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Monday, March 31, 2008

MLB in the News

The Twins' Francisco Liriano had two solid outings this past week. He went 1-0 in a combined 9IP, allowing 3 hits, 1 run & 4 BB with 12 K's. Despite these impressive showings, he'll be starting the season in the minors. After missing the entire '07 season, undergoing Tommy John surgery during his rookie season in '06, the Twins have decided to bring Liriano along slowly - which is probably a good idea. Minnesota needs to think about what's best long-term for their 24-year-old star pitcher, especially with the loss of their former ace, Johan Santana.

Liriano's top two rookie cards are his 02 Bowman Chrome & Bowman's Best Auto. His BC has been selling for around $30 TAC over the past week. His BC Ref #'d 500 can be found in the $55-70 range. His BB Auto RC (his only rookie Auto), has been selling in the $80-90 range. When searching for his 02 BC RC, be careful which card you buy. There's a Bowman Chrome #174 and a Bowman Chrome Draft #BDP147. The one that's considered his "True" rookie card is the BC #174. (some collectors don't care which one they get, since both are technically his "rookie" year issues). On ESPN, it was reported that Liriano will get at least two starts in the minors to "improve his conditioning and his fastball" before they consider calling him back up to the majors.

Milwaukee's young starter, Yovani Gallardo, had undergone arthroscopic surgery on his left knee on 2/19. Then, on Friday, it was reported that he was being placed on the 15-day DL, due to a "torn lateral meniscus in his left knee". Hopefully that knee of his isn't becoming one of those chronic ailments that prevents him from reaching his full potential. Gallardo had a break-out rookie season in '07, going 9-5 with a 3.67 ERA & 8.2 K's/9IP, in 17 starts.

Gallardo's only two base Auto rookies have been solid sellers since last season. His 04 Donruss Elite EE Auto #'d 803 peaked at around $60 TAC last June, then fell to a low of $36 in December, and has since risen back up to the $50 range in recent. His 04 SP Prospects Auto #'d 400 has been a really tough find over the last 6 months. I saw one sell in December for $119.65 TAC, and another for $109.88 in September. Before that, this card was selling in the $165-185 range, during the '07 regular season.

Liriano & Gallardo have potential to be stars, both on the field and in the hobby. Now might be a good time to invest, while both of them deal with their temporary set-backs on the way to their 2nd seasons in the majors.

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Beckett's "Sports Card Monthly"

When I received my inaugural issue of Beckett's Sports Card Monthly a few weeks back, I was pretty excited to see what it had to offer. After spending a few minutes each day browsing its pages after work, I've come to the conclusion that I'd like to have my old, single-sport subscription back. Like most hobbyists, I don't collect all of the sports, and would rather have the page-space dedicated to the sports that I do have interest in. I wonder if Beckett did some sort of consumer survey and found that people actually wanted all this variety. Or maybe they polled the card shops asking if customers typically buy multiple sports. Whatever the case may be, their marketing $'s could've been better spent on something else (like continuously finding ways to improve their content).

I liked that they carried over the "Hot List" from the old one-sport format, and "The Card Universe" pie chart showing the card breakdown by sport was interesting. The "Landmark Set Spotlight" was a decent read, and the "Preview" section (also a carryover) is always good to know.

I really didn't like that they eliminated the older-year card/price lists. It seems like the idea behind replacing peoples' subscriptions with this new publication is to try to get collectors to branch out from their one or two favorite sports and start buying a wider variety. But, as a former Football & Hockey card collector, my first thought while reading this would be to check on the prices for those cards that I bought several years ago (and still have tucked away in storage) to see if there's been any market movement. Being able to look those cards up would probably inspire me more to consider re-entering those sports again, rather than just being able to look at what cards are available for the current season (just my personal feeling).

