Category Archives: Collecting

The Topps Spring Fever Promotion Leaves Collectors Cold

An April Fools’ joke two months early

I’m not trying to turn this blog completely negative. Really, I’m not. But when these stories present themselves, they get little attention from the big names in collecting news. That leaves it up to the little guys to capture these moments for posterity and make sure that they become part of the historical record. In this case, Topps has set a precedent that could completely undermine the entire hobby. It almost certainly won’t go that far, but the lack of any notable backlash seems to have demonstrated that there is no obligation to deliver what is promised in a pack of cards.

Last year, Topps introduced the Spring Fever promotion with 2013 Topps Series 1. This was the first of many promotions designed to get people to spend more time at their local hobby shops. Spring Fever redemption cards were inserted into packs at a rate of one per hobby box (regular or jumbo). If you had a participating hobby shop near you, you could redeem the card for a special 5-card pack of Spring Fever cards, which contained an assortment of cards from the 50-card set plus 32 different autograph cards randomly inserted. For those without local hobby shops, they could sell the redemption cards for about $2 each, a nice little bonus out of each box (something usually referred to as “added value”).

The Spring Fever cards themselves were quite nice. Even though the photographs were mostly just the same photographs used in the base Topps set, the metallic foil and new background design made them really stand out in a sea of colored border parallels. The cards look even better scanned, just like the 2012 Topps Archives gold parallels. For a Mets collector, having David Wright and Jeurys Familia in the base set wasn’t all that bad. The set itself was a mix of rookies, stars, and retired greats, making it a fun set to put together. On top of that, the autographs, while on stickers, were a nice bonus for the price. I bought 10 extra redemption cards and pulled the Markakis auto shown above, which sold for almost as much as I paid for the redemption cards (I probably could have gotten more if I had sold the unopened packs though…). It was hard not to like this new promotion.

2013 Topps Series 1 delivered considerable value beyond the cards in the packs. In addition to the Spring Fever redemptions, Topps also continued its tradition of wrapper redemptions in 2013 Series 1. Wrappers from a box of cards would get you a 5-card Silver Slate pack, which contained a mix of blue sparkle parallels, framed silver parallels numbered to 10, and autographs. Luck was on my side in these, delivering three of the cards above in the four packs I sent in for (I had to buy the Familia). The Machado and Kipnis each sold for about $30, not bad for a few bonus packs.

And that brings us to 2014 Topps Series 1. Like last year, Spring Fever redemption cards were back at the same insertion rate. No announcements were made about wrapper redemptions, which Topps seemed to be phasing out anyway. Then something strange happened when people started opening packs – they couldn’t find the Spring Fever redemption cards. Box after box, case after case, thousands of packs were opened on launch day without a single Spring Fever redemption card being pulled. Usually, this would be a sign of something being a retail exclusive, but that wouldn’t make sense for a hobby store promotion. Something was wrong. Then Topps confirmed it: Spring Fever redemption cards weren’t in packs of 2014 Topps Series 1.

With no wrapper redemption planned, switching the Spring Fever to a wrapper redemption would at least ensure that the people who were shorted the redemption cards could still get the packs (or get some money for the wrappers). Topps however also confirmed that there would be no wrapper redemption for 2014 Topps Series 1. No redemption cards, no wrapper redemption, how was Topps going to make things right? As it turned out, all would be made right for a price.

Spring Fever promotional flyer sent to hobby shops in early March of 2014

Topps would later reduce the cost of a Spring Fever promo pack from 18 packs to 16 packs. What a bargain! For only the cost of 16 hobby packs, or about $32, collectors could get something that was supposed to be in a box they already spent $70-100 on two months ago. I suppose you also get the cards in the packs for that price, but the value of a two month old product just isn’t what it used to be. And of course there’s the little bit about how collectors already bought a ton of this stuff two months ago with the promise of Spring Fever packs. But was it really a promise? Let’s take a look at the wrapper.

