It’s Not Funny When Topps Screws Up Your First Baseball Card

December 18, 2014

Here’s something I learned in 2014: it’s not funny when Topps totally messes up your first baseball card.

I was sitting in the dugout with Rainiers catcher John Hicks. He had been with the team for about two weeks, and we had just finished recording our first pregame radio interview.

Rainiers batting practice was over and the visiting team was hitting, the gates weren’t open yet and the music wasn’t turned up to eleven, and we sat there chatting while watching the field.

I mentioned to him that one of the autograph collecting fans had shown me Hicks’ first baseball card – which pictured him with the Arizona Diamondbacks, a team he has never played for. Hicks was drafted by the Mariners in the fourth round of the 2011, right out of the University of Virginia. He has never played for any other organization.

2011 Bowman Draft Picks & Prospects Prospects #BDPP1 - John Hicks - Courtesy of COMC.com

Hicks said he was excited to have a card – they usually only make them of first and second-round picks, so to get one as a fourth rounder was pretty cool.

But how did they get that picture? Is it even him?

He said it’s a picture from the University of Virginia, and that Topps photoshopped a Diamondbacks uniform onto it. He has no idea why they thought he was drafted by Arizona.

Especially since the back of the card clearly says that he was drafted by the Mariners. It’s right there in the upper-right corner.

2011 Bowman Draft Picks & Prospects Chrome Draft Picks #BDPP1 - John Hicks - Courtesy of COMC.com
At this point I laughed out loud, turned to look at him, and said something like “you’ve got to be kidding.” And that’s when I realized that this was no laughing matter.

Shaking his head with a frown on his face and a sad look in his eyes, Hicks said “that’s not all. Half of the cards say I’m a pitcher.”

Hicks’ disappointment shouldn’t have been a surprise to me. In a series of articles written by an agent for Baseball Prospectus, the author mentions several times how happy his players are when they get their first baseball card.

The Mariners think that Hicks is going to play in the major leagues. When he gets there, hopefully Topps will make a card showing him with the right team. At least they won’t have to photoshop it.

Links:

  • I was reminded to write this post by the recent passing of former Topps executive Sy Berger. If you ever collected cards, read Tyler Kepner’s salute to Berger in the New York Times.
  • John Hicks isn’t the only one. Topps had a big disaster with Alex Gordon‘s rookie card in 2006, and this is the story.
  • The Mariners officially announced the previously reported signings of Justin Germano, Mark Lowe, and Carlos Rivero. All are on minor league deals and strong candidates to be on the Rainiers opening day roster.
  • There was a three-team trade between San Diego, Tampa Bay, and Washington. Former PCL star Wil Myers was the key cog in the deal. Jonah Keri looked at the trade from each team’s perspective.
  • The US is loosening its restrictions on Cuba and may lift the embargo – which will be big news in baseball. Nobody knows how this will play out yet, but Cuban baseball expert Ben Badler of Baseball America wrote about it here.
  • Golf is going to be a big story in Tacoma in 2015. Manny Ramirez isn’t very good at golf.

Mariners Trade For Ruggiano; Bawcom In Baseball Limbo

December 17, 2014

The Mariners made a trade today, and two current or former Tacoma Rainiers players will be affected by the deal.

The M’s traded Double-A reliever Matt Brazis to the Chicago Cubs in order to get 32-year-old outfielder Justin Ruggiano.

You can see Ruggiano’s stats right here – he’s a right-handed hitter who usually wallops left-handed pitchers, but isn’t nearly as good against right-handers. He’s a perfect platoon outfielder.

The acquisition of Ruggiano is bad news for Stefen Romero, who now is going to have a much more difficult time cracking the Mariners opening day roster. If that means Romero starts the season in Tacoma, well… we could certainly use his bat in the lineup!

It’s also bad news for Rainiers reliever Logan Bawcom. The Mariners had to make space on their 40-man roster for Ruggiano, so they designated Bawcom for assignment.

That means Bawcom is on waivers and any other team can claim him as long as they put him on their own 40-man roster. So for the next few days, Bawcom has to sit around down there in Dallas and wait for the phone to ring. He’s in baseball limbo.

If no team claims Bawcom off waivers, he will be assigned a minor league contract with the Mariners and will likely return to the Tacoma bullpen in 2015.

Bawcom had an excellent season for Tacoma in 2013, saving 21 games and posting a 2.91 ERA – he earned his spot on the 40-man roster after that campaign. But in 2014 he had trouble getting into a groove, he landed on the disabled list for the first time in his career, and his ERA went up to 4.93.

I never now what to root for in these situations. It would be good for Bawcom’s career if he was claimed by another club and got to stay on a 40-man roster. On the other hand, Bawcom has been a valuable member of the Rainiers both on and off the field – he even shared the 2014 Rainiers Community Award with Forrest Snow.

All we can do is wait and see how it plays out.

