The Beckett Blog


Examining MLB postseason’s potential on baseball cards by Chris Olds

NYYswish

By CHRIS OLDS | Beckett Baseball Editor

Now that the American League Central champions have finally been crowned, it’s time for us to examine MLB’s postseason potential on the things that matter most to collectors.

Baseball cards.

While just one of the eight teams who begin postseason play on Wednesday will journey all the way to the level of World Series champion, there’s plenty that could shape up successfully when it comes to baseball cards.

There are sure-things. There are under-appreciated players. There are, undoubtedly, a few stars ready to emerge this postseason.

Some of them are obvious. Some we’ll just have to wait and see about.

For now, though, we’ll examine one pitcher and one hitter from each squad that collectors should be considering when it comes to their cardboard.

NATIONAL LEAGUE

Philadelphia Phillies
The defending World Series champs seem to have it all — the reliable glove men with pop, the super slugger, the veterans having career years and a whole lot of pitching talent. With a World Series title already in Philly’s back pocket, plenty of collectors already know who the stars on this squad are — but that doesn’t always translate into hobby dollars for various reasons (RCs during overproduced or lackluster years, veterans who have gone unnoticed and so on). There’s plenty to pick through when it comes to the Phillies roster and the hobby — Chase Utley (perennial star), Cole Hamels (young stud), J.A. Happ (emerging), Joe Blanton (reliable) and more. But two players are very, very safe on cardboard for a couple of reasons.

PHIhoward

The slugger: Ryan Howard. Only two sluggers compared to Howard this season — Prince Fielder and Albert Pujols. While Pujols undoubtedly wears the hobby crown, Fielder is staying home in October. Howard, for all of his swing-big or miss-big performances, is a known commodity. Sure, his average isn’t on par with Pujols, but whose is? Howard’s 2003 Rookie Cards range in value from $15 to $250 — which is quite a step down from Pujols. That tells this writer that there should be room for growth — particularly with the addition of another championship or a meaningful postseason run. The bargain card is his 2003 Donruss Elite Extra Edition #47 (only 900 made) at $50, while his 2003 Bowman’s Best autographed RC (#RH) is $250. These two, one being his only serial-numbered (more limited) card and the other being his line signed RC, should fluctuate in value the most (i.e. get the most attention) if the team is successful.

PHIleeRC

The pitcher: Cliff Lee. He’s been one of baseball’s more successful pitchers in recent years and he’s also been one of the most overlooked. You can land one of this Cy Young winner’s RCs for less than $2 — 2002 Donruss Originals #422; $1.50 — and his most valuable RC is a mere $15 (2002 Ultimate Collection #96). He’s already established himself as a star pitcher — just not an overwhelming hobby favorite — but, again, a championship could help change that.

St. Louis Cardinals
Tony LaRussa‘s squads always seem to pull things together, don’t they? While it helps to have, hands down, the most dangerous slugger in the game in the lineup, there’s always a consistently successful hitting corps around Albert Pujols and there always seem to be pitchers — three won 15 or more games this season — who step it up in one of baseball’s most-celebrated playing environments. It doesn’t hurt to be able to add an established slugger like Matt Holliday to the lineup to go alongside homegrown talent like youngster Colby Rasmus or a guy like Ryan Ludwick, who has found his own in St. Louis. But, again, like the Phillies, there is a no-brainer selection and an emerging, under-appreciated player worth examining when it comes to cardboard.

STLpujols

The slugger: Albert Pujols. Anyone who has collected the last decade knows the place that Pujols’ 2001 Bowman Chrome autographed RC holds. If not, a $4,000 price tag should tell you. Only 500 were signed, and it’s easily the most important card of the decade. But Pujols also has 44 other RCs to search for — many of them pricey as well but not like this one– but with his kind of success there’s no reason (short of a performance-enhancement scandal) that will derail interest. That’s what happens when a guy is as good as he has been and then comes thatclose to winning a triple crown (.327 with 47 HRs and 135 RBI). The next-closest home-run total on the Cards this season? Ludwick’s 22. Keep in mind that Pujols’ RCs are in demand and prices are high — so none of them will come relatively cheap and even the lower-end cards (most being $50 or so) will remain of peak interest if the Cards win it again.