The "Player Price Guides" were a total waste of space. By listing every card issued for just a few select players, it targets such a small niche of hobbyists. Most collectors only want to buy a particular player's rookie and high-end Auto/Game-Used cards. I would guess that very few people actually collect every single card issued for a player (despite Beckett spotlighting "Super Collectors" who do collect that way).

The insert that came with this first issue said that we can request them to change us back to our one-sport subscription. I'll probably be making that call really soon.

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

NBA: Hot Properties

Andrew Bynum's mid-range auto rookies are still on the rise, despite him being injured since mid-January. It was first reported that Bynum would return in time for the playoffs, but now he's expected to be back on the floor in a couple of weeks. Bynum's 05-06 SP Authentic Auto #'d 1299 has risen for the 4th straight month, averaging $87.73 in March, up from $82.44 last month. His SPx Auto/Jsy #'d 1499 has experienced a similar, consistent upward movement, averaging $97.10 in March, up from $88.77 last month. His high-end auto rookies seem to be flattening out in value, with his Exquisite Collection Auto/Patch #'d 225 selling for around $670 ($673 last month).

I'm personally shocked that Bynum's been able to maintain this increasing level of value without even playing! When he returns, if he can pick up where he left off, I expect his SPA & SPx rookies to start averaging in the $100+ range very quickly.

Deron Williams' auto rookies are up across the board in March, with his 05-06 SP Authentic Auto #'d 1299 averaging $52.38 ($42.52 last month), his SPx Auto/Jsy #'d 750 at $72.46 ($61.04), his Exquisite Collection Auto/Patch #'d 99 at $873.30 ($693), and his Ultimate Collection Auto #'d 250 at $104.99 ($78.01). Williams has led his Jazz on a great run, improving their record from 17-16 at the end of December to their current 47-25, placing them in the #4 seed for the playoffs (not to say that that couldn't easily change with how tight the race is in the West this season).

Williams will be a top 3 NBA PG for the next decade plus, and his card values have room to grow, based on current price levels.

Jordan Farmar has been one of the hottest players in the hobby this month. He's really stepped up his game to help his short-handed Lakers stay on track for the playoffs. Watching him play, you can really see how much he's grown & matured. His scoring has increased to 9.3 ppg (4.4 ppg last season) in just 5 more minutes playing time per game. His contributions go beyond just purely stats, and collectors have obviously picked up on that. Some of his average TAC values for March are: 06-07 SP Authentic Auto #'d 999 - $28.96 ($11.07 last month), SPx Auto/Jsy #'d 1199 - $36.02 ($23.74), Bowman Chrome Auto - $29.77 ($25.25), E-X Auto #'d 899 - $18 ($9.77), and Exquisite Collection Auto/Patch #'d 225 - $171.28 ($134.83).

I've always felt that Farmar had great potential, but I didn't expect him to become a hobby-hit for a couple more years. I guess circumstances can really put a player to the test. It's really impressive to watch guys like Farmar & Sasha Vujacic taking advantage of their increased playing time.

