Sunday, November 29, 2015

Severino Sunday: Thanksgiving Show Haul

Hey everyone, Drew back here! I hope you all had a wonderful Thanksgiving holiday and got yourself some steals on Black Friday. I had the honor and privilege of dealing with crazy customers all throughout Thanksgiving night and all of Black Friday, so I guess you can say I've had better years. However, I was able to make it out to the JP's Sports Thanksgiving Show yesterday, and I spent some money on myself to make things a little more even.

This show was held in the basement of the Westchester County Center thanks in part to a coin show that occurred on the main floor. There were 175 tables as opposed to the typical 300, but being in the basement made autograph lines tight and there was a general lack of space. Luckily, they only do the show this way every Thanksgiving, so we can all be thankful for the rest of the shows they hold that allow for breathing room.

The weirdest part of this show for me was that it was the first one I've been to without my Dad. Dad is in the midst of deer season, and the lineup for this show really wasn't anything worth missing one of his vacation days for, so he sat this one out. I can't really blame him, but it did feel much different without him by my side.

I did my best to allocate my budget towards exactly what I wanted, and I'm really proud of the haul I returned home with. Since today is Severino Sunday, I figured I'd begin with sharing my latest additions of the Yankees young flamethrower.

- 2015 Bowman Inception Autograph Relic

A few weeks ago, I bought the patch autograph version of this card, and now I own the base auto as well. Bowman Inception is chock full of Severino autographs, and I was able to knock a solid dent into that piece of my wantlist yesterday.

- 2015 Bowman Inception Autograph Relic Green Parallel 80/99

See what I mean?

- 2015 Bowman Inception Autograph Relic Orange Parallel 24/25

I bought all three of these cards from the same seller, and got a fantastic package deal on the trio. They had the orange parallel marked as $60 initially, and I got all three of these for $70. The oranges are difficult to come by, and this one caught my eye from across the room. I made sure it came home with me, and with that, the only relic autographs I'm missing from Inception are the gold and red parallels. Not too bad, if you ask me.

- 2014 Bowman Draft Picks & Prospects Orange Refractor 16/25

Orange doesn't make for the most aesthetically pleasing Yankees cards, but it is awfully hard not to like this card. While talking to one of my favorite vendors, I spotted that he had this card, and I was able to land it for a reasonable price. I'm chipping away at this particular rainbow, but still have plenty of work to do. 

I'm beginning to think that on top of only collecting his Topps & Bowman cards, I may also limit the collection to his pre-rookie and rookie years. Obviously, this can be decided down the road, but I think by narrowing the range of cards to collect I'll be able to afford a more impressive collection of his earliest licensed cards.

I was able to make significant progress yesterday adding my 33-36th unique Luis Severino cards. Three autographs put me at 7 total as well. I had to fight the urge to buy a gorgeous framed signed 11x14 of his, but I think I made the right call by staying on track and attacking my want lists.

I'll hopefully be back tomorrow to share the experience I had with another one of the Yankees young stars. 

See Ya!

Wednesday, November 25, 2015

Joe Panik Mailday: Topps Supreme

Hey everyone, Drew back here! My eBay streak has began to subside, as a majority of my budget is beginning to go towards Christmas shopping along with a card show this Saturday. However, I did manage to grab two more Joe Panik autographs from a set I've been anxious to see in person. 2015 Topps Supreme does something I've never seen the company do this well before: layering.

You can probably tell from the scan that the blue border surrounding Panik is indented into the card below the main frame. This element creates an elegance about the cards, and really looks fantastic. The border colors coincide with the parallel and serial numbering as Topps typically does, and I have to believe when the player's uniform colors line up with the parallel color it must make for a gorgeous card (case in point).

I was able to find both of his "base" autos from the set for under $20 combined. They became my 7th and 8th Panik autographs, but certainly will not be the last ones. Topps has pumped out autographs of his all year, and I look forward to snatching up more of them as time goes by.

What are your thoughts on 2015 Supreme? See Ya!

Sunday, November 22, 2015

A Letter to the Hall of Fame

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I started watching baseball in September of 2004. Not long after my eyes were initially glued to the record books, I watched the superstars just before my time testify against the Federal Grand Jury in regards to their acknowledged steroid use. Mark McGwire, Sammy Sosa, and Rafael Palmeiro famously denied their usage of performance enhancing drugs, and I didn’t know how to react.

