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Playing with baseball cards on Christmas

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These aren’t my cards. This is a stock photo.
Photo by Chris McGrath/Getty Images

You guys! My mom got me some baseball cards for Christmas! It’s been about 20 years since I was a kid collecting cards, but what better time than this for a little piece of childhood nostalgia? And what better place than Athletics Nation to geek out for a moment and share my new toy?

The gift was a pack of 2016 Topps, from a set called Heritage High Number Baseball. (I think it’s one of those midseason releases that updates the original set?) The cards are designed to look and feel old-timey, and I think they succeeded in that effort. There were 20 cards in the pack, and the hope was that I could find an Athletic among them.

(Disclaimer: I know we do ads on here sometimes. This isn’t one of those times. I really just got a pack of cards as a stocking stuffer from my mom and have nothing better to talk about this week. You’re welcome, Topps!)

The pack!

It’s been quite a few years since I opened a pack of baseball cards, so I’m not really sure what to expect. Is something going to jump out at me? Are there sound effects like one of those fancy Hallmark contraptions? Aaaaand nope, just a pack of cards, same as always. Probably overthinking this. Let’s see who I got!

Not a thrilling start.

1. Mark Lowe, RHP, Tigers
2. Nick Tropeano, RHP, Angels
3. Raisel Iglesias, RHP, Reds
4. Joe Biagini, RHP, Jays

The pack begins with four nondescript right-handed pitchers. But not bad pitchers! I would take any of these guys in the A’s 2017 bullpen, even Lowe as a bounce-back if someone else covered his salary. But I’m not here for middle relievers and backup starters. I’m shooting for the stars, baby.

We remember when you were Michel Inoa.

5. Michael Ynoa, RHP, White Sox

A familiar face! He’s not an Athletic (anymore), but we’re getting warmer.

Oakland once gave Ynoa (then known as Inoa due to a clerical error) the biggest amateur bonus in team history ($4.25M), back when he was a 16-year-old in the Dominican Republic. He never did pan out here, though, and he was sent away in Sharknado 2. He finally made the bigs this year, in the White Sox bullpen, at age 24, and he struck out a batter per inning in 30 solid frames with a fastball averaging a bit over 94 mph. Glad to see him finally make it, and still young enough to have a long career!

A bird in the hand or two in the pack?

6. Michael Saunders, OF, Blue Jays
7. Jason Grilli, RHP, Blue Jays

That’s three Toronto players in the first seven cards. Forget Topps; this is now turning into an advertisement for Canada.

The A’s pursued Saunders last winter, but instead they traded for Khris Davis. At the time I was happy to have gotten Davis instead, which was a common opinion. It proved correct, too, as both played LF last year and Davis had a better campaign. Saunders had a career year at the plate, including 24 HR, but his defense was dreadful and he was a 1-WAR player (and is now a free agent). Khrush hit 42 dingers and was worth at least one extra win overall. Good pick, A’s!

Thinking about Grilli always makes me happy. The Giants once drafted him No. 4 overall, and he was a Top 50 prospect. But he never pitched for them, and he went on to be an All-Star closer more than a decade later for another club. He’s 40 years old and he was once traded for a young Livan Hernandez during the 20th century, but he still quietly struck out over 12 batters per nine in each of the last two seasons. lol if only the giants had him last year

Not sure what the black borders represent. Perhaps big-name prospects/rookies?

8. Jose Berrios, RHP, Twins
9. Blake Snell, LHP, Rays
10. Seung-hwan Oh, RHP, Cardinals

Here we have two elite prospects and a high-impact rookie. Berrios and Snell were both Top 20 on the national lists last winter, and both debuted in 2016. After nine seasons in Korea and two in Japan, Oh came to MLB for his age-33 campaign. He was a monster out of the Cardinals’ bullpen, worth nearly 3 WAR on both scales, and his 103 strikeouts ranked 6th among all MLB relievers.

The little RC in the upper left seems to indicate these are rookie cards, which will be cool if one of them makes it big! But I don’t know what the black border is for. Ynoa was also a rookie card, but with a white border.

Cool story, bro!

11. Now & Then: Fulmer flings four gems

This one’s pretty neat. I’d forgotten about this accomplishment, and it sounds like something an A’s pitcher should get around to breaking in the next couple years. Michael Fulmer also won the AL Rookie of the Year this season! (There are 15 Now & Then cards, and one is for Khris Davis -- my guess is it commemorates his three-homer game capped with a walk-off grand slam.)

OK now hopefully we can get an Oakland player.

Ewwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwww gross
Could it be ... SATAN?

12. Giants Greats: Buster Posey & Joe Panik

Oh, come on. Screw you, Topps. You’re just trolling me now, and on Christmas no less. We need a term for that. You’re grinching me? Coaling me?

(There are 20 Combo Cards, but none for the A’s, which makes sense.)

If we can’t get a CF, at least we can get the baseball card of a CF.

13. Juan Lagares, OF, Mets

Like with the pitchers in the beginning: Solid player, I’d definitely take him on the A’s right now, but no one cares about his baseball card. Next.


14. Sean Manaea, LHP, A’s

Woooooo! OK Topps, you’ve totally redeemed yourself after that Giants duo thing. Not only did you give me an Athletic, you gave me arguably the most exciting Athletic. If you told me right now that one A’s player makes the All-Star game next summer, I’d go with Manaea as my guess. The rest of this pack could be scrub filler like Josh Rutledge or Jon Niese and it would still be a victory.

Oh, and it’s Manaea’s rookie card! Even better!

What a patriotic lineup.

15. Ben Revere, OF, Nationals (now Angels)
16. Danny Santana, OF, Twins
17. Jon Jay, OF, Padres (now Cubs)

Three more outfielders, two of whom were at least mentioned around here as desperation options for the A’s this winter. And hey, how about some U.S. history -- we have Revere, two cards in front of founding father Jon Jay.


18. Josh Rutledge, 3B, Red Sox
19. Jon Niese, LHP, Pirates (now back on Mets)

OK, I guess I asked for that.

Nice finishing touch.

20. Matt Moore, LHP, Rays (now Giants)

The Giants went for it last year, in the even year, and they drew from an already weak farm system to do so. Moore was sort of like their mini-Cespedes trade, as they had to deal an MLB darling (Matt Duffy) to upgrade their pitching. I still thought it was smart, since he has three cheap team options coming and Duffy’s 2015 was most likely a fluke career year. But it all turned out to be part of the kind of disappointing collapse that many of us needed Giants fans to feel once again (even if it was nowhere near as heartbreaking as 2014 was for us), and Moore brings back memories of that. Nice.


Hey, that was fun! For me, at least. Thanks Mom, and thanks Topps for still making baseball cards all these decades later, and thanks universe for putting a Manaea in my Christmas pack!