MLB Opening Day 2017: Following a Dream Year with a Question Mark

Lets face it people, 2016 was about as good as it gets in terms of the way events played out for the hobby. A widely collected team finally wins the championship after 108 years. Both of the top two collected players in the hobby win the MVP of their respective leagues. A new 27k per box product hits shelves, and sells out about as fast as anything has ever sold out. How do you follow that up?

If Mike Trout is the current face of Baseball cards, he is starting to feel some heat from Kris Bryant, especially now that the curse of the Billy Goat has been broken. Being that Topps and Bryant have a great relationship, as they do with Trout, we should see a huge focus on both continued for this year. Unlike Trout, whose luster might have started to wear off a bit due to volume of availability, Bryant is about as white hot as it gets right now. If he has the kind of season this year that he did last year, nothing would be better for Baseball cards.

Check out these prices:

2013 Bowman Chrome Kris Bryant Auto RC BGS 9.5

2017 Gypsy Queen Kris Bryant Auto

2015 Bowman Chrome Kris Bryant Auto Green Refractor /99

There are good young players quickly making their way through the ranks of widely collected teams as well. Aaron Judge and Gary Sanchez for the Yankees especially, filling a gap left behind by some droughts of collectible players since Jeter left. Speaking of everyone’s favorite number 2, he is back again in the hobby, and continues to make waves with Topps products. His cards are reminiscent of what happened with Ichiro a few years ago, but Jeter is on a different level. There are a lot of people who are happy to have another big signature available in packs.

I still have a lot of questions about this year, as I think that there are major balls still in the air with the sustainability of the industry. Adding in further questions around digital and I hope that 2017 can be even close to the year that 2016 was for Baseball. With the absolutely incredible success of Topps NOW during the playoffs and world series, they have a hard act to follow in continuing to innovate with the way things are going to play out. I am curious how they incorporate more cool content more regularly instead of the general daily cards that are released regularly.

As a collector who has turned to Baseball more frequently with Panini’s poor execution on the NFL side, I want this to be the banner year tha t2016 turned out to be. I have a feeling we have a lot to gain, but it all depends on the execution. Topps banked some big wins on risky endeavors last year, and its yet to be seen if more risks will be taken. If they choose to continue down the path less traveled, im waiting with intense curiosity to see if more wins are achieved. For the sake of cards as a whole, I hope they are.

On Shelves Now: 2016 National Treasures Football

Other than Contenders, there may not be a bigger product released in Football now that Topps has been forced out. Although I dont think the legacy of this set deserves to be what it is, collectors have been waiting for this product to come out for WAY too long. Luckily for Panini, the set looks good and the buzz of Dak and Zeke hasnt been overtaken quite yet. The draft is a month away still, and this is the second to last set of 2016.

Here are some of the top hits already up:

2016 National Treasures Ezekiel Elliott RC FULL SIG Auto 1/1

2016 National Treasures Dak Prescott Jumbo Patch Auto Booklet

2016 National Treasures Jared Goff Rams Head Logo Patch Auto

2016 National Treasures Derrick Henry / Eddie George Dual Auto

2016 National Treasures Jameis Winston Jumbo Patch Auto

Being that this is the 10th year of Treasures, somehow, we still have a number of issues that continue to plague the product. First, there are still a TON of stickers in the many subsets. For a box you will be expected to drop 650 dollars to get your hands on, this is completely unacceptable. Similarly horrific, Panini is still stuck on including single color jersey swatches without autographs attached. In a low end or retail release, fine. In a Super Premium set? Fuck that. This should be the best of the best.

All things considered, I really like most of the designs this year, especially the rookie patch autos that everyone will be chasing. With the exception of the Hat Cards, which are some of the worst cards Panini makes, and a really substandard NFL Gear design, NT looks really, really nice.

As a whole the brand of NT is the set that took over for Exquisite when UD lost their license. Because Topps didnt have a pre-established High End set leading up to 2010, Panini lucked out in inheriting the crown. Since that time, the set has gone through many ups and many extreme downs. With 2011 being rock bottom, and 2012 not being much better, there has been an upswing through 2016. I really thought the set has done some good things in recent years, especially in more on card content, however, there is still a very long way to go.