Sunday, March 16, 2008

Spring Pitching Highlights of the Week
  • On 3/7, the D-Rays' Jeff Niemann got his 1st Spring win, out-dueling young Phillies ace Cole Hamels. Niemann went 3 innings, allowing 0 hits, 0 runs, 2 BB & had 2 K's. He got his 2nd win on 3/15, leading his team over the Yankees 7-2, allowing just 1 run off of 6 hits, with 0 BB & 1 K in 4 IP. Niemann's 05 Bowman Sterling Auto/Jsy RC has been selling in the $6-11 TAC range for the past 6 months, through February. One sold on 3/9 for $12.01, possibly signaling an increasing level of hobby interest in this future ace. His 05 Bowman Chrome Auto RC is averaging around $10 TAC this month.
  • On 3/10, the Red Sox & Mets tied 1-1, with Johan Santana & Jon Lester both tossing gems for their respective teams. Santana went 4 innings, allowing 2 hits, 0 runs, 0 BB with 4 K's. Lester also went 4 innings and allowed 2 hits, 0 runs, 1 BB with 5 K's. Santana was really hot in the hobby last month, with his 00 Bowman's Best RC #'d 2999 averaging $97.06 TAC, and his Finest RC #'d 3000 at $125.06. So far in March, his cards have cooled down some, with his BB RC at $77.68, and Finest RC at $61.24. Lester's 06 Bowman Sterling Auto/Jsy RC has been selling in the mid $20's range, and his Ref version #'d 199 in mid $50's. I saw one of his 06 Bowman Chrome Ref Auto RC #'d 500 sell for $40.70 TAC earlier this week.
  • On 3/11, Seattle's Felix Hernandez tossed 5 shut-out innings against the Rockies, but his relievers blew their 1-0 lead in the 7th, and they ended up losing 4-1. Hernandez's 04 Bowman Chrome Auto RC jumped to $106.40 last month, up from $76.09 in January. It's the first time that card has had a monthly average TAC over $100 since August '07. His 04 Bowman's Best Auto RC has been hovering in the $40-55 range since last June. The first March sale that I saw, on 3/15, went for $78 TAC. Fluke or new price point?
  • On 3/15, Roy Oswalt pitched six perfect innings, leading the Astros to a 15-6 win over the Braves. In those 6 innings, he didn't allow a single hit, run or walk, and fanned 7 batters. Oswalt's 00 SPx RC #'d 1600 averaged $105.74 in February, down from a monthly average high of $122.83 back in July '07. After his performance this week, you can bet that collectors will be jumping all over his best rookie card, driving it's value back up to previous levels (or higher).
T-Mac, Rockets on a Historical Run

The Rockets have now won 22 straight games, with the last 10 coming without their leading scorer (before getting injured)/rebounder/shot-blocker/freethrow shooter, Yao Ming. Tracy McGrady has really stepped up his game in Yao's absence, but collectors have been very slow to drive up his rookie values, despite his success on the court. During the November through February period (he did miss 11 straight games in Dec/Jan), his 97-98 SP Authentic RC averaged between $10-12 TAC. In March, while he's been carrying the Rockets (along with Rafer Alston), that card has just started to show some signs of life over the past week, with it's average TAC rising to $13.75. I don't think that we've seen the real jump in value that's in store for McGrady's top base rookie card, as long as the Rockets can continue their success into the playoffs. It could have the potential to reach around $20 TAC.

I haven't seen any of his ultra-rare 97-98 Skybox Autographics Auto's sell this season. I did see two of his 97-98 Skybox Rubies #'d 50 sell recently though. One went for $284 in February, and the other for $206.50 on 3/13.

With the Celtics coming to town tomorrow, and the Rockets visiting New Orleans, Golden State & Phoenix thereafter, this miraculous streak may be coming to an end soon. It was surly a great run, and hopefully they didn't peak out too early.

Saturday, March 15, 2008

D-Rays Players: Long-Term Value

One reader wrote the comment: "I just cannot buy cards of D-Rays players. The investment angle is iffy at best. Have they ever had a player who retained high value over the past 10 years?"

In response, I would say no, there hasn't been any hobby-worthy players in their organization since their inception 10 years ago, which isn't that surprising for an expansion team. As a matter of fact, how many teams overall have had a player that has sustained hobby success consistently over the last decade? It's probably a pretty short list. Scott Kazmir is probably the D-Rays' best bet for making their mark in this arena. Through his first three full seasons, he has a combined ERA of 3.52 and is averaging 9.65 K's/9IP (10.30/9IP over his last two seasons). He was, and remains, my top pick for pitchers in his age range. His 02 UD Prospect Premiers Auto XRC has been selling in the $60's TAC range, and his 04 Bowman Sterling Auto/Jsy RC can be found for around $20.

Carlos Pena was hot last season, but as we saw in the market, his cards couldn't hold their lofty values for more than a few months, before falling to about half of their peak value. The rest of Tampa Bay's young, up-and-coming players are a pretty risky bet; but that's part of the fun of prospecting!