Odds from the wrapper of a 2014 Topps Series 1 hobby jumbo pack

If you read the fine print, near the end of the fourth line you’ll see the odds of a Spring Fever Redemption card in a hobby jumbo pack at 1:10, or one per hobby jumbo box on average (odds for regular hobby packs are 1:36 with 36 packs per box). That’s not a guarantee that one will be in any particular pack or even a sealed box. It could be argued that it isn’t any sort of guarantee at all. But if that is the case, what about all of the other cards with listed odds? Can Topps get away with leaving all of those out too and charging more later for the chance to get them? Either Topps is obligated to meet the insertion rates printed on their product or they are free to ignore them, there’s no middle ground. Since nothing has happened to Topps for their failure to deliver Spring Fever redemption cards, we are left to assume that pack odds are not in any way binding and can freely be ignored by manufacturers. That is a disturbing concept.

Luckily, while it seems that Topps is under no obligation to deliver what their product promises, hobby shops are under no obligation to follow the specific rules regarding the distribution of promo packs (well, they may technically have an obligation, but Topps has no way to enforce it unless the shops do something stupid like listing promotional items on eBay). Many shops are doing the right thing and are giving the packs to customers who they know deserve them or are at least making them available for more than just purchases of the now outdated 2014 Topps Series 1.

This may be the last we see of this problem. Or it could only be the beginning. In any case, it should not be ignored and forgotten. Major League Baseball may have sold out to Topps, but that doesn’t mean that we have to stand by silently and watch Topps disrespect collectors and the hobby. Topps is not and will never be the hobby, no matter what their arrogance leads them to believe.

Unintended Consequences of the Panini Rewards Program

Turning redemptions into digital currency

Last week at the Las Vegas Industry Summit, Panini boldly announced an end to dreaded redemptions and the beginning of the industry’s first rewards program.  The Panini Rewards Program consists of Panini Rewards points cards inserted in place of redemption cards and a catalog of available cards that those points can be exchanged for.  Sounds simple enough, right?  No more redemption cards, choice in the hands of the collector, what could go wrong?  Few details are known right now (and some may not be revealed directly from Panini), but it seems clear that nobody really knows how this new system will work out.

I always like to think of ways to exploit systems, partly to be able to get the most out of opportunities and partly to identify problem areas that may require corrective action.  Any time money is involved, you can be sure that there will be people looking for a way to turn a profit.  Let’s break down the components so we can figure out where things could go wrong.

The Source

Where the rewards cards come from is straightforward.  Whenever a card that is planned for a product isn’t available in time for packout, a rewards card will be inserted in its place.  The number of points on each card will depend on the relative value of the card being replaced.  A key point here is that this system will do nothing to prevent redemption cards, it merely changes their form.  Anyone who pulls one of these still faces the same choice: keep it and redeem it for something or sell it.  This choice is now complicated by the range of possible redemption options and new types of risk.

The Sellers

The easy option, as with current redemptions, is to simply sell a rewards points card after pulling it.  This gets around the choice of what to redeem it for, whether to get more points to get a better card, or whether to wait for different cards to become available.  Unlike current redemption cards, the value of these points shouldn’t change much over time.  This makes it less attractive to hold the card and wait for a better time to sell.

The Buyers

This new points system will drastically change the buying landscape.  It is not uncommon to see redemption cards languishing on the market because of unrealistic asking prices or a complete lack of demand for a particular player.  With no specific players tied to any points card, those should no longer be an issue.  The flexibility in redemption options means that there should be demand for every card but no variation in demand between cards.  Buyers may be looking for one card at the specified point level, a card at a higher point value, or bulk points to load up an account with to be able to grab cards quickly as soon as they become available.  It’s this last class of speculators that could drive the market for points cards and could cause the most problems.

The Redemption

For people who choose to redeem a points card they pulled from a pack, they will have to choose between a card they specifically want, something else that is available and looks interesting, or whatever looks like it will be the most valuable.  That last part will also come into play if someone buys a points card with the intention of redeeming it for a specific card.  If the card you want is worth less than $5 but you can get a card worth $10 or more at the same points tier, what do you do?  If you only spent $5 on the points, you could turn a profit if the right card is available.  Conversely, if the availability of more valuable cards pushes the price of the required points to $10, is it even worth going through the process for the $5 card?  Already, we’re seeing the possibility of problems arising from pricing within a single point tier.

