Derek Jeter Farewell Tour

Posted on May 7th, 2014 by Matt | Posted in Players

Last year, the Yankees said goodbye to one of the best pitchers of all-time, and a surefire Hall-of-Famer in Mariano Rivera. This year, they do it again. This time around, Derek Jeter is the one who will be receiving golf clubs, rocking chairs, and other retirement related gifts. There is no question about Jeter’s place in history as one of the best shortstops ever, even if he is a shadow of his former self during his final season.

There is a good chance that Derek Jeter will be one of the worst players in the league this year. That isn’t a knock on Jeter – it is just the reality of aging players. With two decades in the league under his belt, Jeter has jeterlost a step or two on defense and doesn’t have the same bat that he used to. Like everyone else, his physical tools have declined with age.

However, that doesn’t do anything to diminish what he has accomplished throughout his legendary career. He has won the World Series five times, and played his entire career with the most famous franchise in all of sports. All the while, Jeter managed to avoid controversy during the steroid era and remain one of the most-liked players all across the country. Even for fans who love to hate the Yankees, it is hard not to respect Jeter and the career that he has had.

For Derek Jeter moving forward, life looks good. He has more money than anyone could ever need, and will have his choice of just about anything that he wishes to do post-baseball. For the Yankees, the outlook is not so rosy. There is no replacement ready when Jeter departs, and the entire team looks old and broken down for the 2014 season. Even with their considerable financial resources, it would appear that the Yankees could be in line for a period of extended decline – in fact, that period may have already begun.

Get Your Collectibles Now

Derek Jeter has been a superstar for a long time, so his cards and other collectibles have long-since been desirable items within the collecting world. That said, they are likely to only increase in value as he walks away from the game. Rookie cards, obviously, are some of the most valuable, along with items that depict him with other Yankee stars (Rivera, Posada, Williams, etc.), or items that relate to any of the five World Series titles.

Even if you are not a Yankee fan, the story of Derek Jeter and his run with the Yankees is one of the major story lines in recent baseball history. No baseball collection is complete without representation of one of the best to ever play shortstop, and one of the greatest Yankees of all.

What will the 2014 season have in store for Jeter? Only time will tell – but it doesn’t seem that a final World Series ring is in the cards. However, with good health, the Yankees could hang on to playoff contention, bringing some final dramatic moments to one of the best players in baseball history.

Justin Smoak – The Most Important Man in Baseball?

Posted on April 30th, 2014 by Matt | Posted in Players

When you think about the most important players in baseball today, Justin Smoak is probably not a name that comes to mind. After all, he owns just a .704 career OPS in almost 500 games – not exactly the start to his career that most expected. Smoak was a highly-touted prospect in the Rangers organization who found his way to Seattle in a trade which included Cliff Lee. A few years later, Seattle is still waiting for the ability that Smoak possesses to match with his production on the field.

So why is he so important in the 2014 season? Smoak has been tabbed as the Mariners clean-up hitter – smoakmeaning he has the duty of hitting behind Robinson Cano. When Seattle invested nearly a quarter of a billion dollars into Cano this past off-season, many wondered who would be used to protect him in the lineup. Smoak has been charged with that job, and how successful he is will have a large say in what kind of season Seattle achieves.

Without a doubt, the tools are in place for Smoak to breakout, and there have actually already been some positive signs. During the 2013 season, he was an above-average performer from the left side of the plate, but poor numbers as a right-handed batter drug down his overall line. Also, he managed to hit a total of 20 homers last season, even with spending a little bit of time on the disabled list. If Smoak is able to come through for Seattle, it won’t be completely out of nowhere.

Rediscovering his stroke from the right side of the plate is what stands between Smoak and a productive career. He is naturally right-handed, yet that is the side which has plagued him over the last year+. The large expanse that is left field at Safeco Field surely has something to do with it, but he’s struggled on the road as well.

There is no doubt that Robinson Cano is going to see more than his fair share of intentional walks during the months to come. When the M’s have runners on 2nd or 3rd late in the game and Cano comes up, most teams will give him four and take their chances with Smoak. Cashing in on those chances is what will define the Mariners season.