In reality, I don't see the D-Rays making a run for the Series anytime soon, but you never know. Look at the D-Backs, who won the Series just 3 years after their debut season. With the right draft picks & trades, anything is possible.

Friday, March 14, 2008

Strong Performers, Disappointing Teams

One player that has been a strong performer, but has never been a part of a successful team (except for GS last season, but because of his injury, he took a backseat to Baron Davis & others on the team) is Jason Richardson. Richardson was taken by the Warriors in the '01 draft with the 5th overall pick. He had been increasing his scoring average slowly every season, peaking in 05-06 at 23.2 ppg. Then in 06-07, he had knee surgery which limited him to just 51 games, and his scoring average dropped to 16.0 ppg. During his 6 years with Golden State, the team went 206-286. Richardson was then traded to Charlotte this season for the rights to forward Brandan Wright. He seems to be making a comeback in his new home, bringing his scoring average up to 20.9 ppg, and is looking healthy (he's started all 63 of the team's games thus far). Richardson's top rookie cards from 01-02 include his SP Authentic Auto #'d 700, SPx Auto/Jsy #'d 250 (x3 versions) and of course his Ultimate Collection Auto #'d 250. Do a search on ebay and you won't find any of these three cards listed for sale (there is one Ultimate RC, but its graded, and I don't track graded cards). I think that collectors have been holding on to his cards, waiting for the market to turnaround. Because the Bobcats have the 4th worst record in the East, I would say that a little more time is needed before we see any significant rise in Richardson's card values. But, since he's surrounded by young, potential stars like Emeka Okafor, Gerald Wallace & Raymond Felton, Charlotte may become a contender within the next few years (unlike say, Miami), which should give him a boost (if he's still there, and stays healthy).

Another player, whose performance has been improving every season, is Danny Granger. Unfortunately, as Granger's output increased, the Pacer's W's have decreased. He averaged 7.5 ppg in 05-06 (team record: 41-41), 13.9 ppg in 06-07 (team record: 35-47) and is at 18.5 ppg through 3/11 (team record: 25-39). Granger has several base Auto rookies available; all of which can be found for well-below book value. They are his 05-06 Exquisite Collection Auto/Patch #'d 225, Greats of the Game Auto #'d 99, Ultimate Collection Auto #'d 250, SP Authentic Auto #'d 1299 and SPx Auto/Jsy #'d 1499. Granger might make a good investment, especially if he's still around to lead the Pacers when they cyclically move back to the upper part of the Eastern rankings.

Sunday, March 09, 2008

Player Focus: Jeff Niemann

The D-Rays' Jeff Niemann had his first Spring win on Friday, out-dueling Philadelphia's ace Cole Hamels. He pitched 3 hitless innings, with 2 BB & 2 K's. Tampa Bay went on to win 9-1. After going 12-6 with a 3.98 ERA in 25 starts at Triple-A Durham last season, Niemann looks ready to make the jump to the majors in '08.

Toward the end of the '07 season, his 05 Bowman Chrome Auto RC was trading in the $18-19 range, before gradually falling to an average TAC of $11.75 in February. So far in March, it's averaging $10.25. His 05 Bowman Sterling Auto/Jsy RC has seen a wide range of prices recently, with one selling last month for $5.99, and another selling this month for $12.01. In past months, prices have fallen somewhere in between. As of now, Niemann is on the D-Rays' 40-man roster, so if all goes well, he should be lighting up batters in the Bigs next month. His cards have tons of upside potential, and are priced to buy. My only concern would be his propensity for injury. He has missed playing time both in college and in the minors, so hopefully he's in good health and ready for the challenge.