Several years later, my Dad took me to the Baseball Hall of Fame for the first time. It was here where I first felt the connection between the generations of history and the countless numbers. I walked through the gallery of golden plaques, astonished by the glorified treatment these men were given just for playing a game. We took our trip through time from Babe Ruth to Cal Ripken Jr., and I left Cooperstown with a fresh mindset about the game I cherished above all others.

Over time, the aura of the Hall of Fame has seemed to have lost its touch. I came to the realization that not every inductee was a hero. Ty Cobb, perhaps the most electrifying player of the early 20th century; has been noted as a racist bigot rumored to have committed many violent crimes. He, along with fellow Hall of Famers Tris Speaker and Cap Anson, have been speculated members of the Ku Klux Klan. The class of 1991’s Gaylord Perry made a name for himself by doctoring balls with vaseline in order to gain extra movement on his pitches. Even Whitey Ford, widely regarded as the greatest Yankees starting pitcher, carved the diamond from his wedding ring into baseballs to enhance his grip. 

Steroids did not become a theme in baseball until the late 1980’s, but athletes have searched for an edge for as long as the game has been recorded. Professional baseball hardly existed in 1889 when former pitcher Pud Galvin allegedly was injected with testosterone from living dog and sheep testicles, according to NPR. Amphetamines known as “greenies” were rampantly used among players for decades to give them the energy necessary to perform each day. Everyone from Mike Schmidt to Willie Stargell to the “Say Hey Kid”, Willie Mays have been accused of using them. Schmidt later admitted in his autobiography “Clearing the Bases” that these substances were “widely available in major league clubhouses,” and could easily be obtained with a prescription. Were these players “cheating”, too?

Now, it is important to note that steroids were not banned from the game until 1991, and weren’t even tested for until 2003. McGwire and Sosa became household names in 1998 when they battled for Roger Maris’ single season home run record. Hardly anyone hesitated when a reporter noticed an open bottle of androstenedione in McGwire’s locker (“Andro” was then legal in all professional sports except for the International Olympic Committee). The sport in its entirety turned a blind eye to the player’s exponentially growing bodies because it made the league exciting and generated more revenue than ever before. 

Barry Bonds was well on his way to becoming one of baseball’s all time greats until he grew jealous of the limelight McGwire and Sosa shared. He supposedly began using steroids in response to their record breaking seasons, and wound up hitting the most home runs of all time. 

Flash forward to today, where there are at least seven players on the upcoming 2016 Hall of Fame ballot who have previously been associated with performance enhancing drugs (PED’s). McGwire will be eligible for induction for the 10th time, having never received over 23 of the 75 percent necessary. Sosa, Bonds, and Roger Clemens have also been denied the past three years. 

Former All Stars Mike Piazza and Jeff Bagwell, who are entering their fourth and sixth years on the ballot, respectively; have even been shut out solely based on suspicion of drug use. Bagwell was known for his intense weight lifting regimen during his career, and Piazza knowingly took a drug to improve a back acne issue (talk about humiliating). This information has been enough to keep them out of the Hall thus far, which is not fair on any level. Meanwhile, David Ortiz announced his impending retirement following the 2016 season on Wednesday. “Big Papi” would be a lock for Cooperstown if not for a shady report released by the New York Times in 2009 that claimed he was one of over 100 players who tested positive for PED’s. Without physical verified proof that they cheated, they should not be punished in any way. Isn’t one of our country’s most powerful principles “innocent until proven guilty”?

The Hall of Fame has maintained a firm stance on its issue of integrity, which creates a roadblock for suspicious cases. The Baseball Writers’ Association of America (BBWAA) states on the Hall’s website that a player shall be voted based upon his “record, playing ability, integrity, sportsmanship, character, and contributions to the team(s) on which the player played”. However, it is contradictory of Major League Baseball to shun these athletes from its history considering their ignorance of the doping issue. All of the players who used PED’s, whether they did it to break records or simply make the team, helped baseball recover from the disastrous 1994 strike and rebuild its fanbase. We are all somewhat accountable for allowing the Steroid Era to occur, yet we continue to play the blame game and cannot take responsibility.

Baseball’s all time hits leader, Pete Rose, has been banished from the sport for over 25 years for betting on the outcomes of games while managing the Cincinnati Reds. Rose has maintained a positive relationship with fans over this time, and many feel that he has paid his dues despite breaking baseball’s cardinal sin. Commissioner Rob Manfred met with him this past summer to discuss the possibility of reinstatement and plans to decide his fate at some point this offseason. Forgiving him of his faults and acknowledging his tremendous on-field abilities would prove to fans that the sport is capable of moving forward.