Links:

  • Here’s more from the Seattle Times on the Justin Ruggiano acquisition, and here we have Baseball America’s run-down on the deal.
  • Ruggiano is a useful player who provides a lot of roster flexibility, Jeff Sullivan writes as only he can.
  • From Baseball America’s latest batch of minor league transactions, we learn the Mariners signed Carlos Rivero to a minor league deal. Rivero was originally claimed off waivers from Boston, then was non-tendered and became a free agent. Now the M’s have signed him on a minor league deal and Rivero is a candidate to hit in the middle of the lineup for your 2015 Tacoma Rainiers. He’s currently leading the Venezuelan Winter League with 14 home runs.
  • The Mariners are still looking for outfield help – Ryan Divish runs through a litany of uninspiring choices.
  • Bob Dutton explored the possibility of the Mariners trading for Justin Upton.
  • Old pal Mike Morse inked a two-year contract with the Miami Marlins. I think Morse still lives in Florida – if so, that may have been a factor in his decision.
  • Matt Tuiasosopo is going to spring training with Baltimore on a minor league contract.
  • Former Rainiers and Mariners pitcher Brandon Morrow will try to get healthy with a new team: the San Diego Padres.
  • Larry Stone has a column on Rod Belcher, the longtime Seattle sports broadcaster who passed away last weekend.
  • In the PCL, the Salt Lake Bees announced their coaching staff led by new manager Dave Anderson.

Unproductive Weekend

December 15, 2014

The Mariners missed out on a couple of free agents players of note this weekend – one major leaguer, and one minor leaguer.

There were plenty of reports that the Mariners were serious players for veteran outfielder Melky Cabrera, but Melky had other offers, too – and he decided to sign with the Chicago White Sox.

The White Sox have been extremely aggressive this off-season, trying to turn a 75-win team into a wild card (or even division title?) contender. Melky is a great add for them – just like he would’ve been for the Mariners.

Then at the Triple-A level, 2014 Tacoma Rainiers all-star infielder Gabriel Noriega signed as a free agent with the Kansas City Royals. It’s a minor league deal that probably includes an invitation to major league spring training.

The Mariners signed Noriega as a teenager and he worked his way up to Triple-A, but was not added to the 40-man roster. Because he’s played six full seasons in the minors, he was granted free agency.

I assume that the Mariners tried to re-sign him (we could certainly use him in Tacoma), but Noriega probably looked at the situation like this: both Brad Miller and Chris Taylor shot past him and reached the majors, and Ketel Marte is going to be the Triple-A shortstop and is one of the organization’s top prospects, Kyle Seager just signed for $100 million, Robinson Cano is here forever… it’s time to try a different organization with more potential for upward mobility.

Hopefully Noriega will get a shot at the big leagues with the Royals.

Links:

Next update: Wednesday. That last link gave me an idea…


You’re Traded, You’re Traded… Everybody Is Traded

December 11, 2014

If you wear a baseball uniform for a living and you weren’t traded this morning, you are probably feeling a little unloved.

The Winter Meetings went off the rails overnight, with a wild series of trades and signings. There was a Rule 5 Draft, too.

The Dodgers completely remade their team. San Diego got Matt Kemp. Detroit gave up a top pitcher (Rick Porcello) to get Yoenis Cespedes. The Marlins are acquiring players left and right. I think the White Sox now have every relief pitcher in MLB. The Red Sox picked up three starting pitchers in 12 hours.

It seems like everybody was frantically making moves at the end of the meetings, but the Mariners were quiet. Seattle’s area of need – a corner outfielder – is still readily available and there was no need for the team to rush into a deal during the meetings.

As for the Rule 5 Draft, no Rainiers players were selected – in fact, the Mariners organization did not lose a single player.

The Mariners did make a pick: they selected left-handed pitcher David Rollins from the Houston Astros organization.

Rollins pitched for Double-A Corpus Christi last year, working as both a starter and a reliever. He posted a 3.81 ERA in 78 innings last year, with 77 strikeouts and 22 walks. He reportedly sits 92-to-95 MPH with his fastball.

Per Rule 5 Draft specifics, Rollins must make the Mariners opening day roster and stay on the major league team all year – or else he is automatically offered back to the Houston Astros.

So the Mariners will take a very close look at Rollins during spring training and see if he can help them as a lefty reliever. Because the Mariners are going for it in 2015, they will not keep Rollins around as a future project – he’ll have to contribute in 2015 in order to stick around. If it doesn’t appear that he can help the M’s win this year, he’ll go right back to the Astros in March.

Links:


More Winter Meetings News

December 10, 2014

It’s Winter Meetings Wednesday, which is the final full day of the meetings. Things are starting to heat up, as a lot went on overnight.

The Chicago Cubs signed Tacoma native Jon Lester to a six-year contract reportedly worth $155 million. That covers his age 31-through-36 seasons. The Cubs also traded two low-level minor leaguers to Arizona for catcher Miguel Montero. Clearly, Theo Epstein and the Cubs think that their fortunes are going to turn around in the near future.

