Saturday, March 31, 2018

Topping it All Off

From 2011-2016, Allen & Ginter, Heritage, and Gypsy Queen were all some of my favorite sets because they had 3 things that many other Topps products did not have. Relics and box toppers. Obviously, Gypsy Queen doesn't do relics anymore, which, along with the other changes to the set have caused me to lose interest in it. Still, all 3 sets have box toppers that you can get with the hobby box itself, or better yet, at the card show.

The beautiful Bo Jackson box topper at the top of this post was an example of a box topper that I bought at the show a couple years ago. The box topper, which is from 2014 Allen & Ginter, cost me just $5, about $100 dollars less than buying a hobby box just to get it, and it was of Bo Jackson which is a very unique choice to go with the equally unique pink colored image.

A&G box toppers are relatively common at the card show I attend, and for years I've been acquiring some here and there, some without even asking for them. I recall making a pretty big purchase with a dealer a couple of years ago, and to thank me for the sale he gave me 2 unopened box toppers from 2013 Allen & Ginter. The 2 guys I got were Stephen Strasburg and David Wright. Strasburg is coming off a year where he finished 3rd in Cy Young voting while David Wright is, well, being David Wright. Still, the design of these 2013 box toppers intrigued me a lot as they are extremely different from the 2014 box topper of Bo, despite being just a year apart. 

While we're on the topic of Allen & Ginter, I might as well show the box topper I got from my 2016 Allen & Ginter hobby box that I got for my birthday that same year. The guy I pulled was Albert Pujols, and I suppose the idea behind the set is to show their first A&G mini and their 2016 A&G mini to show how the player, as well as the set, has evolved. While the other box toppers have interesting designs, I admire how this box topper has an idea behind it, kind of a play on then & now. Pujols was definitely a good player to get, because of how much time (a decade, I believe) took place between the first mini and the 2016 mini.

Like I said before, Topps Heritage also does box toppers and Heritage is a set that has a few different box toppers in it. The most common one appears to be the ad panel that groups 3 cards together as one collectible panel card. I've never been a huge fan of these because I personally prefer the buybacks way more. The problems I have with these box toppers stem from the fact that the cards on the panel don't have anything in common (the fact that these 3 cards all feature NL West players is an extreme coincidence). The 3 cards included on the panels aren't 3 consecutive cards in the set, so I'm confused on how Topps decides who goes onto the panels.

However, I'll give Topps credit for making some improvements to the Heritage panels this year. As opposed to year's past, they put a newspaper headline on the back that featured a certain player's achievement from the previous season. I like how they at least gave the box topper a certain player, in this case, it's Anthony Rizzo, but I still don't know how any of these players relate to one another in terms of being on the panel together.

But my favorite box toppers of all-time are without a doubt the Gypsy Queen glassworks toppers. These chrome box toppers are the only possible thing that makes me want to buy Gypsy Queen hobby boxes, but I know I can find these online for about 10 bucks. They look very yellow when scanned, but if you've ever seen this in person, you know just how gorgeous they really are. Topps was somehow able to make them look even better in this year's set, which is certainly enough for me to buy one of a player I collect at some point this year. 

Friday, March 30, 2018

I Really Need to Stay More Organized

I've mentioned many times before that, at many times, my collection is very unorganized. I've tried to cut down on big purchases or massive card show hauls as of late, simply because I want to have most if not everything put away before I acquire more cards.

Well, I've almost reached that point as I've been spending the last few weeks putting cards away for player collections as well as categorizing them online. I've discovered quite a few cards from past shows and card shop trips while organizing, but what I found when putting cards away today shocked me. Because even though I knew I need to improve my organization big time, I had no clue that I had actual relic cards just sitting in a paper bag from a past card show. 