In the early going, the signs have been positive for Seattle. In the first six games, Smoak already has two homers and eight RBI. Not only that, but he’s already make an opposing manager pay for the intentional walk strategy. The Angels chose to put Cano on and load the bases early in the second game of the season. Smoak, hitting right handed, stung a double into the gap and scored all three runners. With just a couple more successes like that one, teams will think twice before giving Cano the pass.

Most analysts don’t love Seattle’s chances this year, but they increase dramatically if Smoak comes into his own. The tools are there, and the early signs indicate that he is rather comfortable hitting behind Cano. If there Mariners are going to return to contention for the first time in a decade, it will have a lot to do with the production they get from their big first baseman.

Moving On from Mo

Posted on February 14th, 2014 by Matt | Posted in Baseball Hats and Caps, Players

For the first time in what seems like forever, the Yankees will be heading into the 2014 season without Mariano Rivera as their closer. While they did go through a period of time without Mo in 2012 when he was injured, this time it is permanent. The Yankees will need to find a solution at the end of the game to try and lock down at least most of those saves that Mariano was logging so regularly. It certainly seems unlikely that they will find anyone to be as successful as the sure-fire Hall-of-Famer, but move on they must.

What’s Next?

It is not an enviable position to be the player that has to replace Mariano Rivera, but that task is likely the one that is facing David Robertson. The team hasn’t officially named Robertson the closer robertsonfor the 2014 season, but he seems like the logical choice unless the Yankess are able to make a move in free agency or via trade. The good news for the Bronx Bombers is that Robertson is a very capable right-handed pitcher. He has been a reliable setup man for the Yankees over the past three seasons, racking up impressive strikeout totals while running an ERA of well under 3.00.

The Biggest Hurdle

Certainly it would seem that the biggest challenge for the Yankees and whomever takes on the closer role is the fear of the unknown. While Mariano Rivera didn’t actually save every game successfully, it felt like he did. When the Yankees took the field in the 9th inning with a lead, it seemed like the game was over. At times, it seemed like even the opposing team was resigned to its fate. When the new closer takes to the mound for the first time, and probably for a good while after that, everyone in the stadium will be nervous in a way that they haven’t been in years. The aura of Mariano Rivera taking the mound in the 9th was almost as impressive as his pitching – and that is something that just can’t be replaced.

A Good Start is Crucial

Whether it is David Robertson or someone else who starts the 2014 season as the Yankees new closer, a good start to the season will be paramount for their confidence, and the team’s success. If the new closer is able to go out and nail down the first few saves, it will probably go a long way toward moving on and writing a new chapter. However, if there are a few blown saves in April and the fans start to get restless, the task will likely become all that much more daunting. For an organization that sets its sights on the title each year, every loss is put under the microscope. When those losses come due to a blown save in the last inning, the pressure can quickly multiply.

If it is David Robertson that assumes the mantle of closer, he seems positioned well to be successful. Having experience working closely with Mariano Rivera, and already used to the Yankee Stadium atmosphere, Robertson might be more comfortable than a free agent who is just forced into the spotlight. Whatever the Yankees end up doing with the closer role in 2014, it certainly will be exciting to watch.

Masahiro Tanaka is Coming

Posted on January 31st, 2014 by Matt | Posted in Baseball Cards, Players

After much discussion and debate, Masahiro Tanaka seems to be headed to the American Major Leagues for the 2014 season. Where he will be putting his skills to use, however, is still open for discussion. Just about every team in the league could use the talent that Tanaka possesses, but only a few will be willing to enter the high-stakes bidding that is sure to develop. Any team that wishes to negotiate with Tanaka will have to commit $20 million in a posting fee to Tanaka’s team in Japan, although only the team that ends up signing the star pitcher will actually have to pay the $20 million.

What does Tanaka Bring?

As with any player that makes their way over from Japan, there are plenty of question marks as to how their performance will translate to the American game. With that said, there is no lack of success stories of players to make the transition from NPB to MLB tanakawith great results. Some of the most notable examples include Ichiro Suzuki, Hideki Matsui, and Yu Darvish. On the other side of the coin, Daisuke Matsuzaka and Kei Igawa were both acclaimed starting pitchers who failed to find their footing with the Red Sox and Yankees, respectively.