STLwainwright

The pitcher: Adam Wainwright. This former Atlanta Braves draft pick has been decent in recent years but not anything comparable to his 19-8 record with 212 strikeouts in 233 innings this season. Hobby-wise, his RCs are bargain-bin material with his 2000 Topps Chrome Traded (#T88) at $5 and his 2000 Bowman Chrome Draft (#93) at $4. He does have cards with a Rookie Card logo from 2006 that are more expensive because they are signed — a 2006 Sweet Spot Update #101 limited to only 100 copies, $40, for example — but could there be room for growth with added success? Perhaps, but probably more with the inexpensive RCs than the autographs. (Then again, there are Cardinals fans paying serious dollars for Pujols, so some of those might move this direction, too.)

Los Angeles Dodgers
In recent years, it seemed like the Dodgers were a collection of aged free agent acquisitions whose better years were seen elsewhere but with enough veteran spark — i.e. Manny being Manny in 2008 — and young talent to get things done in the NL West. In 2009 with Manny being mandatorily sat for a performance-enhancing substance it was time for some of the younger talent to show what it could do. A hot start to the season didn’t hurt and some young arms continued to develop, showing that the Dodgers’ home-grown talent like Matt Kemp, Clayton Kershaw, Jonathan Broxton and Chad Billingsley might not be so bad, either.

LADethier

The slugger: Andre Ethier. While  Kemp has probably gotten more love in the hobby, the Dodgers’ other young slugger in the outfield led the team in HRs (31) and RBI (106). Not bad for a guy who came to L.A. in a deal from Oakland for Milton Bradley in 2005. (How many teams has Bradley played for made miserable since then?) Ethier has six RCs from 2005, ranging from $5 to $40 for his 2005 Topps Chrome #221 autograph (limited to 1,770 copies). In other words, he’s got just one autographed RC that matters, which should mean something to collectors if he has continued success.

LADbillings

The pitcher: Chad Billingsley. While he wasn’t as overwhelming this season as he had been in recent years, Billingsley remains one of the Dodgers’ top arms. He won 12 games this season to lead the team but veteran Randy Wolf threw more innings and Kershaw struck out more batters. Wolf is largely forgotten in the hobby, while Kershaw hasn’t disappointed enough to lose that luster that comes with a left-handed curveball while wearing Dodger Blue. Kershaw is hyped and expensive, while Billingsley has just three RCs from 2003 — a $50 Bowman Chrome autograph (#174) and Bowman Heritage and Topps RCs that can be had for less than $8. Again, like Ethier, that means he ultimately has one RC that matters and the one that should get the most attention if the Dodgers push deep into the postseason.

Colorado Rockies
This one’s confounding isn’t it? Two years ago, they were the darlings of the season, winning 21 of 22 en route to a World Series appearance (a sweep at the hands of the Boston Red Sox). A year ago, they finished 14 games under .500 and 10 games back in the NL West. This year, they’ve got the NL Wildcard and have made it that far with two managers and without one of their most productive sluggers in recent history, Matt Holliday, who was traded to Oakland and then shipped to St. Louis at midseason. How’d they do it? Credit manager Jim Tracy, a healthy Troy Tulowitzki, some young hitters and some key pieces from the Holliday deal (Huston Street) and, of course, that Mile High air, which makes for one of the more interesting baseball environments.

COLtulo

The Slugger: Troy Tulowitzki. Tulo smacked a team-high 32 home runs and drove in 92 RBI this season, while Rockies mainstay Todd Helton led the way with a .325 average. While Helton has been the face of the franchise for years, Tulo is its future. And when it comes to baseball cards, he’ll be the face of the franchise as long as he’s around — think a Joe Mauer-type situation — but with perhaps more influence to potentially be made among the team’s record books. Tulo has just four RCs from 2005 — all can be had for less than $8 with the exception of his 2005 Topps Rookie Cup (#159) autograph card, which is $60. That’s his lone signed RC, which means if you’ve read this far you should know. (It will be the one that gets the most attention with success.)