That's right, relic cards of guys like Ivan Rodriguez and Randy Johnson that I bought at the MLK day Mansfield show still haven't been put away. There are no real excuses for not putting these cards away yet, even if they do need larger top loaders and penny sleeves, which I currently don't have. With all that being said, I really do like both of the relics, though they are polar opposites. The Rodriguez is from 2004 Topps Cracker Jack, a set that I am not a huge fan of, at least not the base cards. The relics, on the other hand, do what the base cards do and make it even better by quoting the iconic "take me out to the ball game" line. The Johnson relic, on the other hand, is a very modern looking card, the exact opposite of the Rodriguez. 

When I bought this relic card, I noticed how interesting it was that Upper Deck would choose the Red Sox for a Tony Perez relic card. However, one thing I did not notice is that it's serial numbered 66/75, thus making the card even more of a steal than I originally thought it was considering this card was going for $3. The card is a red parallel from the 2009 Upper Deck SP Legendary Cuts set. 

Furthermore, I found that this SP set was similar to the '04 Cracker Jack set in terms of the relics looking similar to the base cards. In this case, the Tony Perez relic takes on the same look as the base cards by including the same style border that reminds me quite a bit of the Deckle Edge cards. In fact, the set is pretty similar aside from the fact that the Upper Deck set has regular borders as opposed to the edges of the original 1969 Deckle cards.

While I'm glad to say that I've nearly finished putting player collection cards away and that I'm making progress in terms of categorizing player collection cards online, I still realize that I'm far away from having my collection as organized as I'd like it to be. My ultimate goal would be to have every card in my player collections put away, both online and in my boxes, by the middle of April. However, I can never be sure if or how I'll be able to achieve this goal. But, there's no harm in trying. 

Thursday, March 29, 2018

The 2018 Red Sox Opening Day Lineup

After waiting for nearly 5 months to see our favorite teams play, Opening Day has finally arrived and with it, so have 13 matchups. All 30 teams were scheduled to play today for the first time ever. However, 2 games were postponed due to weather. Luckily for me, one of those games was not Red Sox vs Rays which starts about 20 minutes from when I'm writing this post.

Since I haven't seen them take the field since they lost in the ALDS to the Astros, I'm going to be previewing today's opening day lineup. I'll show each player and write a couple of sentences on what I'm looking for each player to do this year in order to ensure we make the playoffs and make it far.

Without further adieu, here's the Red Sox's 2018 opening day lineup.

RF Mookie Betts
After nearly winning the 2016 AL MVP award, Mookie Betts took a step back in 2017. He still had a pretty great year, but his stats dropped in nearly every category. Most notably, batting average. If he can raise his average back to or close to where it was in 2016, then it will be another potential MVP season for Betts.

LF Andrew Benintendi
Benintendi did not disappoint in his rookie season, finishing 2nd only to Aaron Judge in Rookie of the Year voting. Benintendi shares the same problem as Betts. He is certainly capable of raising his batting average, which I hope he does this season along with maintaining his power hitting ability.

1B Hanley Ramirez
This'll be an interesting year for Hanley. He is coming off shoulder surgery and can become a free-agent if he has less than 497 plate appearances. I'm sure the Red Sox wouldn't mind clearing up his salary and not having him on the team next year, but I really hope he does well enough for him to stay in Boston and play as well as he did in 2016.

DH J.D. Martinez
Boston reeled in their big free-agent target by signing J.D. to a five-year contract worth $110 million dollars. The best thing he can do is adjust well to playing in Boston. I've seen it happen all too many times when the Sox will sign a good player, and he won't be able to live up to the hype of playing in a big sports city.

SS Xander Bogaerts
I truly believe this will be the most important year in Xander's career. This will be the year he will decide what kind of player he is because he's been stuck in limbo between being a decent hitter and a great hitter for years, though he has remained a great defensive player. I'm not asking for him to hit 20+ homers, for we have guys who can do that. However, it isn't unreasonable for him to hit 80 RBI like he did in 2015 and 2016. 