Advancing beyond Rose’s crimes would not only benefit the state of baseball today, but would start a forgiveness movement critical to the future of the Hall of Fame. If the accusations against current members are true and there are already cheaters inducted, it would not be fair to outlaw the superstars from the past generation. I don’t condone cheating, but I do think justice needs to be served. Baseball made a mistake, and thus, cannot pretend that one of its most profitable eras never existed.

It’s a similar situation to people who, in order to recover from a difficult breakup, choose to delete every picture and disregard the entire period of their life. It helps quicken the healing process initially, but in most cases they cannot hold onto the burden forever. Bonds, Alex Rodriguez, and Roger Clemens are human after all. Humans are prone to mistakes, especially when fame takes over. They felt pressured to keep pace with the rest of their opponents, which sparked a rippling effect that was not contained until drug testing policies were tightened.

If and when I decide to have my own kids one day, I will take them to the Hall of Fame. Just like any of their favorite superhero movies, there are going to be heroes and villains. I will be proud to point out Ken Griffey Jr., Derek Jeter, and Chipper Jones and tell them about how they chose to play the game the way it was meant to be played. Yet, I will also wish to show them the hits and home run leaders, and explain what they did wrong in order to teach them an important lesson. 

You may say that keeping them out would teach that lesson automatically. You may be right. Would inducting Bonds, Clemens, Sosa, McGwire, Palmeiro, Rodriguez, and Rose hurt baseball’s sanctity at first? Most likely, yes. People will continue to debate the purity of the game; which records should count; and how to penalize their actions for the rest of its existence, but the sport itself should not be allowed to pick a side. Not after they let this mess unfurl right before their own eyes. Let’s remember: the Hall of Fame is a museum, not a cathedral. The BBWAA, as well as the Hall itself, should not have the final say of what is right or wrong.

Thursday, November 19, 2015

Didi Gregorius Mailday!

Hey guys, Drew back here! To keep things fresh from my recent Luis Severino splurge, I decided to add a few autographs of the Yankees shortstop of the future, Didi Gregorius. 

I wasn't exactly blown away when they initally dealt for the struggling young middle infielder, but I was willing to give him the chance to shine under the bright lights. It took a while for him to get going, after all, he was filling Derek Jeter's shoes. Once he got it all together, he emerged as a Gold Glove front runner with the capability of collecting some clutch hits towards the bottom of the lineup.

Many feel that Didi deserved the AL Gold Glove over the Royals' Alcides Escobar, but just the fact that he was considered makes Cashman look brilliant for the deal. Shane Greene was the only player the Yankees served up for his services, who, after a terrific start; finished with an ERA almost eclipsing 7.00 for the Tigers. 

Now that the Yankees seem to feel comfortable with him in the fold for years to come, I felt like I needed to give him a little more hobby love. His autographs are affordable for now, and the only one I had prior to these was a TTM I got when he was with the Diamondbacks.

The first card I bought was out of 2015 Topps Triple Threads, and is the green parallel autographed relic numbered to 50. The choice to use red ink is a little strange, and makes the card almost feel Christmas themed. However, with a gorgeous thick blue pinstripe across the relic and the low serial numbering, this was a card worth investing in. I remember when Robinson Cano was starting to come into his own and I bought a similar Triple Threads style card of his for about $20. Before Robby left for Seattle, that card was worth much more.

The other pickup of Didi's I made was out of 2015 Topps Five Star. I absolutely love the fresh look Five Star has delivered to collectors the past few years. It is becoming one of my most anticipated releases Topps makes. I got a steal on this on card beauty, only paying $7 shipped on eBay!

I'm excited to see what Gregorius will bring to the table in 2016. If it's anything like his second half performance this past year, I feel like we will all be extremely satisfied.

See Ya!

Thursday, November 12, 2015

Five Ways the Yankees Can Claim Back New York

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This year, the New York Mets temporarily captivated “The Big Apple” throughout their Pennant winning run. Meanwhile, the Yankees suffered an early playoff exit to an up and coming Houston Astros squad that has the foundation to compete for the foreseeable future. Here is a checklist of five priorities General Manager Brian Cashman should consider to bring the “Bronx Bombers” back into the Fall Classic.

1. Avoid the Surplus of Elite Aces

This winter, pitching is the subject of conversation among baseball writers and fans alike. Several of baseball’s best pitchers, including 2015 Cy Young Award candidates David Price and Zack Greinke, enter free agency with the hopes of earning a contract comparable to the Washington Nationals’ Max Scherzer. Scherzer was awarded a seven year, $210 million dollar deal to be at the forefront of what (on paper) looked to be the best rotation in the game. 

