Jack Of All Trades: My First 2011 Pack

While much of the attention has been focused on the anniversary that Topps is celebrating- 60 years of selling baseball cards- I, too, reached a milestone. I've been collecting baseball cards for 25 years, going back to the first pack of Topps I opened in 1986, with Glenn Wilson there to greet me first.

My collecting isn't as serious as it was when I was growing up, but it still represents a part of me that stubbornly refuses to mature. After all, I don't get the thrill of trading with my friends anymore. My wife doesn't have any cards I want, and my baby daughter offers little for my best cards, other than future considerations in exchange for the chance to chew on one. (Screw-top cases are the thinking father's teether.)

But when this year's Topps came out, I treated myself to a box. If I couldn't trade them myself, I figured, I could write about just which trades I'd find hidden within a random pack of cards. Here's what I found, from my very first pack in the box.

First up was Kevin Kouzmanoff, a participant in two trades. Back in November 2006, the Indians traded Kouzmanoff and Andrew Brown to San Diego for Josh Barfield. Alas, none of the participants in that trade panned out, and San Diego shipped Kouzmanoff and discipline-rich infielder Eric Sogard to the Athletics for outfielders Aaron Cunningham, who was useful in 2010, and Scott Hairston, who really wasn't. Both from a trade and card standpoint, it was kind of a Glenn Wilson way to start.

Next came Brandon Inge, a man who has worked hard to stay out of MLBTR's web, much like a celebrity who tries to avoid TMZ by wearing underwear. He was drafted by the Tigers in 1998, and that is where you'll find him today. Same goes for my third card, Peter Bourjos, a product of the Anaheim organization still in Anaheim. Bourjos is pictured about to either make a sliding catch, or gift someone a triple.

Fourth up was a special card- recognizing Manny Ramirez for putting up the ninth-best OPS of all time. Ramirez has seen his share of moving around, but only one trade bears his name. It is one of the more underrated moves of the past few years. The Dodgers, as part of a three-way deal, sent Bryan Morris and Andy LaRoche to the Pirates, while the Red Sox traded Craig Hansen and Brandon Moss to the Pirates. The Dodgers got Ramirez. The Red Sox got Bay. Leave aside Bay for a moment- that means the Dodgers got 223 games of a 170 OPS+ from Ramirez for Bryan Morris and Andy LaRoche. That was a steal. I'm putting Ramirez in hard plastic.

Batting fifth, a game-used memorabilia card from Josh Hamilton. He earned the honor for finishing with the highest OPS in baseball last year, while Topps earns major plaudits from me for caring so much about expanded stats. (Get me a Topps card with WAR and we'll really be talking.) The Hamilton deal back in December 2007 was one of my favorites. The Reds got back pitchers Edinson Volquez and Danny Herrera. Despite Hamilton's injury struggles since then, he's been significantly more valuable than Volquez, leading to the obvious conclusion: bank on the position ahead of the pitcher in any challenge trade. They are far more projectible.

Batting sixth is Stephen Strasburg, while Andre Ethier takes up the seventh spot. I don't intend to ruin any nights among Nats or Dodgers fans by suggesting that either one has been traded. But I thought of the two as a kind of Hamilton-for-Volquez challenge trade. Which future would you bet on? The smart money is probably on Ethier, even with the dramatically higher ceiling Strasburg offers.

Rounding out the pack was a CC Sabathia card, inviting me to unlock some digital Topps cards. I admit to being confused by the idea of virtual cards-isn't that just eBay cards I look at but can't afford?- but will happily see what the online fuss is all about. Having a virtual CC Sabathia is probably what the Milwaukee Brewers felt like they had after dealing Michael Brantley, Matt LaPorta, Rob Bryson and Zach Jackson for him in the summer of 2008, only to see the Yankees snap him up that winter.

Overall, it was not my strongest pack of all time- that would be a 1989 Donruss pack I got on a trip to a bagel establishment long since defunct in Marlton, NJ, which contained eight all stars in 15 cards, if memory serves. But the pack served a vital purpose- by the time I finished looking, baseball season was that much closer.



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