3B Rafael Devers
I'm very intrigued to see what Rafael Devers will do in his very first full MLB season. He's certainly a front-runner for Rookie of the Year, but I'm going to be looking for Devers to become a much better defensive player. Mike Lowell has been a mentor to him over the offseason, and I'll be looking to see if it paid off.

2B Eduardo Nunez
With Dustin Pedroia injured to start the year, the Red Sox will be counting on Eduardo Nunez to play as well as he did when they traded for him in July of last year. Once Pedey comes back, I expect Nunez to be used as a utility infielder/backup but should get more playing time than Swihart and Holt.

CF Jackie Bradley Jr.
All I'm going to say about JBJ is he better receive at least a Gold Glove nominee this year. If he does, I may have to stop watching baseball.

C Christian Vazquez
Finally, Vazquez signed a 3-year extension with the Sox just a few days ago which should suggest that he is the Red Sox catcher for the future. Especially with the less than spectacular performance from Sandy Leon last year.

I'm very excited to see what this team will do this year, even with the competition that the Yankees will provide. Currently, the game is starting. So with that, it's time for me to watch the Red Sox play for what seems like the first time in ages. 

Tuesday, March 27, 2018

Predictions by Division: NL West

With opening day just 2 days away (I'm so incredibly glad to be able to say that), it's time for me to post my very last predictions by division. Today, I am ending with the NL West, a division that was one of the toughest in baseball last season.

Every single team in the west has 2 or more dangerous players, making it one of the toughest divisions once again this year (although I believe the AL East is a bit harder to win in). Last year, 3 teams made the playoffs in the west, and there's a very good chance that could happen once again. It all depends on numerous factors such as can the Dodgers stay consistent, will the Diamondbacks and Rockies continue to battle it out for those Wild Card spots, and will the Padres and Giants improve at all after making big offseason moves.

1st Place: Los Angeles Dodgers
For the last couple of years, the Dodgers have always had that one missing piece preventing them from being World Champions of baseball. They made the NLCS in 2016 and the World Series in 2017. Could 2018 finally be the year they win it all? There's a very good chance, but for now, I'm concentrating solely on the division rankings. Despite multiple threats in the West, the Dodgers should be able to win the division for, unbelievably, the 6th straight year. A healthy Clayton Kershaw is easily a top 10 player in baseball and certainly the best pitcher. Cody Bellinger, Corey Seager, and Justin Turner provide plenty of offensive pop that helps make the Dodgers such a well-rounded team. The only way I see the Dodgers not winning the division is if Kershaw and one of their star hitters are out for a long period of time. But if that does not happen, the Dodgers will win the division once again hands-down. 

2nd Place: Arizona Diamondbacks
The Diamondbacks are a very interesting team and could absolutely become a serious contender starting even as early as this season. They are one of the most well-rounded teams in baseball, even more than the Dodgers. But what they're still lacking in this team of star players is unity and having the team coming together and working better together. They may have beat the Rockies in the Wild Card game last year, but getting swept by the Dodgers shows how far this team still has to go. That being said, Zack Greinke and Robbie Ray look ready to lead this team once again in pitching. On the other end, the Diamondbacks have lots of offensive power, led, of course, by Paul Goldschmidt who is constantly establishing himself as baseball's most consistent player. This team has gone through a rebuilding phase and has emerged as one of baseball's top teams. But until they up their game to the next level, they'll forever be a good team but not a great team.

3rd Place: Colorado Rockies
I don't think 2 words hate each other more in the English language other than the "Rockies" and "pitching." Since their inaugural season in 1993, the best Rockies pitcher I can think of is Ubaldo Jiminez, and I'm talking about those few seasons where he was good. However, Jiminez and every other Rockies pitcher have failed to stay great for many years, which is the major thing preventing the Rockies from truly contending and making it far in the playoffs. Sure, they're good, but good isn't good enough in the NL West. Nolan Arenado is one of baseball's best players and one of the best multi-tool players in the game. Colorado fans will be expecting a lot from him as he enters his age-27 season, and I don't think he'll have much trouble living up to expectations. However, beyond him, Charlie Blackmon, and Trevor Story, the Rockies do not have all the help they need, especially when it comes to pitching. Chasing a pitcher this offseason is a must for Colorado before Blackmon gets too old and this team goes back into rebuild mode. 

