A breakout season on the field but not in cardboard
Lost among the disappointments and the disasters that make up the Mets’ 2013 season is Marlon Byrd’s breakout season after being traded, released, and suspended for a banned substance in 2012. In 117 games with the Mets, Byrd hit .285 with 21 home runs, providing a much needed power boost alongside a surprising (in April at least) John Buck. He did all this after signing a minor league deal for a mere $700,000, barely more than the league minimum with no guarantee of major league playing time. Byrd made the team out of spring training and the rest is history. A late August trade to the Pirates with Buck brought back two promising prospects, so Byrd’s impact could be felt for years to come. After all of that, let’s take a look at all of Byrd’s cards from the first 8 months of the year:
No, the others aren’t underneath it, that’s the only one. No base cards, parallels, regular inserts, autographs, or anything else. Just one card in the online-only Topps Mini with a piece of Cubs jersey. Now, he didn’t sign with the Mets until after 2013 Topps Series 1 was released, so you can’t fault Topps for skipping him in that and some of the other early releases. He wasn’t a lock to appear in the majors until late March, so production lead times would make Topps Series 2, released in June, his first chance at a Mets card. It was mostly prospect-oriented products from that until Topps Mini came out, so at least they got to him on the second real opportunity. And then skipped over him in Allen & Ginter’s and Tier One. Maybe we’ll see more of him during the release blitz with Topps Chrome, Bowman Chrome, Topps Finest, Topps Update, and Topps Triple Threads launching on consecutive weeks from late September to the end of October.
After seeing Byrd’s 2013 checklist to date, you wouldn’t expect much from the rest of the Mets’ newcomers. Shaun Marcum signed with the Mets on January 30 and started the season on the DL; some doubted that he would even appear in a game in 2013. Marcum would have to settle for numerous cards in Heritage and Gypsy Queen in a Brewers uniform before his first start with the Mets on April 27, then his first Mets card in Bowman two weeks later. Huh? His Bowman cards were followed up by a redemption autograph in Topps Series 2, a season-ending injury after his final start on July 6, then more cards in Allen & Ginter’s and Tier One in August. Um, he appeared in 14 games over 10 weeks and is now practically a hobby mainstay for some reason. What gives?
John Buck was one of the few newcomers practically guaranteed to make the team straight out of spring training. As salary ballast in the Dickey trade, Buck was the only veteran catcher left in the Mets’ system. With only 6 weeks between the trade and the release of Topps Series 1, there just wasn’t enough time to get him in that product. Instead, his Mets debut had to wait until Topps Series 2 in the base set with countless parallels. That was it for Buck other than the expected base and parallel cards in Topps Mini. Collin Cowgill was about as likely as Byrd to make the team out of spring training, so it wasn’t a surprise that he wasn’t in any of the early products. His production was all downhill after his Opening Day grand slam, so there was no real reason to put him in any of the later products. Cowgill made his Mets debut with a random autograph card in Topps Series 2, released the day after his final game with the Mets. You’d have to be pretty insignificant to get worse treatment than that.
Or apparently one of the most productive players on the team. Why no love for Marlon Byrd? As I see it, there are two possibilities. First, the culprit could be the Topps release schedule, which is so heavily front-loaded that a player who debuts in April usually has to wait until October for their first card (unless they are Yasiel Puig, in which case they will be in every product for the rest of eternity within a month). With Series 1 launching before spring training starts and Series 2 usually scheduled for well before the All-Star break, there is little time to reflect current-season players in a year’s product. This makes no sense. Pushing the release dates back a month or two would allow Series 1 to reflect offseson deals and Series 2 to incorporate early-season call-ups. Instead, we get Jason Bay, Jon Rauch, and Scott Hairston shown as Mets in 2013 with Jeurys Familia and Collin McHugh as the only Mets “rookies” in the base product.
I couldn’t end this without a conspiracy theory, but this isn’t one that originated with me. It has already been speculated that Topps cuts back on the cards of players who have received PED suspensions. There isn’t really enough data to work with to come to any conclusions (that should change soon), but the lack of Byrd cards given the season he’s had (even considering lead time issues) is suspicious. Maybe we’ll be flooded with Byrd in October as Byrd’s season continues with the Pirates and the suspension can be ruled out as a factor. But if not, shunning by Topps could be yet another consequence of PED use.