The big factor driving prices will probably be speculators who will seek to buy up points and redeem them for whatever provides the largest profits.  In addition to the likelihood of a range of values within a single point tier, there are differences in value between point tiers to consider.  If a $100 card can be redeemed for points equivalent to 10 $5 cards, the higher point tier becomes a better value and the price of points on the secondary market will likely rise as a result to make obtaining the $5 cards less economically viable.  The reverse is less likely to be a problem but could make high-dollar cards even more expensive on the secondary market (and less likely to sell).

Speculators will also have a competitive advantage when it comes to timing.  For the pack opener or the specific card collector, there is likely to be some amount of disconnect between when cards become available and when they are selected for redemption.  The speculator on the other hand will have points loaded in their account and will be ready to take action as soon as they get an alert about a valuable card becoming available.  In addition to the value differential arising from how Panini chooses to value cards that can be redeemed, we now see a problem with which types of users will be able to get the most value out of the inequities in the system.

The Secondary Market

For some, the best option may be to stay out of the rewards point system entirely and wait for cards to hit the secondary market.  And this is where it gets messy.  As noted above, cards that fall on the low end of the value spectrum may be less attractive for redemption and may only be redeemed by people who want those specific cards.  This means that few, if any, of these cards may ever hit the secondary market.  Those that do may be plagued by unrealistic asking prices that reflect the cost of redemption more than the value of the card.  Panini has added an artificial exchange rate into the middle of the redemption process in their attempt to improve it.

Valuation

At the heart of this system is the assignment of points to specific cards.  Until we see some examples, there is no way to know how this process will work.  But even without examples, it isn’t hard to envision problems.  We know that each card will have a point value assigned for packout, but will this point value be kept unchanged when the card is made available?  Will it remain the same for as long as the card is available?  The card’s dollar value will fluctuate over time, shouldn’t that be reflected in its rewards point value?  There are a lot of questions to answer and few answers that will satisfy all of them.  The point-to-dollar exchange rate is the key here and it is unrealistic to expect Panini to be able to keep this rate constant across all available redemption cards.

99 cents or 91 dollars? What’s that in points?

The biggest problem area is going to be the extreme low end.  Many of Panini’s autograph cards routinely sell for less than $5 shipped, including many of their low-numbered parallels.  If the cost to redeem is too high, these cards will go unclaimed.  And if parallels automatically get a higher point value because of their numbering, they become even less attractive.  As an example, last year I sold two 2013 Panini Prizm Perennial Draft Picks red prizm autographs numbered to 100.  One sold for $91 and the other sold for 99 cents.  When it comes to parallels, most people assume that the value can be determined from a linear multiplier relative to the base version.  In reality, the relationship is exponential; valuable cards have exceptionally valuable parallels while cards with minimal value see no increase in value for more limited versions.  In many cases, a more common base version may be more valuable than rarer parallels.  This poses a major problem with the valuation process.

#d/744: $10.51 #d/100: $8.50 #d/50: $7.88 How many points should these be worth?

Solutions

There are no easy answers here.  Ultimately, collectors of specific players at the lower end of the value spectrum are likely to be the losers in this sort of system.  Should Panini discount the points value of cards when they spend too long in the system?  Offer them as free bonuses?  Bundle multiple parallel levels of the same card at a discount?  Should there be a limit on the number of points that can be redeemed in a given time period?  A lottery system that removes the timing advantage of speculators?  The ability to reserve cards before they are available?  We’ll probably have to wait and see exactly how the system breaks before coming up with fixes.