4th Place: San Francisco Giants
To me, the Andrew McCutchen and Evan Longoria trades didn't make much sense. Why would the Giants give up many young players, including Christian Arroyo who is believed to be a future star, in exchange for 2 veterans? One of those veterans (Longoria) is under contract for way too long for someone in his 30's. While McCutchen is simply a 1-year rental. It just doesn't make sense, but who knows, maybe the Giants do have a plan. But if their plan is to contend in the highly-contested West this season, their fresh out of luck no matter how good Cutch and Longoria do. Buster Posey is entering his 8th full season, and while he's still hitting very well, he's still getting up there in age. The pitching staff has been led by Madison Bumgarner for years, but after getting injured the other day, it's unclear how much time he will miss. The Giants may be a pretty well-run team, but I personally don't think they have a game plan for the 2018 season, and that is going to end up dooming this year.

5th Place: San Diego Padres
The Eric Hosmer signing was enormous, expensive, and may end up hurting San Diego in the long run as they enter the year (still?) rebuilding. Wil Myers has been the franchise centerpiece after being traded to San Diego in late 2014. It wasn't until 2016, however, that Myers became the more powerful hitter that he is today, but his batting average leaves something to be desired. The purpose behind adding Hosmer appears to be to add a better all-around hitter, but 2017 was only the 2nd season in the 28-year old's 7-year career that he hit above .300. The bright spot for the Padres is their farm system which is believed to be top 3 in baseball. These prospects aren't going to be able to help San Diego win right away, but they should be able to move past San Francisco and even Colorado in the next few years, barring any unforeseen circumstances. But for now, the Padres are still stuck in the basement of the NL West. 

Monday, March 26, 2018

4 Kimbrel Cards From Sportlots

In terms of what cards I buy online, roughly half come from COMC while the other half is courtesy of Sportlots. I usually tend to place larger orders on COMC due to the flat-rate shipping. But, if I'm only buying a few cards, Sportlots is the best option for me.

This recent purchase was one of those smaller purchases with the store credit I had from the sales I made last month. The Kimbrel cards all arrived in the mail today while I expect the 2 vintage cards I ordered separately to arrive a couple of days from now.

As you can see, I purchased 4 Craig Kimbrel cards with the first of them being the 2018 Topps Heritage card shown at the top of the post. Somehow, after opening 2 boxes I still was unable to pull a single Craig Kimbrel base card. Thankfully, Sportlots has nearly every base card from the set, so I picked up one for the Kimbrel collection...

along with one for my Topps Heritage master set. Since I was missing one for the PC and one for the set, I decided to kill 2 birds with one stone and pick up 2 base cards for a grand total of 36 cents. This brought the Kimbrel Collection total up 1 card and brought my number of missing base cards from 2018 Heritage down to roughly 90 cards.

Moving on from Heritage, I picked up another base card from a recent set release, this one being 2018 Topps Opening Day. I have absolutely zero intentions of buying any Opening Day even though the new logo near the team nameplate looks intriguing and more modern. I'm not the biggest Flagship fan, and since Opening Day is on more flimsy cardstock, I think I'm going to pass on buying any of it. With that being said, I love Kimbrel's Topps base card, especially the photo choice. So, any chance to get that on a different card to add to the collection is one I will take advantage of.

Now, I've been super-collecting Kimbrel since the very beginning of the year and have built the player collection up to over 100 cards and counting. Among all these cards, there is surprisingly not a single relic card.

Until now.

