Thursday, June 30, 2016

Mookie Betts Autograph and Ball

My better half got me a Mookie Betts autographed ball last Xmas. Here it is:

It came with a certificate of authenticity (COA), but it was from the same ebay company that sold it. You probably know that you can't trust a COA from a company that certifies its own product, unless that company is a professional and trusted authenticator, like Beckett, JSA / DNA, etc. This company wasn't one of those. My better half, who has never bought an autographed collectible, didn't know that, and was also understandably pacified with the COA itself. The COA said:

"This certificate of authenticity guarantees the Rawlings Official Major League Baseball signed by Mookie Betts to be 100% genuine, being hand signed [sic] in person by Mr. Betts himself."

Sounds good, right? But what exactly is guaranteed to be genuine here? If you read it closely, the thing said to be genuine isn't the autograph, it's the baseball itself. Again, it says that the COA "...guarantees the ... baseball signed by Mookie Betts to be 100% genuine..." Whether by mistake (which I prefer to think) or by design, the COA sounds like it says it guarantees the autograph to be authentic, but it doesn't. It says the ball is a genuine Rawlings, which of course it is. Rawlings is the sole company that makes baseballs for Major League Baseball, and the commissioner's name is on it, but don't you want the COA to be for the autograph?

So I emailed the ebay company and asked if there was another COA or LOA (which really is what that was--a letter of authenticity; a certificate is usually a label or a card) that authenticates the autograph itself. The guy said No, but that he guarantees the autograph, or he'll give the money back.

I should mention here that the ball with autograph cost $70. Most Mookie Betts autographed balls, without a 3rd-party COA (like JSA) costs over $100, so this was a bargain. The ball looked really good to me--no smudges, dirt, cuts, etc. The autograph looked really good, too--no smudges, or blips, etc. Nice and clean with a good flow and solid contact.

After about an hour of research on ebay, comparing this to other authenticated Mookie Betts autographed baseballs, I decided this one was also genuinely his, and that I should send it out for authentication. (I did this just after I opened the gift on Christmas Day, before we continued opening things, because I'm an obsessive loser like that.)

So I saved up, because this stuff isn't cheap, and after a couple months I sent it to JSA (one of the three major 3rd-party authenticators, and JSA never sells anything--it only authenticates.) It took them about a month to say that it was, in fact, an autograph signed by Mookie Betts himself.

This cost $55. Not bad.

Then JSA sent it to Beckett, which grades the ball and the autograph. I wanted this done because this was the first autographed baseball bought for me by my better half, and because the ball and autograph looked good enough to grade, to better estimate its value and to protect them.

(I am violently upset with myself for allowing balls with Tim Wakefield and Jason Varitek autographs to fade from the sun. Now I have to replace those. Daniel Bard also--infamously, among my friends--autographed a ball and then smudged it to hell when he gave it back to me. I got back in a long line with a separate baseball to get another autograph, but got stopped just before I got to his table by an overly strict woman who said he was leaving. When I explained what happened, and that I'd been in line twice, she said she didn't care. [This was at Pawtucket's HotStove, where new players sign for free, usually in the beginning of January, when it's about four degrees. And the PawSox don't turn on the heat, either. Luckily Daniel Bard turned out to be...well, Daniel Bard. I still have the damn ball, too. Anybody want it?)

But I digress. So Beckett took another month to grade the ball and autograph--and its website somehow managed to screw up my account info., so that they had to mail me a separate invoice, and the regional sales manager had to email me when the ball was done and it was coming back to me.

This cost another $40. And I paid $18 to reimburse them for shipping and another $10 for insurance. By the end, you can see this isn't cheap: $70 (which my better half paid for the ball) + $55 + $40 + $18 + $10, for a total of  $193, plus the $28 I paid to ship and insure, for a total of $225.