COLjimenez

The pitcher: Ubaldo Jimenez. Pitchers at Coors Field? Yeah, we know —  don’t have high expectations. And in the case of Jimenez — who has some  stout stats with a 3.47 ERA and 198 strikeouts in 218 innings this season, though with a 15-12 record — we still don’t, but it’s good to see someone succeed somewhat in Denver. Pitchers, unless they hurl fire and are a big-market commodity, don’t often get the love in the hobby. [Editor: Chicks dig the long ball, especially in Denver.] But Jimenez’s RC crop has plenty to choose from, which makes him an interesting player to examine. He’s got 20 RCs from 2005, most of them from Donruss and Upper Deck brands, and ironically, none from Bowman or Topps. Now that’s a hobby rarity. His RCs can be be had for as little as $1.50 and range all the way up to $50 for his SP Authentic and SPx RCs that are signed and each limited to just 185 copies.

— — —

AMERICAN LEAGUE

New York Yankees

Is it the billion-dollar ballpark or the three-quarters of a billion dollars under contract in the infield? Is it the who’s who of baseball talent on the field or the who’s who of talent watching them from the wives and girlfriends section in the stands? Or is it just the pinstripes as the old saying goes? It seems it’s always something that gives the Yankees an edge — well, mostly money, but we all know that can’t buy happiness (but it sure can help). The Bronx was ablaze early in the season with Alex Rodriguez‘s performance-enhancing revelation and the even more noteworthy signings of Mark Teixeira, CC Sabathia and A.J. Burnett. And forget Derek Jeter‘s run to franchise history in what might be an MVP-caliber season — all that matters now is October.

And when it comes to the hobby, the New York Yankees always have had the biggest-ticket items reflecting the biggest draws in The Big Apple and, really, in MLB history. That comes with the successes of 26 World Series championships and a history that includes … well, you know the names. As for this year’s crew, one could make a case that in the fall the spotlight could shine on any one of the big names mentioned above — or even a veteran like Mariano Rivera, whose career is ultimately winding down, or Hideki Matsui, who put up some strong numbers and has a crew of international collectors following him. Really any player, save for A-Rod’s tainted legacy, should be considered on cardboard this time of year, but one player seems to be eluding the spotlight (well, except in my collection) and that’s the bargain pick-up for the Yankees this past off-season …

NYYswish

The slugger: Nick Swisher. Swisher hit just .249 for the Yankees this year, but he hit 29 homers (just one less than A-Rod) and is credited for helping loosen things up among the most professional of professional (not in a good way) locker rooms. He came up short of career numbers — and was known for his lack of power in the Yankees’ new homer-friendly park — but he was picked up for the equivalent of a box of rocks in the off-season and is on an affordable long-term contract (not that that matters to the Yanks) while hitting from both sides of the plate and playing three positions. (Oh, and he’s also been one of the Yankees’ faces for his charitable work this year as well as his Twitter account — but I digress.) Hobby-wise, Swisher has just two RCs from 2002 — Bowman Draft and Bowman Chrome Draft — which can be had for $5 and $15 respectively.

NYYsabathia

The pitcher: CC Sabathia. Yes, this is an obvious pick, but Sabathia will be the focal point of the Yanks this postseason as the pricey pitcher was the team’s leading bread-winner this season with a 19-8 record, a 3.37 ERA and 197 strikeouts. It’s fitting because his RCs — all six of them — were a focal point of many a collector this off-season, though they all remain affordable because they’re all from readily available 1999 sets. The cheapest is his 1999 Topps Traded at just $2, while his 1999 Bowman Chrome is the priciest a $8. Not bad at all, considering the prices of cheeseburgers in New York City these days.

Boston Red Sox
We all know the story, the rich history, of Beantown’s best and some of us may know it better than others because we know dedicated Red Sox fans who aren’t afraid to tell us all about all things that are life in the Nation. It’s no secret that this team isn’t getting any younger, so it may be the last go ’round for some of the bigger-name veterans — or, if you look at it another way, perhaps it’s time for some of the team’s under-appreciated talent to show what they can do when it really, really counts.

bayRC

The slugger: Jason Bay. There’s really not a more underappreciated hitter in the hobby — perhaps not in MLB, either — than Bay, who led the Sox with 36 HRs and 119 RBI this season. He has 10 RCs from 2002 — most featuring him with the Montreal Expos — which range in value from $4 up to $60 for his Topps Finest autograph. Like past Red Sox squads, it’s definitely a team effort — and it’s a team that’s widely collected — but his Finest RC stands alone in the pack of those not named Ellsbury.