Mariners division foe Houston decided to do something about its beleaguered bullpen, signing quality free agent relief pitchers Pat Neshek and Luke Gregerson to two- and three-year deals, respectively.

Some teams (example: the Mariners) always seem to have some new hotshot relief pitcher (or several of them) coming up through the farm system and are able to easily build a bullpen on the cheap. That simply hasn’t worked out for the Astros, so they are spending some coin to get it done.

The Pirates re-signed veteran starter Francisco Liriano to a three-year contract. That’s an interesting story: the Pirates grabbed Liriano off the scrap pile following his dreadful 2012 season, and he has delivered two outstanding seasons in the Pittsburgh rotation and the Pirates are now hoping for three more.

There will be more moves today, and then the meetings wrap up tomorrow with the annual Rule 5 Draft (there is a Rule 5 Draft preview down in the links).

Nothing has happened on the Mariners front just yet, but I did get an update on the Rainiers from one of my co-workers who is down there.

Ashley Schutt handles the Rainiers baseball operations and also runs the team store, and she said she had a good meeting with the New Era representative looking at some cool new hat designs for the team store.

She was about to hit the Baseball Trade Show, which has on display everything and anything you can imagine that is baseball-related. She will meet with the people who make the Rainiers uniforms, see new products for the team store or season ticket-holder giveaway items, and try like heck to avoid creepy travelling mascots for hire.

Links:

That’s it for now.


Quiet Start To Meetings For Mariners

December 9, 2014

The first day of the Winter Meetings came and went with barely a peep from the Mariners.

There were some rumors that the Mariners were “the leader” to sign free agent outfielder Melky Cabrera, but when meeting with the media late on Monday afternoon General Manager Jack Zduriencik said that they are not close to any deals.

There is a lack of urgency for Seattle right now, because they already signed Nelson Cruz before the meetings even started.

The team definitely needs one more major league outfielder, and I suppose they could use a left-handed reliever (they could just keep it in-house and go with Lucas Luetge in this spot).

Other than that the roster is pretty much set. Jack Z can afford to be patient as he watches how the off-season moves play out around baseball.

Elsewhere, there was some action.

The White Sox have been very active, signing the top “proven closer” on the market in David Robertson, and trading four prospects to Oakland for Jeff Samardzija.

I think the White Sox activity is at least partially spurred by the Kansas City Royals run to the World Series last year. Chicago had the AL Rookie of the Year in Jose Abreu but their pitching staff (especially the bullpen) was awful and they only won 75 games.

They must be thinking, “hey if we can get this pitching straightened out and get to 87-89 wins we can take a Wild Card. We’ve got Chris Sale and now Samardzija –  maybe we can make a run through the postseason like Kansas City.”

It’s not a crazy scenario at all.

Links:

  • Ryan Divish’s report from the Winter Meetings explains in detail why the Mariners might be best off waiting to see what happens with Melky Cabrera. In a nutshell, it seems like the market for Melky is hard to pin down right now.
  • Here is Divish’s rolling blog post for Tuesday- he’ll have a few updates over the course of the day and into the evening.
  • The Mariners are not going to give up a top pitching talent in exchange for one year of outfield help, Bob Dutton writes.
  • Dutton has all kinds of notes from the first day of the meetings in this report. Of note: the Mariners are bullish on catcher John Hicks, who I expect to be with the Rainiers to open 2015.
  • There is some demand for Mariners shortstops.
  • Greg Johns raised an interesting point: the recovery timeline of Willie Bloomquist (he had knee surgery) is an important factor when considering if the M’s may trade one of their shortstops.
  • Tracy Ringolsby put on his cowboy hat and told some stories about the old days of the Winter Meetings.
  • Every year they name a King Of Baseball – this honor is bestowed upon an elder statesman who has spent his entire life in the game. Texas League lifer Bill Valentine was the winner this year – and he told some stories.
  • Serious facility problems in Bakersfield and High Desert are among the biggest issues Minor League Baseball is trying to solve at the Winter Meetings. The Mariners are now affiliated with Bakersfield (just to be clear: the Mariners have nothing to do with the problems there).
  • Looks like baseball might return to the Olympics in 2020.
  • If you were the sole heir to a relative who passed away, and you unexpectedly found this $400,000 Honus Wagner baseball card in the deceased’s attic, how long would you keep it for before selling? I think I’d show it off for a year and then sell, sell, sell!
  • There is a new lawsuit regarding minor league player salaries. If this is a subject that interests you, here is an easy-to-read article on Fangraphs which explains the suit and the expected outcome.

I wish all of the people at the Winter Meetings would stop posting pictures of San Diego. I look outside my window in Tacoma and it is miserable here today!


Winter Meetings Previews

December 7, 2014

Baseball executives landed in San Diego today and the Winter Meetings are underway. Thus, we have a rare Sunday afternoon blog update.

What we have here is a round-up of stories – both Mariners-related and nationally – about what to look for as the meetings get underway.

Links:

Next blog update will be late Monday if the news warrants it – if not, we’ll have a full post on Tuesday with all of the latest tidbits and links.


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