If it had been up to me, this is not the sort of system I would have deployed.  The problem areas with redemptions are the need for redemptions in the first place, which the Panini Rewards system does not address, and the long wait for fulfillment, which the Panini Rewards system addresses with possible complications due to speculators.  If the goal is to fix the fulfillment process, creating a profit-based incentive for more people to enter the redemption system in competition with the existing collector base is counterproductive.  A more reasonable alternative would be to keep specific card redemptions as they are and offer an exchange for rewards points if a card goes unfulfilled for a certain period of time, say two months, after being entered into the system.  This gives long-waiting collectors the option to select an alternate card while discouraging speculators with the risk of getting the listed card instead of points (and having to wait a set amount of time to learn which they will be getting).  Additionally, priority should be given for people who have been waiting the longest instead of the quickest to make a request once a card becomes available.  These minor changes could drastically change how collectors would benefit from the system.

With the Panini Rewards system as it has been described so far (which, admittedly, is incomplete), I’m not seeing a whole lot of practical benefit for collectors.  Having an alternative to waiting for a redemption is nice (and should always be an option), but is it worth the likely complications?  In making it easier to get something for a redemption, Panini may have made getting specific redemptions much more difficult.  The best way to solve this problem would be to reduce the number of redemption cards that are necessary in the first place (Panini’s live autograph rate in their 2013 baseball products was 88%, the worst of any of their sports).  Short of that, any other solution is little more than a distraction that will lead to profit for some and loss for others.

2014 Mets Card Spring Preview

What’s in the cardboard for the 2014 Mets

Another offseason is coming to an end, so it’s time to take a look at what it all means for card collecting. 2014 was supposed to be the year Sandy Alderson’s plan came together, but significant gaps and questions put that in jeopardy even before Matt Harvey was lost for the season. In terms of cards, the lack of notable veterans has left most sets a mix of David Wright and various prospects and young stars. Are there enough new veterans and rising stars to give the Mets respectable representation in this year’s products? Or, like the master plan, will it take another year for everything to fall into place?

Farewells

Alderson’s big trade of 2013 sent Marlon Byrd and John Buck to Pittsburgh for infielder Dilson Herrera and MLB-ready reliever Vic Black. Byrd and Buck went on to the postseason and, as expected, didn’t return to the Mets. Buck was no longer necessary with the arrival of Travis d’Arnaud, but Byrd was the Mets’ top outfielder offensively.

As I predicted, the 2013 Topps Series 2 Mets team set is a “Where are they now?” article waiting to happen…

The non-tender deadline gave us another batch of departures. Jordany Valdespin, Omar Quintanilla, and Scott Atchison were cut as expected, with Justin Turner and the injured Jeremy Hefner joining them unexpectedly. Hefner and Quintanilla were re-signed, Jordany Valdespin gave in to destiny and signed with the Marlins, Scott Atchison signed with the Indians, and Justin Turner joined teammate Mike Baxter with the Dodgers.

On top of that, oft-injured pitchers Johan Santana and Shaun Marcum also landed elsewhere, Santana with the Orioles and Marcum with the Indians. Santana missed all of 2013 after his second shoulder surgery and Marcum saw his season end early after a shoulder surgery of his own.

Hails

As mentioned before, the Mets bolstered the ranks of their top 20 prospects with the acquisition of Dilson Herrera and Vic Black from the Pirates in August. Black should get a good amount of work as a late-inning reliever this year while Herrera is still a few years out. Not a bad return for a few weeks of a couple of players who wouldn’t be back this year anyway.

And here are the big offseason acquisitions. If nothing else, these guys bring a veteran presence in cardboard dating back to the late ’90s. More on that later.

Autographs

The last few months have given us plenty of new autographs. Bowman Sterling closed out 2013 with the first autographs from L.J. Mazzilli. Panini Elite Extra Edition started 2014 with the first autographs from Jared King and Akeel Morris, plus the first live autographs from Rainy Lara. Last month’s 2014 Donruss was largely a bust but did give us Andrew Brown’s first autographs. Notably absent is Juan Lagares, who should be in line for a lot of attention after his performance in 2013.