In the case of Tanaka, most analysts agree that he is on track to be a successful starting pitcher in the major leagues. He has experienced incredible success in Japan, including a 24-0 record last season. Tanaka is just 25 years old, has a powerful fastball, and a 6’2” frame. On paper, he would seem to compare reasonably with Yu Darvish, who has been successful with the Texas Rangers for the past two seasons.

Which Teams are in the Race?

Most teams don’t divulge their free agent interests ahead of time, so there is only speculation as to which teams will be significant players for Tanaka’s services. Six teams that are believed to have strong interest, and the funds to make a deal, are the Rangers, Yankees, Mariners, Diamondbacks, Cubs, and Angels. How much each of those teams is interested, or if there any other other ‘sleeper’ teams waiting in the wings, is yet to be seen. On the surface, the Angels and Rangers seem like long shots simply because of their previous financial commitments. During this off-season, the Rangers have taken on Prince Fielder and Shin-Soo Choo, both with significant contracts. The Angels spent big in the last two off-seasons, with Pujols and Hamilton. While the Mariners just spent a fortune on Robinson Cano, rumor has it that there is more room in the Seattle budget. The Yankees, for their part, can never be counted out of the bidding for any free agent – especially given their lack of depth presently in their starting rotation.

No one can be sure as to what Masahiro Tanaka will bring to MLB when he arrives for the 2014 season. With his impressive resume from his career in Japan, it seems likely that he will have success on American soil as well. If he lives up to the potential that he brings with him, the team that wins this sweepstakes will have gotten a great asset for their pitching staff.

Robinson Cano has Landed – in Seattle?

Posted on January 23rd, 2014 by Matt | Posted in Baseball Cards, Players

Well – nobody saw that coming. While the Mariners were rumored to be interested in the services of star second baseman Robinson Cano (and why not?), the consensus thinking was that any negotiation with the Mariners was simply an effort to drive up his price with the Yankees. Wrong. Cano received a huge offer from the Mariners, and decided to pack up and head out west. He will team up with Felix Hernandez, Hisashi Iwakuma, and others to try and bring back a contending team to the Pacific Northwest.

What the Mariners Can Expect

In Robinson Cano, the Mariners are getting one of the most accomplished and productive players in all of baseball over the last robinsoncanoseveral years. Cano hits for average, hits for power, plays great defense at second, and more. Of course, at $240 million over 10 years, the Mariners are banking on the fact that Cano will continue to be the productive player that he has been for many years to come. Given the struggle that Seattle has faced in scoring runs over the last few seasons, any offensive addition will be a welcome one for both fans and pitchers in the Emerald City.

Are They Contenders?

One of the major questions in the days after Cano signed with the Mariners was whether or not this move alone is enough to make the Mariners a contending team in a division with the Rangers, A’s, and Angels. The answer, at this point, is probably not. However, the Mariners are likely not finished making moves during this off-season, and their opening day roster could very well look different than it does today. On the pitching side of the game, the Mariners seem to be positioned pretty strongly, with stars Hernandez and Iwakuma backed up by young talent like Taijuan Walker and James Paxton. While the offense remains a concern, young hitters such as Dustin Ackley and Justin Smoak might have an easier time fulfilling potential with an established star like Cano hitting in the middle of the lineup and taking some of the pressure off of their shoulders.

What to Expect from Cano?

The safe bet is to expect Cano to keep on doing what Cano has always done – hit and field. He isn’t a player that will impress you with his all-out hustle and effort – he is more akin to another player that is legendary in Seattle, Ken Griffey Jr. Junior was know for the ease with which he played, and Cano is similar in that way. He is very much a natural on the baseball field, and has a knack for making the game look easier than it is.

It remains to be seen if Robinson Cano is able to take the Mariners to the next level and make them a team that the Rangers and A’s have to worry about in the standings. What is already clear, however, is that fans in Seattle have their first star hitter in many years, and there will be more anticipation for the 2014 Mariners’ season than any in recent memory.