Topps released Definitive Collection to close out their NFL license last year, and it makes NT look like it was built by an intern in their spare time. Too much room for added content leaves me wondering when Panini will truly inject some innovation into this product. Its almost clearly represented that Panini’s effort went to about 75% of what it should have been, if not only because of what the rookie class was able to do this year. Collectors will still buy the fuck out of this product at its ridiculous price, even more so when the season gets going again.

Much like most of what we have seen in Premium Card sets this year, running things on auto pilot can produce some nice results for some things but pretty stale results for others. That’s National Treasures and most of Panini’s calendar this year.

Is 2016 Select Football Even Better Than Advertised?

I havent had the chance to sit down and write very much lately, as work as been insane. That doesnt mean I have stopped paying attention, either. When Select was announced as a fourth set in as many weeks for Panini, I was skeptical that it wouldnt be just another product that will clog up the cool down period after the Super Bowl. I mean, Encased might have been one of the worst looking and worst value products for the price all year, but Select had potential. I always liked it more than I liked Prizm, as the design work was consistently better through its run.

Check out some of the top cards:

2016 Select Ezekiel Elliott Auto Jumbo Patch RC /25

2016 Select Aaron Rodgers Die Cut Auto 1/1

2016 Select Barry Sanders Auto Relic /5

2016 Select Dak Prescott Red Refractor Auto Patch

This year’s product, with the inclusion of the XRC redemptions really took me by surprise. Full game photos, great looking designs, and the addition of the content around the new rookies was awesome, and I really think people should not be surprised how much the price has increased per box. Its almost tough to break it at the current price, as you are now even more guaranteed to lose money on a break, but this might be the best group break product out there, and I dont think its going to be touched by Treasures or Flawless.

Select was originally part of Panini’s line of Topps Chrome rip offs, and though I dont think the identity crisis is gone in that regard, I really like the parallels with the Finest set it was built upon. With Prizm also looking extremely good this year, this leaves Optic as the only garbage product of the three recent Chrome style products, and its because of the rated rookies, not because of the rest of the set. Had Optic not chosen the horrible photos for those cards, I think Panini would have had 3 great looking Chrome replacement products this year.

The XRC cards are selling very well too, all things considered. Outside of Leonard Fournette, there really isnt a surefire Superstar QB to drive up product values this early on. Deshaun Watson is a good name, but I dont think he is the consensus pick for Top QB. That leaves a lot of speculation around which player will fall where, and the way the redemptions are structured is a really good opportunity to stock up. Hopefully the cards will be photo shoot action pictures of the players in their NFL uniforms, but we will have to wait and see.

Im a fan of Select this year, and man, that is a surprise to me.

Are Group Breakers Helping or Hurting?

Let me start off this post by saying I am indifferent. I think that group breaks are part of the culture in the hobby right now, and there is nothing any of us can really do to change that in the near future. That being said, I think there is a legitimate discussion for whether or not their presence in the grand scheme of things helps or hurts.

Why Group Breaks Are a Good Thing

Right now, the cost of wax is insane, made even more bonkers by how often you can walk away with so little of a return on your investment. When you go to a casino and gamble, you dont lose your money 90% of the time unless you are really drunk or really dumb. Does this mean its better to head to a casino than a local shop if money is your game? Yeah, probably. Its pretty clear that the products today dont deliver on a regular basis, and though there are hot streaks and cold streaks, wax is a losing venture for most sets. What makes this troublesome is that shops and manufacturers depend on wax sales, and if collectors continually feel like nothing is being delivered for what they pay, its not good.

Enter Group Breaks.

Dont want to shoulder the burden of an entire box of Flawless at 1500 a pop? Spend significantly less and still partake. Clearly, this is a much more positive outcome than walking away with nothing on a box that costs triple the monthly payment of a Tesla. Not only do we get to feed our addiction – and that is exactly what it is – but we also get to participate in the hobby’s equivalent of a five star restaurant.