Yeah, $225 to authenticate, encapsulate, grade the autograph and grade the ball. And that's with no guarantee that the ball and autograph were graded highly! (I've sent over 100 cards to SGC to get graded and slabbed, with no guarantee of what they'll say it is. Suffice it to say, I've won some and I've lost some. One big win was the Jim Bottomley 1933 Goudey, which you can find here.)

Now the ball looks like this:

As you can see, all's well that ends well: JSA said the autograph was authentic, and Beckett said that the ball and the autograph were both a perfect 10! That means that, by definition, even Mookie Betts himself won't have a Mookie Betts autographed baseball (or, to be more precise: an autograph and a baseball) in better condition than mine! I can actually say that nobody in the world--Yes, not even Mookie Betts himself!--will have a better Mookie Betts autograph, nor a better ball to have the autograph on!--than mine.

If he ever turns out to be a Hall of Fame player, this will be worth a ton. As it is, it's worth about $500, from some internet sales on authenticated and graded autographs and baseballs, on ebay and other sites, including auction houses. And Betts hasn't been to an All-Star Game yet, nor a playoff game. Once he does...

So here's another picker success, done in tandem with my better half. We spent $225 and it's worth about $500, for a profit of $275. Not bad, even by the standards of the Pickers themselves.

Don't worry, honey--I'm never going to sell it! But it's good to know the value in case we ever have to, right?

Monday, June 27, 2016

Sox 4 Games Out on 6.26.16

Photo: from the great Sox/Giants game on 6.7.16. This is just after Chris Young contorted himself by somehow moving his arm out of the way, mid-slide, to avoid a tag by Brandon Belt. Ortiz was out at first, but by staying out of the double play, the tying run scored.

So it has become obvious that the Sox will not contend in the American League East without some drastic changes. Despite the awesomeness of last month, one 30-day span does not make a whole season, and the offense could not have possibly kept up that incredible pace.

In fact:

--no offense will literally score 6+ runs every game, especially when the starting pitching puts it into a deep hole right away. I think this offense could be better than it is--and not leave the bases loaded in the bottom of the ninth without scoring--but it won't if it feels pressure to do too much in every at-bat. A player will hit better when there's no stress or pressure on him--but there is pressure on him if his starter has given up a few runs in the first or second inning already. That's why the Sox won so many games last month: they scored in the first inning constantly and put pressure on the other team. Now other teams are doing that to the Sox.

--and that's not the fault of the offense. Sure, this offense has had some blips, especially the White Sox / Wright game, which actually was the offense's fault, as Wright pitched 9 great innings. But that was an anomaly. (And the White Sox left the bases loaded twice without scoring while losing a later game.) Simply put, the bad starting pitching has put more pressure on the offense, which tightens the batters up and makes them worse.

--if the starting pitching improves, the offense will improve.

So how to make the starting pitching improve?

The face and stats make it clear that the answer isn't this guy:

(Photo from my own camera. Saw this on my DVRed game on NESN and I couldn't resist.)

So who is the answer?

Well, I was in Pawtucket today, to watch who may be the only answer there: Henry Owens. Sadly, he continues to do the same thing: 2-0 and 3-1 on everybody, thereby becoming predictable and giving up lots of hits and walks and throwing too many pitches, and he's out of the game before the end of the 5th. (See: Eduardo Rodriguez and Clay Buchholz.)

He's not the answer, and won't be. He's been given a few years of chances and he hasn't changed. This pains me to say, as I have an autographed and slabbed RC of his, but it is what it is. He won't be any better than he is. I hope he proves me wrong in his September call-up, but he won't. Again. This is especially bad because his performances don't even make him good trade bait. He might be enticing for someone who wants to deal a reliever, or some bench help, but you won't get starting pitching for him.

So who can bring a top-flight starter?

Well, Bogaerts, Betts or Bradley could, but no way do you trade any of these guys. They'll bring butts to the stands even if the Sox aren't making the playoffs. These guys are All-Star caliber core players for many years, as they're all young and cheap. None of them are making more than $600,000 this year. (As opposed to Sandoval, who's getting $17 million this year not to play at all.) In baseball economics, they are very cheap, and will be until 2020. So they stay. So who?