Polar Opposites – David Freese for Peter Bourjos

Posted on December 14th, 2013 by Matt | Posted in Baseball Cards, Photos, Players

The St. Louis Cardinals have a well-earned reputation as one of the best-run franchises in all of baseball. One look at their recent resume would suggest that they do, in fact, know what they are doing. A constant presence in the playoffs, the Cardinals seem well-positioned to remain as a force in the National League for many years to come.

The Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim, on the other hand, seem to be trending in the opposite direction. After a very successful first decade of the new century, the Angels have started throwing money at their problems – only to end up with more problems. The last two off seasons have seen the Angels making the biggest splash, first with Albert Pujols, and next with Josh Hamilton. Neither of those moves have paid off to this point, and the Angels appear to be going nowhere fast.

An Obvious Move for St. Loius

Given the fact that the Angels have a glut of outfielders and no third baseman to speak of, the Cardinals made sense as trade partners. The Cardinals have plenty of infielders to go around, but were a little thin in bourjosthe outfield department – especially center. Peter Bourjos is one of the fastest players in baseball and a great defensive outfielder. In addition, he hits better, and for more power, than your average speedy outfielder. When he can stay healthy, Bourjos is an enviable player that forces the opponent into a lot of uncomfortable positions.

But Not for the Angels

While it is easy to see why the Cardinals would be interested in Bourjos, it is not so obvious why the Angels would be willing to deal him for David Freese. Although Freese will live in St. Louis history forever after his amazing 2011 World Series performance, his 2013 campaign left a lot to be desired. He posted career lows in just about every category, and flopped in a big way in October. He is only under contract for two more years, as opposed to three for Bourjos, and will be more expensive to boot. Sure, the Angels needed a third baseman, but way Freese? And freesewhy give up Bourjos?

Seemingly One-Sided

As it stands, this trade seems like an easy win for the Cardinals. They addressed a significant need without having to part with anything of too much value or pay high free agent prices. The only obviously trouble that could be lurking on St. Louis end is the injury trouble that seems to follow Bourjos. If he can stay on the field, he’s an asset – but that’s a big if. For Anaheim, the deal seems less than desirable. Sure, Freese could rebound and be a useful player for the next couple years, but there is a chance that his useful days are behind him. Typically, hitters numbers get worse when moving from the National to American league, and Freese certainly can’t afford to go down much from where he was in 2013. It will all play out in time, but St. Louis fans sure have to feel better about this deal as it looks today.

The Robinson Cano Sweepstakes

Posted on December 7th, 2013 by Matt | Posted in Baseball Cards, Jerseys, Players

It isn’t breaking news that Robinson Cano is one of the best players in all of baseball. He has been excelling for the Yankees for the better part of the last decade, and as a power hitting second baseman, his skills are rare. As the biggest fish in the free agent pond this offseason, Cano is looking to cash in big-time. In a strange move, Cano has ditched super-agent Scott Boras in favor of rapper-turned-businessman Jay-Z. The idea of Jay-Z sitting down with some of the general managers and owners around the league is an entertaining thought all of its own. Cano, and Jay-Z, have floated the idea of landing a contract north of $300 million in total value. Crazy? Maybe, but then again maybe not.

Abundance of Riches

The game of baseball has never been wealthier than it is right now. Revenues are at an all time high, attendance is strong, TV ratings are up, and on and on. In short, it is a good time to be a baseball player. As it relates to Cano, it is a great time to be a free agent with a great track record of reliable and durable performance. Great canosecond basemen are hard to find, and ones of Cano’s level are basically once-in-a-generation players. This is obviously a player that is going to land a giant contract, no matter which uniform he happens to put on.

Sustained Greatness

On the most visible team in the most visible market in the league, somehow Robinson Cano has flown slightly under the radar. The last time Cano missed more than three games in a season? 2006. This isn’t Cal Ripken, but pretty darn close. During that span, Cano has only hit below .300 once, and that was five years ago. He has amassed 200+ homers and has a career OPS of .860. The numbers on the back of his baseball card are so consistent they almost seem like a misprint. There should be no mistake when considering the talents of Cano – he is truly one of the very best players in the game.

