Thursday, January 24, 2019

Ladies & Gentlemen, Your 2018 Topps Tigers

I realized today that I am running low on time to consider 2018 Topps baseball cards. If I had a Wal-Mart in my town, I could already have some 2019 Series One in my idled hands, as their online sales type people didn't get the memo about "Release Date," and one could order online and pick-up in store, like, now.

I am a little bummed about that team card - but only in a personal way. It is actually a very nice baseball card effort, a National Anthem Team Card, as it were, without making me buy an extra 79 packs of Opening Day just to get one of those cards. I already buy those packs anyway.

But I can barely positively ID most of the players. Baseball players without their caps are just a far more mysterious thing. This card did make me realize that if a pro ball player wants to go to the grocery store, the last thing he is going to wear is a ball cap.

The 2018 Tigers were at a pretty low ebb, and few expect the tide to come in during 2019, either. One of the more striking things about the position the organization finds itself in, in my baseball card centered opinion, was the # of Tigers cards issued in 2018 in the Topps Baseball set: 15.

When I learned that - FIFTEEN cards, and that was it, of my favorite team, in a 700 card set where they were due 23.3333333 cards under the Topps MLB Checklist Slot Sharing Agreement that I always presume is operating on every checklist, well, I had to investigate.

The experience drew me closer to wanting to cough up twenty bucks and give it to Baseball Reference to use their website ad-free for a year. But that really costs about one blaster of Topps baseball cards, so I'm not sure that's gonna happen.

Before we consider the results, I know you would probably just rather see some cards, so let's go card heavy first and tl;dr later.

The Feel Good Hit of the Summer
Here is another indicator of how bad things are for the Tigers right now - this is their only RC in 2018 Topps Baseball. Including Update. These are sets where an RC logo swims by you on seemingly every 5th or 6th card, and the Tigers had exactly one in the entire set(s).

Goodrum was a fun player for the Tigers this year. Every team needs that competent, super-utility player that can trot out to any position on the field, and occasionally spark a sneak victory against a winning team, every 3rd Tuesday or so. These players might be more loved by baseball card collectors than most other fans, at least in the Social Media age, or at least in the Tigers fan base. Their previous two athletic, standard issue MLB players who took the utility role - Brandon Inge and then Don Kelly, were routine targets of vitriol from the "fans," who think the 29 teams that don't win the World Series all 'suck' and so does every player that doesn't make the All-Star team. I look forward to watching Niko play this year, or, at least listening to him play on my radio broadcasts. He will remind me to stay away from the "comments" on Tigers media coverage.

One of the 7 Tigers cards in Update was a 'Rookie Combo' card for Grayson Greiner and Mike Gerber, who will both be playing a whole lot in 2019, because the Tigers have little other choice but to play the kids this year. 'Rookie Combo' cards are a bit more of an older-school way to introduce players to the Topps Baseball collectors, but I remain unclear on whether they will then get an actual RC logo card when they get their own (maybe? probably?) cards this year.

If There Were Still a Tigers Leaders Type Card
The other main piece of good news (the only other?) for the Tigs this year was a new peak in offensive production from Nicholas Castellanos. It was nice of Topps to officially change his name to 'Nicholas' on this card, as per an actual public request on this point from Mr. Castellanos - he wants to be called Nicholas now, no mas Nick, please.

That tiny detail made me think Topps is actually paying attention to the Tigers, something I gave them props for in my 2018 Favorites post where I told the story of the back of the John Hicks card. But then other times I think they just copy/paste/click their way through creating Tigers cards as fast as they can.

Castellanos did get the Tigers name into some Top 20 AL Leader stats for hitting this year. But moving him back to the Outfield from his teenaged position of Third Base didn't work out this year all that much better than it did when he first came up to the Tigers, and was still blocked by Miguel Cabrera playing at Third back then. His OF play, like his 3B play the last couple years got the Tigers name onto some Bottom 20 AL Not-Leader stats in outfielding.

So what does Castellanos have on his 2018 baseball card? Check out his Rawlings glove there kids, as he trots out to play in front of a lot of empty seats, something that will be seen on a lot of Tigers cards for a while to come. 

A Wave From the Starting Rotation
Topps did manage to pretty much cover all the starting pitchers this year, though reclamation project Francisco Liriano did not appear until the Update set. This card is actually my favorite of the starting pitchers. Boyd had some good games on the mound this year; perhaps he will yet merit a "#2" designation in the rotation as he matures, or maybe even pass former Rookie of the Year Michael Fulmer, who is a bit 'on-the-bubble' in the 2019 season to come, though not quite as much as ...

Player Most On The Bubble

All Detroit fans want Jacoby Jones to succeed. He is their Byron Buxton, and not just in terms of being an alliterative name. He is blazing fast in Center Field, and plays -great- defense. Comerica Park, where the Tigers play 81 games a year, has a large outfield and the Tigers need speed in the outfield, though historically they have often been unable to resist yet another slow slugger (like Castellanos) at the corner spots. So there are a lot of hopes we have found a long term everyday Center Fielder, at last.