Autographs are also plentiful further up in the system. Noah Syndergaard and Rafael Montero should get called up sometime in 2014 and will hopefully get some more autographs along the way. Travis d’Arnaud and Wilmer Flores are the first of the top Mets prospects with autographs in 2014 products.

Notable autographs in upcoming products include the first from Dallas Green and Frank Lary in 2014 Topps Heritage (though not as Mets) and the first from Jeremy Hefner in 2014 Topps Gypsy Queen. More will hopefully follow in 2014 Bowman and 2014 Topps Archives, though the lack of Mets autographs in Heritage is troubling.

Game-Used

One of the big surpises so far this year was the pair of Rookie pinstripe jersey cards in 2013 Panini America’s Pastime. These (along with camo patch variants) are the first memorabilia cards from Juan Lagares and Scott Rice and mark the first time that multiple current Mets have had Mets pinstripe jersey cards in the same year since 2009. Travis d’Arnaud was the first 2014 Rookie with his first MLB-worn material in 2014 Topps Series 1 and 2014 Topps Tribute. It’s a good start after some pretty rough years, but there’s still more ground to cover.

2014 Donruss has given us the first oddity of the year in the form of pinstripe jersey cards from Ike Davis, Dillon Gee, and Jon Niese. Their Game Gear cards all contain a type of pinstripe only seen at the MLB level back in the ’90s. This would mean that they could only be from the 1993 throwback home jersey worn on the road in Colorado on April 16, 2013.

Autographed Game-Used

Leaf had a couple surprises of its own in 2013 Leaf Trinity. In addition to autographs from Noah Syndergaard, Rafael Montero, Dominic Smith, and Domingo Tapia, Leaf released autographed cards with memorabilia from Smith and Tapia. These all included piping or patches, a rarity for minor league players.

At the big league level, Travis d’Arnaud had his first autographed patch cards in the Strata insert set in 2014 Topps Series 1. Numbered to just 25 (and released as redemptions), these are not easy to get a hold of. Hopefully we’ll see more from him later in the year.

Playing Pepper 2014: New York Mets

Like last year, Daniel Shoptaw from C70 At the Bat polled the Mets blog community to get a picture of where the team stands as of spring training. Also like last year, I offered up my unique insight that may or may not be particularly insightful.

You can read all of the responses here: Playing Pepper 2014: New York Mets.

1) How would you grade the offseason?

It’s hard to go much higher than a B considering that the team still has some big holes and big questions, but the moves the team made should be at least enough for a B, so… It’s another year in a holding pattern, so a B it is. The outfield needed an overhaul, which it got in the form of Curtis Granderson and, to a lesser extent, the other Chris Young. The rotation needed a veteran and some Mejia insurance, which Bartolo Colon, Daisuke Matsuzaka, and John Lannan should provide. The bullpen has a few cheap new options, which is probably the best that could be expected. First base is still unresolved and shortstop… No shortstop solution equals a B.

In a different light though, this offseason earned an A for filling some of the Mets’ most glaring holes: All-Star memorabilia. Since All-Star workout jerseys started getting sold into tiny cardboard prisons in 2000, the Mets have had a representative from each AL All-Star team no later than the following spring each year. Sometimes it was a former player stepping up with a new team (Jason Isringhausen ’00, Melvin Mora ’05, Ty Wigginton ’10), other times it was a big-name offseason acquisition (Johan Santana ’07, Francisco Rodriguez ’08, Jason Bay ’09). This ended with the start of the Alderson regime. With no big free agent signings and an emphasis on building the farm system, there were no former or future Mets to be found on the AL All-Star Roster. It looked like 2013 would turn things around with both Jose Reyes and R.A. Dickey in Toronto, but that didn’t quite work out.

That all changed with this past offseason. In the span of a few days, Sandy Alderson checked off the 2011 (Curtis Granderson), 2012 (also CG), and 2013 (Bartolo Colon) AL All-Star teams and threw in the first Met from the 2005 Futures Game USA team (Chris Young) for good measure. Later, the signing of Jose Valverde to a minor league deal added a possible second 2011 AL All-Star. A bounceback season from Reyes and/or Dickey could put us back on track to have a Met on every AL All-Star team.