Potential Suitors

It seems inevitable that Cano will go back to the Yankees, because it doesn’t seem like they ever let a great player like this get away. However, with the Yankees insistence on getting below the luxury tax number next season, it might not be as sure a thing as it seems from the outside. Also, there is the Jay Z factor to consider. This is his first free agent negotiation, and his first chance to make a big splash. Can he convince a team in another market to take the leap on Cano and sign a contract near that $300 million mark? Not only would that mean a huge payday, but it would also put him in position to land future clients impressed with his work. The Rangers, Mariners, Dodgers, and others have all been tossed out as possible landing spots, but only time will tell where, and for how much, Robinson Cano will sign on the dotted line.


Blockbuster Surprise – Prince Fielder for Ian Kinsler

Posted on December 1st, 2013 by Matt | Posted in Baseballs, Players

In the age of social media, it seems that there are very few surprises left when it comes to the transactions of professional sports teams. Typically, there are days or weeks of speculation and rumors before a big deal comes together – if it ever does. That was not the case when the Detroit Tigers decided to send slugging first baseman Prince Fielder, and his large contract, south to Texas for second baseman Ian Kinsler. In fact, this trade came out of positively nowhere. It was a done deal before the first rumors even broke, and suddenly the landscape of the American League had changed pretty significantly. Who got the best of this swap?

Why the Tigers Moved Fielder

By looking a little deeper, it is pretty easy to understand why the Tigers would be interested in moving a player like Fielder. For one, they had a logjam at the ‘all-bat, no-defense’ positions. In 2013, they were using the combination of Fielder/Cabrera/Martinez to play first base, third base, and DH on a nightly basis. While princeall are excellent hitters, they are equally bad defensive players. Specifically, playing Cabrera at third was a minor-disaster that certainly hurt Detroit pitching throughout the season. With this trade, Martinez can remain as the regular DH and Cabrera can slide over to first base. When prospect Nick Castellanos is ready for the big leagues, third base will be wide open for his arrival.

All of that doesn’t mention the financial implications. Detroit had well over $100 million still committed to Fielder over the next several years. They are already on the hook for a huge Verlander contract, and faced the possibility of seeing Max Scherzer walk or have to trade him. Now, they may have the dollars to resign Scherzer and keep that deadly pitching staff intact.

Why the Rangers Moved Kinsler

Just like in Detroit, Texas was working on a logjam of their own. With Elvis Andrus and Ian Kinsler in the middle infield, prospect Jurickson Profar was without a position. After the trade, Fielder adds to the power of the Rangers by filling first base, and Profar can take over second base full time. The downside for the Rangers, of course, is they have to take on a long and expensive contract kinslerfor a slugger who may be on the downward side of his career (although Detroit ate some of the salary). This trade makes sense on some level for both teams, but the Tigers seem to have gotten the ‘safer’ end of the trade.

For Collectors

For baseball card collectors, this adds a new team to the careers of both Fielder and Kinsler and new merchandise to go along with it. Fielder in a Tigers uniform may become more valuable down the line considering he only spent two seasons in the Motor City. Ian Kinsler was probably never a prime target for collectors to begin with, and this trade likely doesn’t change that fact. Rookie cards still hold the most sway in the collecting world, so Fielder with the Brewers and Kinsler in his early Texas days are probably going to remain the most valuable pieces for these two players.

2014 Free Agent Outfielders – Jacoby Ellsbury or Shin Soo Choo?

Posted on November 22nd, 2013 by Matt | Posted in Baseball Cards, Players

Once the World Series ends, it seems as if it takes no time at all for the hot stove league to fire back up for the winter. Where will the big free agents land? Will there be any blockbuster trades? These questions are fun for baseball fans to wrestle with all winter long, and the answers slowly trickle in until the rosters are set and the teams head to Spring Training. This year, much of the conversation will focus on two free agent outfielders – Jacoby Ellsbury from the Red Sox and Shin-Soo Choo from the Reds. Both of these players hit at the top of the lineup and offer power, speed, defense, and on-base skills. They are truly two of the best outfielders in the game, and both are available on the open market. But the question remains – which one would you rather see land on your team?