While Price, Greinke, and the World Series Champion Kansas City Royals’ Johnny Cueto may appear tempting for any club to take the next step, age needs to be of concern. All three pitchers are already over 30 years old and have thrown over 1400 innings. This should be a red flag especially to a Yankees team enduring the final, ugly years of its C.C. Sabathia contract. Sabathia helped New York win in his first year, but Scherzer was meant to do the same in Washington and the Nationals didn’t even make the playoffs. One pitcher can help a team contend, but it is no guarantee. With the amount of time and money dedicated taken into consideration, Cashman should steer clear.

This, however, does not mean they should go without at least considering some of the more affordable assets they could potentially obtain. Their current rotation for 2016 already features at least seven different arms within their organization, but it’s often said that “you can never have enough pitching.” They have been linked to free agent right hander Jeff Samardzija, who, after the worst year of his career; could be had for cheap. Mike Leake could be a possible match as well, and could serve in the lower half of the rotation. An extra pitcher could wind up being a smart investment considering the injury potential of Michael Pineda, Masahiro Tanaka, and Ivan Nova, and the off field issues surrounding Sabathia.

2. Sign Ben Zobrist

The Yankees have burdened themselves with an overwhelming number of unwanted long term contracts ever since George Steinbrenner revolutionized the free agent market in the 1970’s. They have never seemed to learn their lesson and only reward players who are capable of performing well throughout a majority of the deal, beyond just the first few years. Prior to 2014, they spent about a half billion dollars allocated between Tanaka, catcher Brian McCann, and outfielders Jacoby Ellsbury and Carlos Beltran. All four players have been productive in their time, but it can be argued that none of them were really worth their contract.

The only player of that quartet whose salary was a fair estimate of his projected value was Beltran, who was only signed for a three year contract. The goal of his deal was to provide a switch hitting savvy veteran who could bridge the gap for prospect outfielder Aaron Judge. With Beltran coming off the books following the 2016 season, it may be smart to reach out to Ben Zobrist for a similar offer.

Zobrist will turn 35 next year, and his offensive production has declined. However, he is relatively durable and quite possibly the best utility player of this generation. He can play every position but pitcher and catcher, with his strengths coming at second base and in the outfield. Acquiring him will give the Yankees flexibility, which is desperately needed with as many aging, injury prone position players as they have. For much of 2015, they had the third worst offensive production at second base (according to River Ave. Blues). Stephen Drew was released this past week, and they are left with Dustin Ackley and unproven prospect Rob Refsnyder to fill the void. Having the option of starting Zobrist over either of those two, or in order to give others needed days off, would be welcoming.

3. Relieve the Bullpen

One of the biggest positives the Yankees benefitted from in 2015 was the strength of their bullpen. Closer Andrew Miller joined the fold after receiving a 4 year, $36 million dollar deal, and he went on to win the AL Reliever of the Year. Dellin Betances continued his recent stretch of dominance, finishing the year with a 6-4 record, a 1.50 ERA, and 131 strikeouts. He has thrown more innings than any other reliever over the past two years, and the end of last year showed that he was human after all. Fatigue may have been a factor in Betances’ late season regression, and it was certainly warranted. 

Manager Joe Girardi has always placed an emphasis on his bullpens. He is typically pleased with his starters exiting the game in the 5th or 6th inning, which has often been a topic of debate among Yankees fans. His expectations make it so the bullpen is counted on to hold the game for at least three innings on most nights, and often this means some combination of Betances and/or Miller are needed to keep the score in tact.

It would be smart for Cashman to look to add one or two more established right handed bullpen options, either by trade or through free agency. Ryan Madson and Darren O’Day are free agents and it appears as though a majority of the game's top closers are on the trade market. More relievers will allow for Betances, Miller, breakout left hander Justin Wilson, and Adam Warren to breathe between appearances and potentially make them even more effective.

4. Flip an Outfielder to Sign Jason Heyward

It may not appear so concerning at the moment, but the Yankees are set up for some serious decline at the top of their lineup. Brett Gardner and Ellsbury showed their capabilities and chemistry batting leadoff and second in the order in April and May, but injuries hampered their hot starts. 

Ellsbury was placed on the disabled list in May after spraining his knee, and batted .220 following the All Star break. Newly hired hitting coach Alan Cockrell revealed that Gardner also played through a wrist injury during most of the second half, ultimately causing him to bat just .206 in that same timeframe. Their lingering pain affected the lineup’s explosiveness, and Girardi wound up having to bench Ellsbury for Chris Young in the Wild Card Game.

