Yes, they still make baseball cards

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An interesting story flew under the radar this week, as the once-mighty
Topps came to a multi-year agreement with Major League Baseball that
makes them the sport’s exclusive trading card maker. The move
effectively squashes Upper Deck, Topps’ main competitor. According to the
card company’s new top-dog Michael Eisner — yes, that Disney guy —
it’s all part of a strategy to turn the focus of the industry back
towards children:




“This is redirecting the entire category toward kids. Topps has been making cards for 60
years, the last 30 in a nonexclusive world that has caused confusion to
the kid who walks into a Wal-Mart or a hobby store. It’s also been difficult to promote cards as unique and original.”




No
question about it, baseball cards were a heckuva lot more fun before a
bunch of middle-aged creeps hijacked it. It’s kind of sad, really. The whole industry has been
reduced to a mere snapshot in time. I’m not gonna lie, I have purchased
a couple packs of Topps recently after a long hiatus. I grabbed one
last week upon seeing Pablo Sandoval — one of my new favorite players
— peaking his head out of the packaging. Yes, they still have the gum
inside. And yes, it’s still awful, but at least it’s now individually
wrapped as opposed to leaving a distinct stain on the back of the card
it is wedged up against.




And as for the question of competition, it’s hard to get all worked
up about a product that nobody even buys anymore. If it’s okay for
Nascar to have an official cheese-filled snack (Combos — don’t ask me why I know this) then it’s okay
for baseball to have an official trading card company. I’m rooting for
this comeback story.

Evan Longoria: “I just kind of feel sorry for the Rays fan base.”

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The Rays were busy over the weekend, trading starter Jake Odorizzi to the Twins, designating All-Star outfielder Corey Dickerson for assignment, and then picking up C.J. Cron in a deal with the Angels. The Rays saved about $4 million — Odorizzi’s $6.3 million less Cron’s $2.3 million salary — and picked up a prospect. They’re still on the hook for Dickerson’s $5.95 million salary until they can find a trade partner, which seems likely.

Those are some head-scratching moves if you’re a Rays fan or a member of the Rays. Dickerson hit .282/.325/.490 with 27 home runs, 62 RBI, and 84 runs scored in 629 plate appearances last season, part of which resulted in his first trip to the All-Star Game. Designating him for assignment is strictly a financial move, assuming he can be traded. The Rays are currently operating with a payroll below $70 million. This comes just a week and a half after Rays ownership proposed the public footing most of the bill for the club’s new stadium. And the Rays had traded third baseman Evan Longoria — then the face of the franchise — to the Giants earlier this offseason.

Longoria expressed sympathy for Rays fans for having to put up with this. Via Andrew Baggarly, Longoria said of the curious Dickerson move, “I just kind of feel sorry for the Rays fan base. … I’m not going to take too many shots but it’s pretty obvious that guy is a valuable player and didn’t deserve to be DFAd. Corey was our best player last year.”

Longoria isn’t quite on the money there. By WAR, Dickerson ranked fifth among position players on the team, according to Baseball Reference. FanGraphs is also in agreement. Still, it’s indisputable that Dickerson, who turns 29 years old this May, more than pulled his weight. The Rays do not have a surfeit of starting outfielders, so it wasn’t like they were making room for other capable players. Mallex Smith, who put up a .684 OPS in 282 PA last year, is slated to start in left field at the moment. Designating Dickerson for assignment, as well as trading Longoria and Odorizzi, were simply cost-cutting decisions.

The Rays’ M.O. has been part of the problem leading to the current stagnant free agent market (sans Eric Hosmer‘s eight-year deal on Saturday). Teams like the Rays, Phillies, Reds, and Tigers have been explicitly putting out non-competitive teams in order to facilitate a rebuilding process. Longoria is right to express sympathy for Rays fans, who see their favorite team worsening a roster that went 80-82 last year. The Rays haven’t finished at .500 or above since 2013 and doesn’t figure to halt the streak this year.