And one would think this card would really buoy those hopes - Jones is rounding 3rd after just hitting a Home Run! Tigers action card of the year! He hit 3 of those last year! Sadly, I would like this card so much more if Jones could win his battle with the Mendoza line. The true expectation of most is that he will be lucky to make it to the Series 2 release date - let's hope he is on the 2019 Series One checklist, instead.

Most Telling Tigers Card
In one way, this was the worst Tigers card of the year. It is the first appearance of Zombie Miguel Cabrera, who has never before looked old on a baseball card. Now he does, and there are still five more seasons to go on his contract. I actually think he will have a good year in 2019; he has had several frustrating seasons all too often riding the treadmill or whatever his physical rehab machine of choice is. But this card certainly doesn't get anyone excited for the future.

A Bit of a Sunset Card
Victor retired this year after a solid career in Major League Baseball, and he almost seems to be waving goodbye here. One of the nicer games of the year was when he was honored by the fans and Tito Francona in Cleveland - a class move over there across the Lake.

All the things that saber-metricians compile about players had been trending downwards for Martinez for some time, as everyone would expect. And that didn't really hurt the Tigers; they didn't have anyone else to plug in at DH really, as Miggy wants to stay in the field, and that is probably the best call - keep your future HoFer happy.

This card, however, reminded me of a couple other recent Martinez cards from Topps. It is almost mocking, the images they would select, as above, where basically the worst base-runner in all of MLB is about to launch himself toward First Base. Everyone in the stadium, including Victor, is just hoping it is a Home Run so we don't have to worry about the outcome, like on this card from 2015:
I guess this could he a Home Run trot card, but I don't think so, and none of us in Tiger Town ever wanted to be reminded of what it was like to have Victor hit the basepaths for us. That was still not quite as goofy a card as this next one -
Here is our pretty awesome Designated Hitter (he really was quite good, until the very end) out at his normal position with the Designated wait, what?

Such things are the norm I have come to expect from Topps' coverage of the Detroit Tigers. In the summer of 2017, they issued a Tigers card for Mike Aviles, who had been sorta traded/released to the Atlanta Braves - in 2016! The back of his card was an absolute wrong classic as it informed us in the How Acq slot: "Trade with Tigers 8-16-16".

This year, it seems they wanted an encore of that baseball card set lowlight, and we got this card:
This might have been a nice feel-good Veteran redemption return story card; lots of players give-it-one-more-go every March on the back diamonds in Florida and Arizona. But this one didn't work out as Travis Wood was released by the Tigers on March 8, 2018 and subsequently retired.

That card, and that astounding total of only 15 cards across S1 + S2, led me to a deep dive on the question - what _could_ Topps have done differently for my sad-sack 2018 Tigers?

The conclusion I reached surprised me: not much. I agreed with most of the Topps decisions, though I felt they could have put Francisco Liriano in Series 2, rather than Update, as a much safer bet to actually get some more Major League starts. I am out of cards I wish to scan for you, and the players named below don't have any Tigers cards, mostly, so you will just have to read on if you wish to play Topps Baseball Set Creator, like I always have, all my life.

49 players wore the olde English "D" this year for the Tigers. But only 19 of them appeared on a Topps baseball card. Ian Kinsler had a Tigers card in Series One but had already been traded away last winter.

15 S1+S2
-1 Team Card
-Ian Kinsler
-Travis Wood = 12 players

+7 Update cards
-1 Joe Jimenez All-Star Card
+1 player on "Rookie Combo" = 19 players

What happened to the other 30?

I should note right now that two 2018 Tigers cards can only be found in the Factory Team Set, the small retail set Topps issues every year in about June. Those 2 are Dixon Machado, a middle infielder who this year lost his battle with Mendoza-like batting results, playing only until late June, and Buck Farmer, who is somewhat like a Tigers version of Dylan Bundy but with more willingness to work in the bullpen. I like to buy those, some years, but considering how many players in it this year won't be in Detroit by 2020, I never summoned up the energy and $8 (w/shipping) to order the 2018 version.

That leaves 28 players.

One was Jarrod Saltalamacchia, who got probably his final 7 MLB AB for Detroit this year. Jacob Turner pitched probably his final MLB inning, just one, for the '18 Tigers. Both have previous Tigers cards and no one wants a final memorial for such appearances. But those are definitely edge cases.

Meanwhile, Leonys Martin got some 300 AB for them and should have had a card; he was signed in early Dec. 17 and then traded at the July deadline - so no Update card. He could have been photoshopped into S2 easily enough though I would prefer a Spring Training shot. 

The Tigers had an about average result Rule 5 pick, Victor Reyes, stay on the team all year as they pretty much must, posting a .526 OPS over 212 AB. Should have had a card I guess, could have been in Update, though half his At Bats were after the deadline. He might or might not get playing time in 2019 after that roster spot investment, but - .526 OPS.

Then they brought up a 26 year old journeyman minor leaguer on 5-31, Ronny Rodriguez, who managed a .591 OPS over 191 AB. How often does a 26 year old call up get that many AB (but only 60 of them before the Trade Deadline / Update card cut-off, and all @ well below the Mendoza line), and how many of them stick in MLB into the next year? Into the next month? Tough call for the set editor on that one? Easy call.