Gardner is currently signed through 2018 with a team option for 2019, and is owed $37.5 million guaranteed. Meanwhile, Ellsbury is owed $105.7 million through 2020 with a team option in 2021. Both players offer similar value, despite the enormous difference in their average annual value. Gardner was drafted by the Yankees in 2005 and has played his entire career in New York, whereas Ellsbury came up through the Red Sox system and played his best years there. 

Because Gardner’s contract is considerably more affordable than Ellsbury’s, he is widely regarded as their best trade chip. Yankee fans may prefer to see Ellsbury moved than the fan favorite, but Brian Cashman may not have a choice. Moving one of the contracts would help not only add additional value elsewhere on the team (perhaps in the bullpen, such as elite closer Craig Kimbrel of the Padres), but would open up another spot in the outfield.

Much has been made about the 2016 Free Agent pool containing the most value until 2019, when Bryce Harper is projected to become a free agent. The Yankees have been linked to Harper since he was a prospect, but there are no guarantees that he will wind up in New York. Rather than waiting, it may be wise to use some of the approximate $62 million that will come off the books soon from Beltran, Sabathia, and Mark Teixeira’s expiring contracts towards a long term outfield mainstay. That player is Jason Heyward.

Heyward was a mega prospect when he arrived in Atlanta in 2010. In his first game for the Braves, after Hank Aaron tossed out the ceremonial first pitch and passed the baton, Heyward hit a home run in his first career at bat. He drew comparisons to Willie Mays, and was even nicknamed “The J-Hey Kid” in his honor. He placed second in NL Rookie of the Year voting that year and made the All Star team after batting .277 with 18 home runs.

Since then, he hasn’t quite tapped into the power potential he once offered. He only hit over 20 long balls once, in 2012. He does offer value in other facets of the game, collecting a career Wins Above Replacement (WAR) value of 31.1. He has been touted as the best defensive right fielder in the game, and was given the 2014 Wilson MLB Defensive Player of the Year award in recognition. 

After being dealt to the St. Louis Cardinals last offseason for pitcher Shelby Miller, Heyward enjoyed his best year to date, batting .293 and helping the Cardinals to the best regular season record in baseball. He batted .357 in 14 at bats against the Chicago Cubs in the NLDS as well.

Oh yeah: and he’s still only 26 years old.

Signing Heyward will not be easy, as he makes for the most interesting free agent storyline of the offseason due to his relative youth compared to other outfielders Yoenis Cespedes and Justin Upton. Technically, a player doesn’t typically begin their “prime” seasons until around the age of 27, so there is a chance he could still increase his home run output. Even if he doesn’t, he is a fantastic athlete with no history of off field issues and would be a key component  of the lineup for years to come.

St. Louis grew attached to Heyward in their lone year together, and is likely to offer him a significant contract to stick around. But if Cashman were wise, and is able to move either Gardner or Ellsbury; he is worth a second look. Harper may be available eventually, but if the Yankees plan on winning now, Heyward would increase their chances.

5. Keep Core Prospects Together

In spite of all the free agent speculation I have discussed thus far, I do love what the management has done in recent years to improve their farm system and youth as a collective. Didi Gregorius stepped into Derek Jeter’s shoes and evolved into one of the better shortstops in the American League by the end of 2015. Nathan Eovaldi performed well in the rotation, using his high velocity to collect 14 wins. And Yankee fans were entertained with the debuts of top prospects Luis Severino and Greg Bird; who were all able to contribute significantly when called upon.

When the Yankees won four World Series titles in five years during the late 1990’s dynasty, their roster was composed of a mix of excellent young players such as Derek Jeter, Bernie Williams, and Mariano Rivera, and veteran leaders like Paul O’Neill and David Cone. Youthful teams today such as the Cubs and Mets were able to use a similar formula to make deep postseason runs. 

This Yankees team can do the same with the few maneuvers suggested above and a continuation of the good things they managed to do in 2015. But the core needs to stay together, which means Brian Cashman needs to find ways to improve the team without trading Severino, Bird, Gregorius, or Judge. The team needs to establish chemistry in order to win (see: Royals), and years of experience playing together will do just that. 

There may be bumps and bruises along the way, but this strategy gives them the best chance of hoisting the World Series trophy by the end of next October. That, everyone; is Yankees baseball at its finest.