Nobody wants Rusney Castillo, of course. He hit a seeing-eye single today and made a nice running catch, his back to the plate--but he also threw to third when he had no shot at the guy, thereby allowing the batter to get to second base. That reminded me of Tom Hanks in A League of Their Own, who told a sobbing woman she can't throw to third and allow another runner (the tying run in the movie) to reach second base. If he knew that, wouldn't a star of the Cuban League, who's been playing ball all of his adult life? That's the kind of basic knowledge Jerry Remy said Castillo didn't have, and he said it last year. Castillo is a $70+ million waste of a Triple-A roster spot. That especially sucks because I have his rookie card in gem 10 condition. (Anybody want it?)

I would've said a package of Swihart (who can hit, and play left and catch decently) and Brock Holt and Rutledge may have been enough to send to the cash-strapped A's (Billy Beane loves cheap versatility) for Rich Hill, but all of those guys are injured, and nobody's desperate enough to take three guys just off the DL. (By the way, check out how well Hill is doing, and see the blog I wrote at the end of last year, saying the Sox were crazy to let him go, and for nothing!) Maybe they can get better and play really well before the Trade Deadline at the end of next month, but that's a lot to ask.

That package isn't enough for Sonny Gray, but I'm not interested in him, anyway. Though Hill is in his mid-30s, he's a resurging junkballer, and those guys can pitch into their early-40s. I think Sonny Gray is damaged goods and is looking at his best days in the rearview mirror.

It's a long shot, but I'd be willing to part with Hanley Ramirez, but he's not cheap, so the A's wouldn't want him. But how about him and all of the aforementioned guys, and a lot of money, to the Marlins for Jose Fernandez? Ramirez likes Miami, but they've probably tired of him there. Remember when the Sox traded him there for Josh Beckett and a throw-in named Mike Lowell? That trade won 2007.

Well, I hate to say it, but for a #1 or #2 starter, you're going to have to deal away Andrew Benintendi and / or Yoan Moncada. Certainly these guys--and even one of these guys--are too good to part with for the likes of Rich Hill, but they are good enough chips to get a solid #2 or even a #1 on a really bad team. I'd rather trade these maybes than the definite Yeses of Bogaerts, Betts and Bradley any day. Remember how Brian Rose and Carl Pavano were the best young starters in all of baseball, and the Sox traded them both for Pedro Martinez? Do you remember that local fans at the time were in an uproar? But how did that turn out?

Unfortunately here, it's a lot easier to trade starting pitching for starting pitching, than it is to trade an infielder and an outfielder for starting pitching, but it's still doable.  Benintendi and Moncada are thought of so highly in baseball that they could swing a #1. If the Sox are going to land one, these guys (or, hopefully, just one of these guys, and don't ask me which one) are going to have to be flipped. It's worth doing, especially for a good pitcher who's still decently young, and under some control.

If the Sox were to turn them both over for Fernandez--who the Marlins are rumored to be dealing--that would be a helluva thing. They're cash-strapped, too, and certainly a combination of Benintendi and / or Moncada, plus Hanley Ramirez, Swihart and either Holt or Rutledge would get Fernandez from Miami. Maybe throw Christian Vazquez, too, as much as I like his defense. But he's never going to hit, and I'm not as happy with his pitch-calling and strike-framing as others are.

Anyway, to get a #1 or a #2, I would try to do these.

Until then, the starters need to walk fewer, keep their pitches down, get ahead in the count and stop being so predictable. The offense needs to hit with RISP and do all those little things that haven't been done consistently since that game mentioned in the beginning of this (long) blog entry.

By the way, notice how the slide started when the Sox lost Carson Smith for the season, and Brock Holt for over 6 weeks? Brock Holt is the player the sabermetricians don't have a stat for, but he gels this offense, and does every single little thing very well. I saw him today, too. He got on base 3 times.

Time to call him up.