Friday, March 07, 2008

Player Focus: Steve Nash

Steve Nash, probably the best PG in the game right now, has been slowly regaining his hobby stature with each passing month this season. His 96-97 Topps Chrome RC had an average TAC of $25.85 in November, $27.93 in December, $30.80 in January and $32.68 in February. In each of those months, Nash averaged double digit points & assists, helping his Suns to achieve one of the best records in the West. In his last 10 games, he's averaged a decent 18.4 ppg and 9.8 apg, but his team went 4-6. The hobby was quick to respond to Suns' short slump by punishing Nash's top rookie card's market value. So far this month, it's averaging just $25, down 23.5% from February, and lower than it was at the beginning of the season.

It's too bad that the Suns traded away the versatile Shawn Marion for the well-past-his-prime Shaquille O'Neal. I think that they could have acquired & started a so-so center (like the Celtics did with Kendrick Perkins) without giving up any of there top 6 players, and had a better chance at the championship this season. Nash isn't getting any younger, and the Suns really need to find a roster mix that will optimize their chances at success. I'm afraid that the 07-08 season will end with a first round playoff exit, and they'll be back to the drawing board again.

With Nash's Chrome rookie trading as season-low levels, now might be a good time to find some deals. One sold on 3/4 for $23.49. A low $20's price tag creates a lot of room for value growth.

Wednesday, March 05, 2008

MLB Potential Buying Opportunities

Some of the players that I think have a chance to rise in value this season are Justin Verlander, Clay Buchholz, Edwin Jackson and Elijah Dukes.

Verlander has been pretty consistently good through his first two full seasons in the majors, with a combined 3.65 ERA, 35-15 record, 7.13 K's/9IP and 2.95 BB/9IP. His 05 Bowman Chrome Auto RC peaked out at a monthly average TAC of around $80 last season, and then fell to $50-60 during the off-season ($52.99 in February). After the Tigers had their meltdown in '07, they've bulked up their roster for '08 with the additions of Miguel Cabrera, Dontrelle Willis & Edgar Renteria, and they should make a run for the post-season. Look for Verlander to continue to post 15+ win seasons for years to come, and take his place among the next-gen future HOF pitchers. His 05 Bowman Sterling Auto/Jsy RC probably has an even bigger potential for growth than his BC RC. It peaked out in the high $40's, then fell to the high $20's during the off-season.

Buchholz gained his fame last season when he threw his no-no, driving his 05 Bowman Chrome Draft RC up to an average TAC of around $21. The hobby-hype soon died down when he got hurt and missed the rest of the season, and his BCD RC got stuck in the $11-12 range for the next four months. In February, it started to show some signs of life again, moving up to an average of $13.09. His BCD Ref has been selling in the mid $40's, and his BCD X-fractor #'d 250 in the mid $80's. The last BCD Gold Ref #'d 50 that I saw sold for $437 back in November.

Jackson, who has only shown brief signs of fulfilling his potential over his five-year MLB career, could be on the verge of becoming a strong contributor in the D-Rays' rotation in '08. He'll be joined by Scott Kazmir (a future strike-out king), the newly-acquired Matt Garza and call-up hopeful Jeff Niemann (who had a great year in the minors in '07). There have been very few Jackson rookie cards listed for sale on auction over the past couple of years, but I would expect to see an increase if he can perform as well as he has thus far in Spring Training. Hopefully he just needed a few years to mature, since he came into the league at such a young age.

I had high hopes for Dukes last season, until his personal problems distracted his play, and eventually ended his season prematurely. His 07 Bowman Auto RC reached an average TAC of $17-18 at its peak, but then started its descent after his departure, bottoming out in the $8-9 range. In February, his Bowman RC averaged $9.34, and his 07 Bowman Blue Auto #'d 500 was at $14.51. Dukes is still a risky bet, but his potential brings out the gambler in many collectors. I'll probably try to pick up one of his Bowman base Auto rookies if I can find one for $7-8 TAC.

