Making a mockery of the hobby
Over the last two weeks, I’ve been working on getting many of the various Mets prospect autographs in 2012 Panini Elite Extra Edition in preparation for an upcoming review. Unlike Topps, which rarely features signatures from players outside the first round, Panini goes deeper into the draft with half a dozen or so players from each team. This year’s product featured Mets top picks Gavin Cecchini and Kevin Plawecki plus four lower picks: Matt Reynolds (2nd round), Matt Koch (3rd round), Branden Kaupe (4th round), and Logan Taylor (11th round). Most of the autographs from this bunch were fairly easy to obtain on eBay for under $10, but there was one problem. Branden Kaupe autographs were impossible to buy at any reasonable price.
Did Kaupe impress enough at Kingsport to warrant a run on his first autograph cards? No. Not at all. Mets Minors Review ranked Kaupe the Mets’ 38th top prospect after a disappointing season. Few others are even discussing Kaupe’s prospect potential. As much as Mets fans have a soft spot for Hawaiian players, it’s hard to call Kaupe a top prospect. So why the surge in prices?
Looking at the auctions, the common thread is the user 808kaupe. Since January 26, 808kaupe (shown below as 0***8) has purchased nothing but Branden Kaupe cards. The selling prices started at a dollar or two, but they soon escalated. $10. $20. No matter how much you bid, you could be guaranteed that 808kaupe would bid more. Here’s an example from a basic Kaupe autograph numbered to 347 that ended on February 1:
Things only got crazier from there. Apparent shill bidders revealed 808kaupe’s top bid on an autograph numbered to 25 on February 5 to be $50, well above what even an equivalent Gavin Cecchini would sell for.
Four days later, another apparent shill revealed 808kaupe’s maximum bid on an autograph numbered to 347 to be a whopping $100. With bids like that on a card realistically valued at a few dollars, the cards might as well not exist. Someone clearly wanted these cards at any cost. All of them.
So who is 808kaupe? The username offers some obvious clues. 808 is the area code for Hawaii and kaupe, well, you get the picture. This all seems to tie back to Branden Kaupe somehow. A search for the username brings up plenty of web site accounts, but none with listed names. One is for a 16 year old female. Another is for a 24 year old male. Kaupe’s siblings perhaps? The 808kaupe on eBay could be one of these, another relative, an unrelated Kaupe in Hawaii, or even Branden Kaupe himself.
If any of this sounds familiar, you may be thinking of Rick Asadoorian. Asadoorian, the Red Sox 1st round draft pick in 1999, had his first rookie cards released in 2000. For a while, they were some of the hottest rookie cards on the market, right up there with the likes of Ben Sheets and Barry Zito. The problem was that Asadoorian wasn’t the prospect that his rookie card peers were. Not even close. Eventually it was revealed that his family had been buying up large quantities of his rookie cards, causing prices to spike. When they stopped, his cards became worthless. While Zito and Sheets never quite lived up to their high expectations, Asadoorian never played so much as a single game in the majors.
Thirteen years later, it looks like we’re seeing the same thing with Branden Kaupe. Unlike the Asadoorian case though, it is unlikely that the bidding of the last two weeks will have any noticeable impact on Kaupe’s hobby status. Asadoorian had the first round pedigree to trick buyers into overvaluing his cards back in the days of the dot com bubble. Kaupe doesn’t and buyers simply have too much information at their fingertips to think that a guy who hit .173 in A ball is a solid buy. Most, like me, just want the card to finish out a set of some kind and will likely never see Branden Kaupe in their collections again. When 808kaupe stops placing outrageous bids, Kaupe’s autograph cards will go quickly back to being $1 commons and many of us will be left with a bad impression of a guy trying to live out his dream.