Next on July 3rd up came Jim Adduci for his 2nd fill-in with the woeful Tigers after doing the same in 2017. He got 39 AB in July. Worth a card in Update? He went on to 176 total AB and a .676 OPS. He has never been on a Tigers card, though I would like to see one. But at the Update/Trade Deadline, again he only had 39 AB so far.

Rookies - Dawel Lugo got 94 AB, almost all in September. Another middle infielder, like Ronny Rodriguez, but young and tough to project as an obvious call-up until he got more time in AA through the summer of '18.

Christin Stewart got 72 AB, another young MiLBer, also tough to think "needs RC, now", and Harold Castro got a 10 AB sip of coffee. Both could still see cards in the future, as could Lugo. Occasional recent Major Leaguer Pete Kozma did "warm body" duty also at a few points this year, like Salty and Turner, though reaching 73 AB, mostly in September, and turning in a .584 OPS - worth a card? 

On the pitching side, Mike Fiers was a very successful reclamation project for the Tigers after signing a 1 year + option deal in early December 2017. He would have been an infinitely smarter choice for S2 than Travis Wood. Traded @ the deadline = no Tigers card in Update, where he probably would have appeared if not Traded. I wouldn't be surprised if he has a Tigers card on the cutting room floor / PC 'Recycle Bin' inside Topps HQ, along with Leonys Martin - they did both appear on their new teams in Update.

Out in the bullpen, 10 pitchers put in more than 20 innings, ranging all the way up to the regulars at 60 and even 86 IP - but without getting a card (Daniel Norris, a starter, received a card but spent most of '18 on the DL; I am not counting him twice). All fans routinely detest relievers in general, even moderately successful Closers, but especially Middle Relievers - if a Middle Reliever was really good, wouldn't they be a Closer? (Who do get cards). 7 more guys, aside from Turner, appeared from the pen for less than 20 IP.

Overall, I would put in Fiers instead of Wood, and somehow add Leonys Martin to the Checklist for sure. They both did get a Tigers card in Heritage High Numbers - those cards use the "Photo Day" images - each would have to have been artificially photoshopped into S2 - who likes those cards? 

It is worth noting that if you want as many cards as can be found of every player that appears for your team, don't neglect the now annual Heritage Updates, Traded and Highlights - "High Numbers" - set each year now, where players otherwise difficult to slot in to S2 or Update can be found as they change teams during the creation of Topps baseball cards each year. The 'Factory Team Set' should not be overlooked, either.

There were some tougher calls on the mid-summer call-ups; would have been nice to see Adduci get a final Topps card after a long baseball career. Victor Reyes was .... a Rule 5 pick. Always a mysterious fate. Ronny Rodriguez would make an OK card for a fluke season but what if he fizzled completely after his 66 Jun-Jul AB? (Which he pretty much did.)

To represent more of the 2018 Tigers on the cards, the increase would largely have to come from the Relievers. Does anyone really want that? I can tell you this - casual fans pretty much just usually hate relievers. All they can do is fail, in their minds, usually. This is particularly true in Detroit, which has had a terrible bullpen for as long as all Tigers fans can remember.

This is also true of all but the best Closers. If it's not a 1-2-3 ninth inning, the fans don't like a Closer who allows a base-runner or two but still gets the Save. "Why does he always have to give me such a heart attack? Arghhh!"

So I really don't think most fans want a baseball card of a random middle reliever. "Set-up Men" and Closers, OK, but that is plenty far enough into the bullpen for most.

Overall, I have a feeling I will have a similar amount of Topps Tigers baseball cards from the 2019 Topps Baseball set (S1+S2) to consider in October, 2019, when I am looking through some fresh Update cards and then able to consider the 2019 Team Set as a whole. As I write, no one, least of all Topps, Inc., knows who will play the majority of '19 games for the Tigers at Short, 2nd, and perhaps all 3 Outfield spots if Castellanos is traded and Jacoby Jones fails to hit again. DH remains a large hole as well, unless Miggy can be persuaded to do it so an un-traded Castellanos can give the glove a try for a 3rd position. The Pitching staff will have some more Pelfrey/Liriano/Wood/Fiers type project players (Matt Moore and Tyson Ross, who could last all season or could be gone before Series 2 comes out as well). The bullpen could suddenly gel; the Tigers are kind of due for some good luck out there. But we still won't see many Reliever cards.

That leaves a whole bunch of Rookies to try out. I think this year, we will see a few more RC logo cards   in Detroit, but probably not until Update, when all these muddy waters will clear some.

I am sure with all this awesomeness the 2019 Tigers Series One Checklist has not been easy to create for Topps, either. Can I root for your team this year?


  1. Great post! It really was a fun read. Good job.

    1. Thanks.

      For any deeply interested Tigers fans out there, tonight I touched up the total Tigers players / total Tigers Topps cards totals to match up correctly. The Travis Wood card was throwing everything off, since he didn't appear in an MLB game.