Saturday, January 21, 2017

Questions about 2017 Topps Series 1

I haven't had anything to do with Topps flagship product since 2011. Back then I enjoyed the design and the diamond giveaway promotion, which resulted in me building Series 1, Series 2 and Update from packs.

Since then the designs haven't really drawn me in. There was the surfboard design and that was followed by the sea turtle design. The file folder design of 2014 wasn't too bad, but I never pulled the trigger. I give Topps points for moving away from the white borders in 2015, but in my eyes it was a hot mess. The full bleed route was an interesting choice in 2016, but I was not a fan of the smokey corners.

The cards I've seen for the 2017 edition have intrigued me. Maybe I'll open my wallet and by a buy a box or two?

I always like to do a little research before I go all in on something, so when Topps released their checklist for Series 1 I took a long gander at the names.

Apparently I wasn't the only one who had done so:
Tony and Topps haven't always seen eye-to-eye and I can't say that I blame him. The Brewers have recently been grossly underrepresented in most (if not all) Topps releases. Of the 350 cards in Series 1 the Brew Crew received 11, which is just about right. So, good on Topps.

But why Will Middlebrooks? As Tony mentions in his Tweet, it's not like Middlebrooks was a main cog on the twenty-five man roster in 2016 for Milwaukee, his third team in the last three seasons. The man played in 10 games during the entire season, while only seeing action in the field at third base. Yet Topps' decision makers obviously felt he was more deserving than Hernan Perez who played 60 games at third and has five more years of control for the Brewers.

 Checking's depth charts I find Travis Shaw is currently at the top of the third base position for the Brewers. Neither Shaw nor Perez is in Series 1, but instead we get Middlebrooks. I can't assume Topps is trying to go all 2002 Topps Total on us and include everyone who made the 40 man roster. So it must be a timing thing, right?

So, let's examine the timing of it all.

Will Middlebrooks, pictured as a Brewer on his 2017 card, was granted free agency on October 3rd and then signed with the Rangers on November 11th.  There has been plenty of MLB transactions since October 3rd and many involving players who were also awarded cards in Series 1.

Players who have changed teams via trade:
November 3 - Cameron Maybin (Tigers) traded to Angels
November 4 - Pat Neshek (Astros) traded to Phillies
November 7 - Carlos Ruiz (Dodgers) traded to Mariners
November 11 - Howie Kendrick (Dodgers) traded to Phillies
November 17 - Brian McCann (Yankees) traded to Astros 
December 1 - Jaime Garcia (Cardinals) was traded to Braves
December 6 - Yoan Moncada (Red Sox) was traded to White Sox
December 6 - Chris Sale (White Sox) was traded to Red Sox
December 7 - Wade Davis (Royals) was traded to Cubs
December 7 - Jorge Soler (Cubs) was traded to Royals
December 10 - Danny Espinosa (Nationals) was traded to Angels

I can't really fault Topps here... in most cases. I can't expect them to predict the volatility of the trade market. Some may argue that the writing was on the wall, as in Jorge Soler's or Chris Sale's case, and they shouldn't have been cards in Series 1. And maybe if there's enough smoke, then Topps holds off on including them in their product until Series 2. The inclusion of a top rookie on the checklist, like Yoan Moncada, is always a good play. Who could have predicted Moncada would be the key piece going back to the White Sox in the Sale trade? 

Let's dissect the Series 1 checklist a further. Below is a list of players in the set and the team they represent is in parentheses.

Players who have changed teams via free agency:
October 3 - Will Middlebrooks (Brewers) became free agent, now with Rangers
November 3 - Andrew Cashner (Marlins) became free agent, now with Rangers
November 3 - Colby Rasmus (Astros) became free agent, now with Rays
November 3 - Edison Volquez (Royals) became free agent, now with Marlins
November 3 - Geovany Soto (Angels) became free agent, now with White Sox
November 3 - Wilson Ramos (Nationals) became free agent, now with Rays
November 3 - Rajai Davis (Indians) became free agent, now with A's
December 2 - Tyson Ross (Padres) became free agent, now with Rangers 

Middlebooks asked for his walking papers on October 3rd, a month before the free agent filing date, because he didn't see a future in Milwaukee. Rather than going through the arbitration process with the injured Tyson Ross the Padres non-tendered him. One could argue it would be tough to predict if Middlebrooks and Ross would indeed become free agents. Although, anyone with internet access and a modicum of effort could unveil who was scheduled to become a free agent after the 2016 season. 

Topps got lucky when these free agents resigned with their former team:
November 3 - Ivan Nova (Pirates) became free agent, resigned with Pirates
November 3 - Jose Bautista (Blue Jays) resigned with Blue Jays

The jury is still out:
November 3 - Chase Utley (Dodgers) became free agent (yet to sign)
November 3 - Daniel Descalso (Rockies) became free agent (yet to sign)
November 3 - Doug Fister (Astros) became free agent (yet to sign)
November 3 - Michael Bourn (Orioles) became free agent (yet to sign)
November 3 - Pedro Alvarez (Orioles) became free agent (yet to sign)
November 6 - Jason Hammel (Cubs) became free agent (yet to sign) 

(For the record, the lists above are not comprehensive.)