2) Can Zack Wheeler step up and fill the gap left by Matt Harvey’s surgery?

Yeah, about that… Over the years (well, two of them at least), I have identified two predictors of doom that can be found in cardboard. From 2010 to 2013, only one player each year appeared with the Mets and had a Mets pinstripe jersey card released in the same year. None of the first three played a game with the Mets in the following year. The fourth is Zack Wheeler. In 2013, I noticed that a lot of Mets pitchers who signed a lot of autographs that year suffered from arm injuries. Zack Wheeler was one of the few who has, so far, remained injury free. Does this mean Zack Wheeler is now cursed and has no chance of throwing a pitch in 2014? Of course not. But with the run of injuries Mets pitchers suffered in 2013, nothing is certain.

Seriously though, you can’t really look at it is having a gap to be filled. With or without Harvey, the rotation needs five pitchers to start with and some depth to fill in as needed. The Colon signing added a much-needed veteran and 200 innings from Wheeler would certainly help, as would strong seasons from Jon Niese and Dillon Gee. That just leaves the #5 spot, which has some decent (and cheap) options that could also provide depth later in the season. Add in possible appearances by Noah Syndergaard, Rafael Montero, and/or Jacob deGrom in the second half and the Mets might just have a legitimate group of starting pitchers to work with while Harvey rehabs.

3) Which roster battle will be the most intriguing during spring training?

I’m not really intrigued by it, but the one everyone seems to be interested in is who will be batting leadoff. “Leadoff Hitter” isn’t really a position, but you wouldn’t know that from the reporting these days. Eric Young Jr., the reigning NL stolen base champ, is the favorite for the job, but he’s a 4th outfielder at best. Do the Mets demote Juan Lagares to give EY a starting job to put him (and his mediocre OBP) at the top of the order? Or do they keep EY as a potent weapon off the bench and pick a leadoff hitter from the remaining options? This is the classic case of logic (EY’s value is highest as a bench player) vs. emotion (stolen bases!).

4) What rookie, if any, will make the most impact on the team in 2014?

That would be Travis d’Arnaud. Wilmer Flores will probably start the season in AAA and there’s little chance of seeing any of the big pitching prospects until late June or July. That puts d’Arnaud in the rare position of spending a full season with Rookie eligibility. He has already shown that he is ready behind the plate, but he didn’t impress much with the bat in his brief stint in the majors last year. If his bat comes around (and if he can put injury questions to rest), he could provide significant value at a position that hasn’t produced much for the Mets in recent years.

5) What will be the final record of the team and where will they finish in the division?

I’ll go out on a limb and go with 80-82, 3rd place in the NL East.  As with last year, this will depend more on how the other teams in the division perform than how the Mets perform.  Will the Phillies continue to falter?  Is the Marlins’ emergence still another year away?  Did the Braves and Nationals make the right moves to stay at the top of the NL East?  If everything breaks right, the Mets could stay relevant past the All-Star break.  If not, well, pick any recent year to see the result.  I’m not quite sold on 90 wins, but 80 is still in play.  Of course, so is 70.

6) Which player from your team do you most enjoy watching?

Sigh. Will Matt Harvey’s rehab be televised?

Redemption Frustration

A Game of Cardboard Roulette

It’s what every collector hopes for. You open a pack and there’s a card that stands out from the rest. It isn’t like the others, so it must be something good. You pull it out and you’re hit with immediate disappointment when you see that the back looks like one of these:

You’ve hit a redemption card. Maybe it’s something good, maybe it’s junk. One thing’s for sure: you won’t be seeing the card for a while, if ever. Redemptions can help to get better cards into products, but they have become so prevalent in recent years that collectors have come to dread the prospect of dealing with yet another one. It seems like everyone has at least one outstanding redemption; some people have hundreds stuck in Pending limbo. If it’s a minor card you really want, it doesn’t hurt much to wait. But what do you do if you pull something like this?