It's not as glamorous as some relic cards, but the 2018 Topps Major League Material relic cards look pretty sharp with their design that includes slashes representative of the team colors. The red, blue, and grey were placed in good spots all throughout the card in order to create a relic that goes with the modern direction that Series 1 goes in. The jersey may be a plain white jersey, but I can't say that I mind that. Sure, red or blue would be cool, but in a way, the white works well with the card by looking nice with the silver background on that section of the card. 

Now that I've acquired my first Kimbrel relic, I am excited to be able to add more relic cards of him in the future from all 3 teams he's played for, especially the Red Sox. The Kimbrel Collection currently stands at 105 different cards with (hopefully) many more to come in 2018 releases as well as in general. 

Sunday, March 25, 2018

I Should Have Known Better

I should've taken my local Target not having any Gypsy Queen whatsoever as a sign not to buy any of the product this year. I should have had more control over myself because I really don't like the Gypsy Queen product at all this year.

However, against my better judgment, I visited my local card shop and picked up 2 hobby packs of the 2018 Topps Gypsy Queen set. This set had been my favorite for years, but the major changes in last year's set made me back away from it. Now, it's become a confused shadow of its former self. Still, I thought there would be some hope left for me to like Gypsy Queen if I gave 2018 a chance, which is exactly what I did today.

Pack #1

#112 Logan Forsythe
My first impression of the set is, really, you chose that color once again. The light grey color choice for the borders is nearly identical to the one used in the 2016 set. This shade of light grey will join the overused tan color from 2011, 2014, and 2017 to add on to the long list of reasons why I'm not the Gypsy Queen fanatic I once was.

#124 Matt Harvey
I will give Topps credit for making the images look fantastic as they usually do, but certain other details perplex me. A major thing in sets this year has been making the player's last name larger than the first, a decision I truly don't understand. The logo on the bottom left seems to be changed year after year, and the team name looks incredibly cramped for space in the top right of the card. As you can probably tell, I'm not a fan of this set at all.

#158 Gregory Polanco
I must say that Topps did a good job with the color scheme of the stripes, player name, and logos. The backgrounds do look pretty good and as I mentioned before, the picture quality is superb. With that being said, Gypsy Queen is truly lacking an identity. It seems to be all over the place with no real theme or idea. While I may not be a big Allen & Ginter fan, at least that set is well put-together and has a clear theme to it. Whereas Gypsy Queen doesn't have any of that and hasn't had it since their 2016 set.

#195 Vince Velasquez

#FTM-2 Manny Machado Fortune Teller Mini
While they may not be true minis, the Fortune Teller inserts have become a fan-favorite aspect of the Gypsy Queen set since being introduced last year. This year, the Fortune Teller inserts look a lot better than last year's cards due to a centralized color scheme of pink and grey along with beautifully done details throughout the card. The Fortune Teller I pulled is of Manny Machado, and the back predicts his defensive WAR will reach 15.0 by the end of the year. Given it's currently 11.3, it seems unlikely but not impossible for Machado to accomplish this feat.

#289 Tyler Saladino

#166 Ben Gamel
The set checklist is rather small at 300 cards but is an average total for a modern set that's not Topps flagship. However, with only 300 base cards, you're limited as to who you can put into the set. Therefore, many relief pitchers and utility players don't have a card in a set like Gypsy Queen. Now, I don't really care who they put into the set, so long as its people that I recognize. And since I consider myself a relatively knowledgeable baseball fan, I pride myself on at least knowing the names of players in the set. That's why I'm so unimpressed with the checklist as it includes many rookies I haven't heard of in addition to Ben Gamel, a player I had never, ever heard of until today.

#219 Nicky Delmonico

Pack #2

#173 Mike Moustakas
It wasn't until the first card of pack 2 that I actually got a base card of a player I collect (Moustakas). Now, that either means I had really bad luck or the checklist isn't that good. I'm guessing it's a combination of both.

