-138 David Ortiz
David Ortiz has etched himself into Red Sox lore even more than Dustin Pedroia. Ortiz retired at the end of 2016, so it will be strange not to see him on the highlight reels this year. Ortiz does have a card in 2017 Topps, but with the shift to five years of stats, this is as close to a sunset card as we're likely to see for him. This photograph is much more appropriate for a sunset card than his 2017 issue anyway, but it does skip his still-strong 2016 statistics.

2016 Topps Bunt #133 Stephen Piscotty (RC)
2016 Topps Opening Day and 2016 Topps Bunt were the two sets that Jeff sent as part of this giveaway. Nothing super high-end but I do enjoy these lower-end sets. The no-frills design may not be as eye-catching as others, but the price point really can't be beat. And Stephen Piscotty, whom I saw play when the Cardinals came to town last year, is also on my Fantasy team. I'm not sure if I'll see the Cardinals this season, as my Cardinals-fan friend who I tried to catch a game with every season moved to Chattanooga this weekend. I'm sure we'll catch a Double-A Lookouts game if I have a chance to visit him, but it will be unusual not to catch the Redbirds in Denver with him this year.

2016 Topps Bunt #45 Steven Matz
Stephen Matz of the Mets went just a couple picks later than Piscotty in my league's draft. Unfortunately, Matz is dealing with an elbow injury and will miss the first few weeks of the season. The Mets have some insanely good young pitching talent, but elbow problems and Tommy John surgeries have affected most of them over the years, including Matt Harvey, Zach Wheeler, Jacob deGrom, and Matz. Mets fans will certainly recognize those names as pretty much the entire rotation, other than Noah Syndergaard. Robert Gsellman will round out the Mets' rotation to start the season, a player I spent a late-round pick on.

2016 Topps Opening Day #OD-73 George Springer
George Springer, along with his teammates Jose Altuve, Carlos Correa, and Dallas Keuchel, are making the Astros look like a very strong young team, despite the Cardinals' computer-hacking efforts. Moving to the AL West could end up being a great move for the Astros, as it effectively takes them out of competition with the Cardinals, Cubs, and even Pirates, all of whom are at least a Wild Card threat. Even if it takes half a decade for their new division to become second-nature to this baseball fan.

On this shot of Springer sliding into home, you can spot an Astros' 50th Anniversary patch on his right sleeve. Not the 50th Anniversary patch, a 50th Anniversary patch. Apparently the Astros also celebrated their 50th Anniversary in 2012, but for 2015 they ignored the three years they spent as the Houston Colt .45s and celebrated it again. It's a bit strange, celebrating anniversaries that both include and disregard the team's first name. But it does let you sell twice as many t-shirts.

2016 Topps Bunt #114 Brooks Robinson
Brooks Robinson, the career Oriole, finished a little bit shy of 3,000 hits, at 2,848. But in that time he won an MVP award, became one of the most well-known Orioles in history, and earned himself two World Series rings. He's also considered to be the best defensive third baseman of all-time, winning sixteen consecutive Gold Glove awards. Now, everyone knows I'm a huge Nolan Arenado fan, but as talented as he is on the diamond, he has a long, long way to go before he challenges Robinson for a record like that. 3,000 hits is somewhat likely, but to win another 12 Gold Gloves, let alone consecutively, remains a tall order. Especially so, as much as the defensive game of baseball has been elevated in the past forty or so years.

2016 Topps Bunt Light Force #LF-23 Willie Stargell
There were even a couple inserts that made it in here. Willie Stargell, the career Pirate, got a card in the Light Force set, the same as Luis Gonzalez in the pack of Topps Bunt I purchased. Stargell won two World Series as a Pirate, his second coming in 1979, the same year as his only NL MVP award. That came surprisingly late in his career, at the age of 39. The inclusion of Hall of Famers like Robinson and Stargell help distinguish this Bunt set from Topps Opening Day, and although some have suggested otherwise, I'd be happy to continue seeing these two sets stay on the market.