Now you’re left with quite the conundrum. Do you redeem it and wait? Sell it now and let someone else deal with it? Will the price go down in the meantime or will the live card be worth more? Why do the card companies do this to us anyway? Let’s break down something we’ve been dealing with since the turn of the millennium but have yet to truly come to terms with.

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Inside the Lines at the White Plains Card Show

Back in the game a decade later

Last month, I shared my story of my trip to the 2014 Queens Baseball Convention.  After 7 hours at the event and another 4 hours spent in transit, that should have been enough for any weekend, especially when you consider that it included appearances (with autographs) from Ron Darling and Ed Kranepool plus a surprise appearance by Art Shamsky.  At least, that was the plan.

Backing up to Friday, January 17, a tweet from Matt den Dekker announced that he would be at the White Plains Card Show on January 18, the same day as the Queens Baseball Convention.

The timing was unfortunate, to say the least.  Former Mets Rusty Staub and Jason Isringhausen were among that day’s other guests, with autograph prices starting at $20 for den Dekker and going up from there (the full list of signers is unfortunately lost to history because the event promoter took all show information offline immediately following the event and nobody seems to have copied it down anywhere).  The show, however would go on.  For one more day at least.  It had been a decade since I had been to a card show, I was within driving distance, and there were two Mets on the autograph list for the final day.  Might as well stop by.

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Adventures in Group Breaking

Breakin’ 3: Bowman Sterling-y

In case you’ve been living under a rock (or just don’t follow the sports card industry), group breaking is the hottest trend in sports cards.  For a (relatively) small fee, collectors who can’t afford the high prices of modern cases can still get a shot at a big hit, provided that they buy into the right slots.  Formats vary, but there are opportunities to get a big return on a small investment (or the reverse).  I’ve been doing the cost-benefit analysis on the various opportunities I’ve seen and finally found the right mix of return and risk in the year’s final offering from Topps as broken by collector favorite Brent Williams.  But before we get to that, let’s take a look at a couple of smaller breaks I tested the waters with earlier in the year.

2012 Panini Prizm

The first break I considered this year was the 2012 Panini Prizm team break from Brent Williams.  I decided that it wasn’t worth the risk at the asking price when I would probably walk away with a Lucas Duda autograph as the big hit.  Instead, I found a cheap 4-box break to buy into.  That should have been good for two base team sets on average, which would include a Matt Harvey Rookie card (because this was a 2012 product).  In the end, I got what I was hoping for: one full team set, a second team set minus one card, an extra Ike Davis, and a few inserts.

And of course a Duda auto.  There was no getting around that one.

2013 Bowman Draft Picks & Prospects

I never really know how to deal with Bowman Draft.  Prices for some of the cards that come out of it can be quite high, but the long-term value is highly volatile.  Positioned at the end of the base Bowman line, most of the Rookie Cards are duplicates from earlier releases (with new photos), which adds to the confusion.  This year, with increased production, decreased numbering on colored refractors, and more variants than ever before, I just bought up base and chrome lots, the base autographs, and a few cheap parallels and left it at that.  To make things interesting, I also bid on a few player slots in a 5-case break from RynemCaseBreaks.  I ended up with only two, Andrew Church (non-auto only) and Zack Wheeler.  With a total cost including shipping of less than $20 and a practically guaranteed 30+ card lot of base/chrome cards for each player, I wasn’t too worried about coming up empty.  Because there wasn’t much of a chance at a big return anyway.

I actually watched almost all of the 5-case break live and it was quite entertaining.  Some slots came up big while others were big losers.  The Bowman Black slot, a bargain at well under $100, was the big winner with both Kris Bryant and Austin Meadows pulled from the 5 cases.  That’s over $500 worth of cards for a slot that could have been a total loss.  On the Mets side of things, the $20 Andrew Church autograph slot came up big with base, refractor, and orange refractor (#d/25) versions pulled in the break.  The $120 Dominic Smith autograph slot on the other hand got just a base autograph (worth about $20).

