I used to be a major baseball card collector. I still have tens of thousands of them in the basement, but almost none of them are newer than, oh, 1990 or so. Just kind of lost the thread. Girls and stuff got more interesting for me in the late 80s. And then the companies all decided to come out with 27 different sets and special editions and things. It was just too much pressure for a guy who prided himself on being something of a completist.
It’s a totally different baseball card world now than it was 20-25 years ago, but I have a lot of friends who have continued to collect. One of them is Cee Angi, the newest contributor to The Platoon Advantage. But she, like several others I know, are poised to give it up. The reason? The Topps monopoly is leading to crappy cards:
Ever since Topps monopoly began as the “Official Card of Major League Baseball” they have really jumped the shark on card quality, creativity, but especially photo-selection and editing. One would assume that the improvement of technology would lead to a better baseball card, but they seem to be on the decline at a rapid pace.
Cee hates the 2012 set. A lot of cards have pictures taken with obstructions and — inexcusably for a company that has the official imprimatur of Major League Baseball — feature pictures taken through the screen behind home plate, with visible net.
The last time Topps let quality slide like this was in the late 70s and early 80s. It led to Fleer and Donruss getting in the game and cards becoming awesome for a good while. Let’s hope that happens again. Because the beauty of baseball cards, even in a digital age, is to bring us closer to the players and give us something that sitting in the stands and watching on TV just can’t do.
And the 2012 Topps set just doesn’t seem to be too interested in that.
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.