The Case for Ellsbury

Coming off a World Series title which he had a lot to do with, Jacoby Ellsbury is a hot commodity. In the 2013 season, Ellsbury hit an impressive .298 with an OPS of .781. To go along with that, he stole a league-leading 52 bases and played excellent defense in center field for the Red Sox. Back in 2011, Ellsbury posted aellsbury season for the ages hitting well over .300 and slugging 32 homeruns. If he ever returns to that form, he will once again be a legitimate MVP candidate.

The downside with Ellsbury is, of course, the injuries. He missed almost all of the 2010 season, and missed half of the 2012 season. Is he injury prone, or just unlucky? That is the question that teams will have to answer when they weigh their offers to the left handed outfielder from Oregon.

The Case for Choo

Shin-Soo Choo might not have the name recognition of Ellsbury, but he is quite a player in his own right. In his only National League season with the Reds, Choo had an OPS of .885 and hit 21 homeruns. He added 20 stolen bases to those numbers, and was one of the toughest outs in the league. Also, he walked an incredible 112 times on the season, a number that wasn’t far behind his strikeout total for the year.

When looking for a drawback to signing Choo to a long term contract, it is probably his struggles against left handed choopitching. If you are going to dedicate a large portion of the payroll to one player, you would like for him to be a steady force day in and day out. However, Choo has trouble against left-handed pitchers and won’t be the same force on days that see a lefty starter on the mound.

Who would your winner be?

When the times comes to write the check, whose name would you put on the pay line? Ellsbury seems to have slightly more upside than Choo, but comes with a higher risk of injury. Choo looks to be the steadier bet, but you would have to deal with his struggles against lefties. In the end, both are great players and are sure to benefit whichever teams land their services.


Pujols and Hamilton – Fading Glory?

Posted on October 15th, 2013 by Matt | Posted in Baseball Team Apparel, Players

Albert Pujols and Josh Hamilton were the two hottest free agents of the 2012 and 2013 free agent classes, respectively. To the surprise of most observers, both of the slugging superstars landed in southern California with mega-deals with the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim. Each year, after the team inked the star player, media members and analysts proclaimed the Angels the favorites in the American League West division. Of course, both years, the Angels fell flat and were nowhere near playoff contention come September. Much of the failure of the team could be attributed to the lackluster performance of both signings – Pujols struggled in his first year and was injured in the second, while Hamilton has had a career worst season in 2013 despite improvement over the last six weeks of the Pujols-Hamilton-Baseball-Cardyear.

Costly Mistakes Thus Far

With countless millions tied up in these two players for many seasons to come, the Angels fortunes seem to be tied to the turnaround of Pujols and Hamilton. While they have a young superstar in Mike Trout, the LA Angels have made such an investment in the two former stars that there seems to be no way for the team to succeed without production from two of the highest paid players in baseball. As the years go by, it seems more and more unlikely that either of these two will ever be the players they once were.

For those considering the value of their collections of Pujols or Hamilton memorabilia, their current struggles can’t be seen as good news. While Albert’s place in the Hall of Fame seems secure, he is doing serious damage to his place in history with a combination of poor production and injuries. Likewise, Hamilton is fading fast and not nearly the commodity he once was. While pieces that represent Pujols in a Cardinals uniform or Hamilton as a Ranger should be safe, both players in Angels garb are not yet as desirable. Of course, if 2014 sees a return to form for one or both of them, that story could quickly change.

Is There Hope in L.A.?

What will it take for them to turn it around? For Pujols, recovering from a painful foot condition is the first step. After that, he needs to be allowed to DH in order to keep his body fresh. If Pujols is able to come into spring training healthy and slot in as the Angels everyday DH, he very well could return to his formidable self. When it comes to Hamilton, he will need a strong start to 2014 to get the fans on his side. When Hamilton got off to a poor start in 2013, after signing a huge contract, he was booed by fans and had trouble turning it around. Getting out quickly next April, which will probably mean laying off some bad pitches, could get the fans in his corner and get the ball rolling for a great year.

For all of the attention that free agent signings get each off season, they often don’t play that large of a role when the season rolls around. Josh Hamilton and Albert Pujols were both major moves by the Angels – and neither has paid off. Will they turn it around and live up to their lofty contracts? Only time will tell.