My slots were not big winners.  In addition to the expected base and chrome cards, I got four parallels: two Zack Wheeler refractors, a Zack Wheeler ice parallel, and an Andrew Church black wave refractor.  Out of all of the base Mets pulled in the break, the best card was a green refractor numbered to 75.

2013 Bowman Sterling

And now, the main event.  Bowman Sterling isn’t exactly my favorite product.  Released at the end of the year, it usually features a mix of rehashed rookies and draft picks, a less popular second helping of autographs we’ve already seen in more interesting products.  Last year, a terribly bland design with refractors that barely looked like refractors did nothing to help the checklist of repeat signers.  Prices on the secondary market reflected these problems; I picked up a gold refractor autograph (#d/50) of Kirk Nieuwenhuis for $1.50 plus shipping and a black refractor autograph (#d/25) of Kevin Plawecki for about $10 more.  The Bowman Black autographs had some decent value, but the massive chipping that plagued thick Topps autographs in 2012 caused them to lose some of their appeal.  Sterling needed a revamp to justify taking a slot in the Topps lineup.

2013 Bowman Sterling is a completely different product from its 2012 incarnation.  Sure, the basics are still the same: 3 autographs per pack, 18 total autographs per box, dual sticker autographs, Bowman Black autographs numbered to 25, etc.  This time though, the autographs are in portrait orientation (typically more highly desired than landscape) and green, ruby, and orange refractor parallels fill the space between refractors and gold refractors.  Most Rookie Card autographs are, unfortunately, on stickers, but the product delivers where it counts: prospect autographs.  2013 draft picks Dominic Smith and Andrew Church return after Bowman Draft, but joining them are Noah Syndergaard with his first Mets autographs and L.J. Mazzilli (fan favorite Lee Mazzilli’s son) with his first certified autograph cards.  Add in some Zack Wheeler sticker autographs and you have a solid Mets checklist with a few must-haves for any serious Mets collector.

Shortly after the checklist was released, Brent Williams announced the possibility of a team-based group break of Bowman Sterling on launch day.  With 106 rookie/prospect autographs in 2013 Bowman Sterling and 144 total autographs in an 8-box case, the odds of getting all of a team’s base autographs are pretty good.  A quick calculation put the over/under of the value of the Mets slot at $90.  For the right price, this would be a great break to get in on.  Which meant that I probably wasn’t the only Mets fan who would be after this slot.

Two days later, Brent Williams announced that the Bowman Sterling break was on.  I was catching up on Twitter while waiting in line at the post office to mail out recent auction sales.  And I was a couple of hours behind on my tweets.  Skipping to the top, I saw that the price breakdown had just been posted.  The Mets slot was priced at $90, right on my estimated cost.  At that price, even getting just the base Mets autographs wouldn’t be a bad deal, especially with them all in one package sent the day after launch.  There was a chance of getting less, but there was also a decent chance of getting some nice bonuses.  20 minutes after the announcement, I claimed the Mets slot without hesitation.  And then I waited two long days for the break to begin.

2013 Bowman Sterling 8-Box Case Break – brentandbecca

I tried to keep my expectations in check.  All I wanted were the five base Mets autographs, one of the base Mets cards, and something extra.  Unfortunately, I missed the start of the break and came in about halfway through.  Among all of the Pirates, Philies, and Yankees autographs, I saw only a Noah Syndergaard base card and two L.J. Mazzilli base autographs.  From what I heard, I had missed a pair of Andrew Church base autographs and a Dominic Smith green refractor autograph.  That still left me three base autographs short of my goal as the break entered its final minutes.  And then the rest of them started hitting one after another.  The base Dominic Smith auto and a green refractor Zack Wheeler auto came up at the end of box number 7.  Box number 8 held the final two base autos, Syndergaard and Wheeler.  And with that, this break had exceeded my expectations.

And that’s it.  Nothing huge, but everything I wanted.  I also had a chance at both The Duel inserts featuring Mets, but I lost out on both of them to the other team featured on the card.  Now I’m just waiting for the post office to deliver the cards.