When things are so out of hand that 95% of the collectors out there refuse or are unable to participate in the way that manufacturers need, that’s a huge problem. The market becomes exponentially smaller, with very little prospect of expanding. Group breaks provide a band aid for that issue, as the risk is much smaller for the individual, and shouldered by the group instead.

I stand by my take that this hobby is 100% unsustainable long term. Its just not possible for anyone to survive if the trends continue the way they are going. Group breaks do provide relief in the short term, but even they are not immune from a terrible draft class or another recession. This hobby is all disposable income, and if the purchase of wax no longer provides any chance of value, I think there will be a lot of reason that this industry will fail.

Why Group Breaks Are Not Good For Anyone

There is one word that I throw around on a regular basis, and it is the reason why my indifference to group breaks comes with major red flags. The word is reinforcement, both on the strategy and the product side. Group breaks not only give false hope that people are interested in terrible products, but false hope that the strategy of the current hobby is a worthwhile one to continue.

Right now, Im pretty sure that there are multiple breaks for every product that is released. From the good stuff all the way down to any of the NCAA products that Panini puts out. Every set gets a rip, and it inflates the failure line to a marginal success pretty much every time. Release Infinity football that is collecting dust on every shop shelf in the country? Broken by group breakers on a regular basis. Release a basketball product that Panini had to issue a special offer because it was so terrible? Cases were broken. These products should have been nothing but unadulterated failures that instead made money because of group breaks.

There is also reinforcement that the strategy currently employed by every company is working. Oddly enough, the strategy might be the only strategy available right now because of cost, but the group breakers are extending the life of this strategy more than it ever should have been able to live. The strategy of returning value in so few boxes may have a terminal diagnosis regardless, as I have seen group breaks go unfilled more and more as the months pass.

From a fundamental perspective, the companies believe that they can churn out tens of thousands of cases, most of which do not have perceived value to the person that is designed to be the end user. Dont believe me? Look at the number of people who have literally stopped opening boxes. They wait for the group breaks to produce the singles they want, and just buy them on eBay for a fraction of the cost of a box.

There is a reason the hobby has shrunk at such a significant rate over the last decade. Its been a veritable fucking disaster from an active buyer perspective, and though these new break formats have helped calm the wave, its not even close to a dam against the flood of apathy.

Overall, there are very good things to say about what group breaks are capable of. Just be cognizant of the flip side of the equation. Dont let short term success cloud your judgment of what is definitely not a positive outlook for the industry.

On the Radar: 2017 Leaf Metal Draft Football

Much to my happiness, Leaf has not given up on football, despite Panini making things pretty difficult for competitors. After announcing an exclusive with Leonard Fournette earlier this month, Panini seems to be on the same track they were in Basketball. I would be scared if I were them, as Leaf’s products made them look completely silly last time this situation rolled around.

These cards were AWESOME last year, and the wax is barely available unless you are willing to pay a huge price:

2016 Leaf Metal Draft Dak Prescott Auto RC BGS 9.5

2016 Leaf Metal Draft Ezekiel Elliott Auto Green Refractor BGS 9.5

2016 Leaf Metal Draf Tom Brady Auto BGS 9.5

Like we saw last year, Leaf’s autographs are all on card, where Panini’s will be sticker, unless something changes. The design looks similar to last year, which is a good thing, as I think the Leaf Metal and Trinity looks were MILES ahead of any retread products Panini put out. I love that they run low prints of their products, and the cards are basically copies of Topps Chrome. That’s a good thing, as they did a really good job retouching photos and making the cards look attractive even without logos.

The issue, as always, is that no one knows who to collect before the draft, other than names and potential targets for their team. Obviously the Top QBs like Trubisky, Watson and Kizer will be good players to chase, and that list might include a few lineman and receivers as well. Even with Fournette, this class looks exceptionally mediocre from a potential perspective, but so did 2016 originally as well. I dont think we are going to have Dak and Zeke 2.0, but we might get some good rookies that always seem to come through the fray early on.

Im a huge Leaf fan, and hope they continue to produce sets like this – if not only to stick it to their main competitors of what a good looking 100% on card product can look like.