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Fan Confidence: D'backs Values as Expressed by Baseball Cards

Much of the baseball commentary attempts to express the value of players or teams.  It's a conversation starter; who's the best baseball player?  The question is practical, too.  If you can find who is good and why, then you can express it in monetary terms.  

Baseball isn't particularly good at attaching a monetary sum to a player's production.  Players can offer their services on a facsimile of an open market, but the major leagues are not really open.  Membership is limited, and it operates effectively like a cartel.  The consequences of this behavior has been noted in numerous studies, and it's an important feature of most sport leagues.

Players might not be able to compete on an open market, but their baseball cards can.  Any person can buy a pack of cards, or buy a single card at a show or on eBay.  The only thing restricting the prices of cards is the desire of the buyers.  

Cards gain value by a complex set of features, but usually the better players have more expensive cards.  No one expects a Melvin Mora card to be more expensive than an Albert Pujols card.  With that in mind, I skimmed eBay and tried to find the most expensive card listed for each player on the Diamondbacks' 25 man roster.  The prices often seemed to correlate with the playing value of the player, but there were some rather amusing anomalies. 

So without further ado, here's the Top 10 Most Valuable Diamondbacks (as determined by their baseball cards):

10. Juan Miranda


This 2007 rookie card of Juan Miranda could be had for an amazing $149.99.  Why is a marginal player like Miranda so valuable?  Part of it is the nature of baseball cards; highly touted players, whether they reach their potential or not, have more cards made than no-names.  Miranda may never have been that high level, like a Strasburg, but it was enough to earn a parallel card.  What's a parallel?  Well, card companies try to add extra value by making variants on the standard card that have a smaller print run.  In the case of the card above, it is one of only 25 ever made.  The card is also a 'refractor,' which essentially means it is treated to make it shinier.  There's nothing collectors like more than shiny cards, except perhaps autographs.

9. Miguel Montero


This is also $149.99, but it has some unique aspects that put it ahead of the Miranda card.  First of all it's a 1/1, which means it's the only version of the card to exist.  The reason why this card is limited to one is because it isn't actually a card; this is one of 4 printing 'plates' used to make the actual card.  It's also autographed, which always increases the value of a card.  The only problem with it is the autograph is a sticker.  Most collectors prefer 'on-card' autographs if given a choice, but the card companies prefer stickers because they can have a player bang out a bunch without the finished card completed. 

8. Daniel Hudson


The above card has an asking price of $199.99.  This is another parallel card, with only 25 copies in existence.  It's also a black refractor, which to some collectors is cool in the same way that orange is cool.  It features a sticker autograph, and for the most part is a pretty generic card.  The only other things going for it are: it's a rookie card, and it was in an incredibly expensive product, Topps Sterling.  So the only people opening this product were the ones willing to pay $300 a box.

7. Gerardo Parra


That this card has an asking price of $229.99 shocks the hell out of me.  It's rare, but not as much as the ones above (only to 100).  It's of a subpar player.  It does have an autograph, but again it's a sticker.  It is technically a rookie card, but that generally only matters for players who produce.  It is a blue parallel, but that's not particularly interesting.  This one is a head-scratcher.  If you collect cards and are reading this, please comment on why you think this card goes this high.

6. Armando Galarraga


With a price of $239.89, this card is largely this high due to Armando's perfect/not-perfect game last year.  It's a red parallel out 25, which isn't bad.  It's also a sticker autograph and a rookie card, a couple of points in its favor.  It's the kind of card I'd be happy to pull, but I wouldn't go out of my way.  It's from the Topps basic design of 2008, and it's not too interesting overall.

5. Ian Kennedy


At $250, this card is technically tied with the one below.  I docked it a spot simply because it's a dual autograph, so the value isn't from Kennedy alone.  It's still a pretty cool card.  It had a print run of 15, and features two sticker autos of (at the time) two of the Pitchers of the Future for the Yankees.  It also came from a pretty expensive product, Upper Deck Premier.  It doesn't have any cool chrome or refractor treatment, though.

4. Xavier Nady


I think the $250 price tag for this card is solely with the hope he'll return to the form he had before getting injured.  Sadly, that is probably never going to happen, which makes the price for this card even more puzzling.  It does have an on-card autograph, which is pretty cool.  It's a rookie card from a higher end set.  It's a refractor, so it gets some shiny points.  The design in general is awful, though (what's with the small picture of Nady right by the larger Nady's crotch?), and it has a pretty high print run at 1500.  Give it a few years and you'll probably be able to dig it out of a bargain bin somewhere.

3. Chris Young


The $375 price for this card makes sense to me.  Young was highly touted a prospect, had a big year in 2007, bounced back to be an All-Star in 2010.  So it's not just hype for him.  The card itself has some nice things to it as well.  Bowman is one of the better products for rookie cards like the one above,  and it's also a red refractor.  It's one of only 5 made, and it has what looks like an on-card autograph.  Young's expression is also priceless.

2. Stephen Drew


This card of Stephen Drew, which could be had for $799.99, is another example of a prospect card.  Drew was highly touted going into the draft, and these types of players get cards released even before they sniff the major leagues.  In this case, the card was made in 2005, his first year in the system, and is a gold parallel numbered to 10.  It has an actual on card signature.  But best of all is that Drew is a player to actually be excited about.  The value of this card isn't hype.

1. Justin Upton


Now this is one sweet card.  It has pretty much everything a collector could dream of, but it'll cost you: $3995.  It's a rookie card of one of the best young players in the game.  It has an autograph, and is a 1/1.  It came from Upper Deck Exquisite, one of the high end products in 2007 (though a box of it amazingly only goes for $250 now).  The best part is the game used patch.  This is the only card on the list with game used materials, and for good reasons.  Most game used cards are a single color patch from a boring part of the jersey (like all white or grey).  Sometimes you'll get a secondary color, like how the Yankees have pinstripes.  It's a good rule of thumb that the more colors there are in a patch, and the more complex it is, the more desirable the card becomes.  The card above is a great example because it has 4 colors, multiple windows, multiple colors in every window, and it's rather extensive.  I'd flip my lid if I pulled a card like this one from a pack.

So there you have it.  eBay isn't also the best measure of a card's value, as anyone can put up any card at any price with the blind hope someone stupid enough will pay for it.    But if you want to buy me one then I won't, um, be disappointed.  Address all checks to the Soco Corporation.