BOSbeckett

The pitcher: Josh Beckett. His success is pretty much old hat these days, isn’t it? He won 17 games this season and struck out 199 in 212 innings, which are numbers really only rivaled on this squad by Jon Lester. Beckett will start his 10th MLB season in 2010 and turns just 30 next spring. He’s already got a pair of World Series rings … perhaps he’ll have another by then?  His success is apparent in the values of his only two RCs — a $10 1999 Fleer Tradition Update card and a 1999 Ultimate Victory card that’s worth $25. Those values are nothing to sneeze at considering they are ultimately standard, no-frills cards.

Los Angeles Angels
The Angels have plenty of talent in the lineup, which meant they could afford to see the worst season of Vladimir Guerrero‘s career and still win their third consecutive AL West crown — by 10 games, no less. That’s thanks to a relatively deep lineup of hitters — Juan Rivera, Torii Hunter, Mike Napoli and more — along with a reliable foursome on the mound — Joe Saunders, Jared Weaver, Matt Palmer and John Lackey — that won an average of 13 games apiece. In the hobby, though? There’s not a whole lot going on here.

LAmorales

The slugger: Kendry Morales. He came out of nowhere this season to lead the team with 34 HRs and 108 RBI after totaling just 12 homers and 45 RBIs the last three seasons combined. It’s no secret that he was a big part of the team’s success, but has that translated into interest for his memorabilia? Perhaps, but this writer isn’t sold long-term. He’s got 11 RCs from 2005, ranging in price from $2 to $80 for his SP Authentic autographed card limited to just 185 copies.

LAAweaver

The pitcher: Jered Weaver. Unlike the committee of hitters, when it comes to the Angels’ pitchers there has been a focal point for collectors — Weaver. He led the team with 16 victories, 174 strikeouts and a 3.75 ERA this season and on cardboard his 2005 Bowman Chrome Draft autograph leads the way at $50. His cheapest of his six RCs is from 2005 Topps Update, at $4.

Minnesota Twins
The Twins’ extra-inning victory in the AL Central playoff game on Tuesday evening (a 6-5 win in 12 over the Detroit Tigers) perhaps personifies the franchise’s workmanlike approach to winning and its near-anonymous cast of players. Sure, the Twins have produced some big-name stars in recent years — and they have some of baseball’s best players among their ranks in cather Joe Mauer, closer Joe Nathan and former league MVP Justin Morneau — but on Tuesday it was guys like mid-season pick-up Orlando Cabrera and Alexi Casilla getting it done. When it comes to cardboard gold, that often really doesn’t translate.

MINmauer

The slugger: Joe Mauer. He’s the face of the franchise and one of the game’s smoothest hitters, a guy who hit .364 this season along with 28 home runs (not bad, not bad at all). That’s not lost on collectors who regularly pay $10 and up for one of his 12 RCs from 2002. His most expensive is from the 2002 Bowman Chrome set, an autographed card that books for $175.

MINnathan1999

The pitcher: Joe Nathan. He’s saved plenty of games in the last six seasons as a Twin — a minimum of 36 and a career-high of 47 this season — and has a 2.75 career ERA to boot. His four RCs get little love, ranging from $1.25 to $5 for his 1999 Bowman Chrome card. Not surprising, really, considering he’s a closer who has had all of his success for a small-market team … yet still interesting considering much of the hype that can go along with closers in the game.

How will the postseason shape up? We’ll start finding out today.

Chris Olds is the editor of Beckett Baseball and Beckett Graded Card Investor. Have a comment, question or idea? Send an e-mail to him at colds@beckett.com.


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jacoby ellsbury is going to be un stoppable

Comment by marco

[…] an interesting way to preview the post season: via baseball cards (which can be kept on a […]

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