There's plenty of players, who were granted free agency after the 2016 season, who were not issued cards in Series 1: Bartolo Colon, Rich Hill, Kenley Jansen, R.A. Dickey, Mike Napoli, Matt Wieters, Sergio Romo, Dexter Fowler, Yoenis Cespedes and Aroldis Champan.

Here's where it gets interesting: Chris Carter (Astros), Mark Trumbo (Orioles) and Edwin Encarnacion (Blue Jays). Each of these three players were to be free agents at the end of the season and were not issued a regular card, but instead were given a League Leaders card. This makes me believe Topps wants to steer clear of players who may sign with different teams during the off season, but instead are forced by their own rules to feature them on a League Leaders card.  No?

Yet, by looking at the free agent names listed above, I don't think there's any rhyme or reason as to who's included on the checklist.

When does Topps decide their Series 1 checklist? You would think they wouldn't purposely place a player with their former team within the set. If that's true, then I think it is safe to assume they finalized their checklist before November 3rd, because Cameron Maybin was traded on November 3rd to the Angels from the Tigers, as the first action of the off season. Maybin is shown as a Tiger on his 2017 card and if Topps knew of this trade they would have photoshopped the card or replaced him on the checklist altogether, right?

The finalization date must be after September 15th, because that's the day the Yankees signed Billy Butler to a contract, and Butler has been given a card as a Yankee in Series 1. Doing some quick math and that's about a six week window between the Butler and Maybin transactions.

But wait, there are World Series highlight cards in the base set. The World Series ended on November 2nd or on November 3rd in some parts of the country! This can only mean Topps finalized its checklist and went to print sometime on November 3rd: after the World Series and before Maybin was traded to the Angels. Right?

Wouldn't the sole card producing company holding an MLB license want to give its customers the most up-to-date product available? A Brewers team collector doesn't want a Will Middlebrooks card. Actually, I don't think a Rangers team collector wants a Middlebrooks card. Why not wait awhile to finalize the checklist?

One may argue Topps needs to start printing on November 4th to be ready for a release on February 1st. Huh?  That's nearly three months! Any idea how long it took me to get the Cubs World Series box set? I received mine forty-one days after the last out was recorded. Obviously, the print runs for the World Series box set and 2017 Series 1 are completely different and more time would be needed. But if Topps started printing Series 1 on November 4th, then that would be eighty-eight days until the release date. That number seems way too large of a number to me.

Things aren't adding up. When does Topps finalize their checklist? How long does it take to print, package, and ship the cards to retail stores? Is Topps really making an effort to give collectors the best product possible? (e.g. - players in Series 1 are featured with their current team for the release date) Why are upcoming free agents given cards in Series 1 at all when they could be represented in Series 2 with their new team?

Questions. So many questions. I do have one answer though.

Will I be purchasing any packs of Topps Series 1 this year? Nope, and it's out of fear that the first pack I buy will contain only players representing a team for who they no longer play.

What are your thoughts?


  1. Series 1 is really just a summary if 2016, not the first 2017 set, it's kind of annoying. The players on the checklist are always weird, as a Rockies fan, last year we got Jason Gurka, this year we get Matt Carasiti. I really dislike the 2017 design, but will be collecting the 1987 themed cards, they at least look nice.

    1. I'm not sure I agree with your assessment of Series 1 being a summary of 2016. If that's the case, then why no card of Dexter Fowler as a Cub? He was a huge part of the team's success. He'll certainly be shown in S2 as a Cardinal. What about David Ross? Big Papi gets two cards in S1, but no sunset card for a guy who had a year long retirement party. And then there's the missing Jose Fernandez card... If one was to summarize the 2016 you have to hit on some of the lowest points too.

  2. I'm constantly frustrated with Series I in particular because of what you mentioned. I realize it's got to be difficult, but I wish they would do better.

    1. I don't think Topps realizes that some of us would give checklist input for free.
      I follow baseball like it's my job, but my career involves using my mathematics degree. I would happily use my knowledge base and skills to help Topps make a better product AND I'd probably do it for free.

  3. Adam Lind is getting an S1 card with the Mariners and never mind the fact that he is no longer with the team but he didn't even play well enough to deserve a card.

    1. I missed one. But, this is exactly what I'm talking about. I'm sure there's a half-dozen or more excellent Mariner players, who were locked up for 2017, which were more deserving of a card.

  4. Maybe Topps came across the dopest of dope Will Middlebrooks photos on Getty and for some reason couldn't get it photoshopped in time.

    Now I'm curious to see it.

    1. You are WAY more optimistic about this card than anyone should be. LOL

    2. Never mind, I looked. Aside from one of him signing autographs...meh, nothing special.

  5. Thanks for the research. I have always wondered about how Series 1 decisions were made and their deadlines and such, I was just too lazy to look into it!

    Watch me get half a dozen Middlebrooks cards before attention is shifted to Series 2...