Tuesday, March 04, 2008

MLB Rookie Card Update - February '08

Over the last month or so, there seems to have been an increase in rookie card prospecting on the open market. Ken Griffey Jr.'s 89 Upper Deck RC jumped to an average TAC of $30.53; it's highest level since July '07. Collectors know that as long he's able to suit up this season, he should have no problem reaching the 600 HR mark (he's at 593); especially without the steroids/HGH taint that plagued other recent 600 HR hitters like Sammy Sosa.

Alex Rodriguez's 94 SP RC also experienced a jump in value, averaging $141.45 TAC, up from $122.09 a month earlier. His die-cut version was at $154.35, up from $134.42. These price levels are considerably higher than those seen during the season, when he was leading the majors in both HR (54) and RBI (156). I don't know if this increase is the result of people finally realizing that he's really going to be the career HR king, or if new, less experienced buyers are now entering the market and are willing to dish out more $ than others. Who knows? Anyway, now probably isn't the best time to buy.

Matt Holliday's 99 Bowman Chrome RC's value has been slowly creeping up over the last couple of months. It averaged $11.21 in December, $13.39 in January, and $14.88 in February, getting closer to it's peak of $17.83 back in October '07, when his Rockies made that miraculous World Series run. Since Colorado has been locking up most of their players from last season, I would expect that they will compete quite well again in '08.

As soon as trade rumors started circulating during this off-season, Johan Santana's key rookie cards have been on the rise. His 00 Finest RC #'d 3000 averaged $93.15 TAC in December (it peaked at around $70 during the '07 season), then $104.68 in January and $125.06 in February. His 00 Bowman's Best RC #'d 2999 was selling in the high $90's range in February. Santana is arguably the most dominant pitcher in his age group, and he should be able to help the Mets win the NL East, and advance in the post-season in '08.

Last season's NL ROY, Ryan Braun, was one of the hottest players in the hobby after the break in '07. His 05 Bowman Chrome Auto RC peaked out at around $172 TAC in August, then bottomed out at $124.08 in December. It's now back on the rise, averaging $144.18 in February. Also last month, his 05 BC Ref Auto #'d 500 was at $218.83, his 05 BC X-fractor Auto #'d 250 was at $226.50, his 05 Bowman Sterling Auto was at $85.14, and his 05 Bowman Heritage Signs of Greatness Auto was at $51.35.

More to come!
Note: For those newer readers, "TAC" stands for Total Acquisition Cost, meaning the total that a buyer pays for any particular item (base price + shipping & handling cost).

Monday, March 03, 2008

Celtics Pick Up Cassell

Sam Cassell will be moving to Boston on Tuesday, to back up second-year point guard Rajon Rondo. What will be the impact on Rondo? Rondo seems to think that Cassell's arrival will help him, despite Cassell potentially taking away some of his playing time. I think Rondo's right.

The Celtics have three of the best players in the league in their line-up. What they've been lacking is an experienced point guard to run their offense, to tie all that talent together. They've relied thus far on Rondo, a 22-year-old who only started 25 of his 78 games last season. Now, not only will they have an experienced PG on the floor for 20+ minutes per game, they will also have a great mentor, who has championship experience, for Rondo to learn from.

Rondo's key Auto rookie cards have been either steady or increasing this season, as a result of his expanded role on a winning team. His 06-07 SPx Auto/Jsy #'d 1199 has been selling for around $28-30 TAC, while his SPA Auto #'d 999 can be found in the $18-22 range. His best buy for under $20 is his Sweet Shot Auto #'d 799, which averaged $15.53 in February. Expect to dish out between $250-300 for his Exquisite Collection Auto/Patch #'d 225.

If you're interested in getting a less-lazy Auto than his "RR" shown above, pick up his Hoops Hot Prospects Auto/Patch RC #'d 250 or his Sweet Shot Auto RC #'d 799. The Auto's on these two base rookie cards show a little more effort.

Rondo has potential to be a big hobby hit in years to come, and could be the sleeper point guard prospect for the Eastern Conference.