#48 Parker Bridwell
Another thing that Topps began doing in last year's Gypsy Queen set is making the rookie card symbol a more purple type of color. My only guess is this is done to make the symbol look more like part of the card than it did before. I'm mostly impartial to the small change, however, I find it somewhat odd that they'd change the symbol for this set. If it ain't broke, don't fix it. Right?

#2 Corey Knebel

#191 Andrew McCutchen
I'm honestly shocked that Topps was unable to put McCutchen on his new team, the Giants, for this card. I don't know how long it takes to make these cards, but he was traded 2 months before the release of the product.

#52 Anibal Sanchez Missing Team Nameplate Variation
I can truthfully say I had no clue Anibal Sanchez was still playing in the MLB until I pulled this card. Oh well, onto Sportlots it goes.

#250 Max Scherzer

#256 James Paxton

#249 Jameson Taillon
Jeez, 2 whole packs of this stuff and just 3 cards of players I collect. Not to mention the overwhelming majority of the cards were of players who are just so "meh" to me.

Overall, the set does have some strong points and I can see how some people would like it. However, to me, the set is confusing and doesn't really have a central theme. It's pretty all over the place, which is sad given that for years this set was my favorite set that Topps put out. And now, well, I feel like I bought 2 packs too many. 

Saturday, March 24, 2018

For the Same Price as 3 Topps Living Cards

For those of you who don't already know, Topps began releasing a set called Topps Living a little over a week ago. Basically, the set includes 3 new players each week and will not repeat a player unless they change teams. The cards are hand-drawn and printed in the 1953 Topps design

I contemplated buying the inaugural set, but I eventually decided against it for a number of reasons. 1. It's 15 dollars for 3 cards. 2. The 2 players other than Judge were Joe Panik and Nick Castellanos. 3. I knew I could find better cards on COMC.

So, I decided to go through with that and browse COMC for exactly 15 dollars worth of cards that I knew would make me more satisfied than 3 Topps Living cards. And I ended up spending $15.04, a whopping 4 cents over budget.

You already saw the Randy Johnson SP from 2017 Gypsy Queen above. These were 1 per hobby box last year, but I wanted to buy the Johnson solely because he was shown on the Expos. This card set me back $3.75, but no worries, I still ended up buying 5 more cards

If you count these as cards, that is. I've been eyeing these 2013 Panini Hometown Heroes Sportdiscs for a while now, especially after spotting one of Brandon Phillips when taking my player collection inventory. These unique looking cards/discs were available starting at around 80 cents a piece, but I knew I wanted to pick some up of players I collect, one being Andrew McCutchen.

The next 2 I picked up were of catchers, one of whom is shown fielding on the scan. Jason Varitek is a player who I've been collecting for a while because he's a Red Sox, but I haven't been able to add many cards to his collection due to him not being featured in many products. The same can not be said for Buster Posey, who is very prominent at the card show and especially in the dime bins.

Given how small the backs are, I think Panini did an excellent job with them. Although the scan didn't capture the back that well, they include the players stat-line in a couple of categories along with their position and number. Of course, they needed a lot of space for copyrights and all that, but the rest of the back actually looks pretty good for the little space they had.

I was very pleased with the couple of cards I had found thus far. But, I knew I wanted to find something special to make this purchase be better than any Topps Living card purchase.

And that, I did by picking up this serial numbered Red Sox autograph from last year's Topps Gallery set. Eduardo Rodriguez is not the biggest name, but he's a pretty young pitcher who has shown flashes of brilliance during his couple of seasons spent with the Red Sox. The autograph is a sticker auto, but it isn't that noticeable and actually looks very nice both in person and online. Best of all, although it's hard to see on the card, it's actually numbered 83/99 because it's a green parallel. Amazingly, this card was $3.75, the exact same price as the Randy Johnson SP. I know it's hit or miss in terms of buying this card of E-Rod, but I think this purchase can pay off in the future, and for $3.75, I'm willing to take that risk.

But even if E-Rod fizzles, I still believe this was a better value than Topps Living.