First Bowman Chrome autos, Topps Heritage autos and Rookie Cards in general for key players seem to be powering sales of wax boxes most generally these days for Major League Baseball.
Those shouldn’t be too surprising, but in a world of seemingly countless options with autographs, serial-numbering or memorabilia pieces one could argue that less is more — that oldschool simplicity is back.
And one could argue that the basic Rookie Cards from a hobby staple such as Topps Update (or Topps Traded if you’re oldschool) continue to be an emerging go-to — and not just for players such as Mike Trout, whose 2011 Topps Update card is a ridiculous seller if in top condition and still pretty impressive if just in a lesser slab.
Perhaps it’s just a gut feeling with the arrival of 2017 Topps Update previewing last week and its date now known on the release calendar — but the old Topps Traded sets of the 1980s and even recent years of Topps Update also seem like fertile collecting ground, too, especially if you’re into graded specimens.
Here’s a year-by-year rundown of notable Rookie Cards from past Traded and Update sets …
But first … Topps’ “Traded” experiments started in 1972, 1974 and 1976 but a standalone boxed release didn’t come until 1981. We’ll start there for our Rookie Card rundown, despite the Hall of Famers in 1972 and the legendary hair of 1976 Topps Traded’s Oscar Gamble. (He’s here for you to soak it in one more time … )
1981 Topps Traded
This set was released in a “Traded” box but the card numbering picks up right where the basic Topps set left off. It leads off with what might be seen as a bit of a “gimmick” card if it had been done today but Danny Ainge was a member of the Toronto Blue Jays and not yet an NBA player back then. After that one, there are two cards that stand out for top rookie honors here — the solo cards of Tim Raines and Fernando Valenzuela. Each appeared on multi-player cards in 1981 Topps but these are just visually stronger and a tad rarer “Rookie Cards.” The Raines is my top pick, especially with his Hall of Fame date coming soon.
1982 Topps Traded
Cal Ripken Jr. is the star of the show here on these red-backed cards that begin the wave of sets numbered separately from the Topps flagship release. (A simple T is added to the number in addition to the red ink. The regular 1982s are green.) Roughly 20 of the 132 cards here are of new rookies or rookies who were on multi-player cards in standard 1982 Topps packs. Notables include Twins great Kent Hrbek, Von Hayes, Tom Brunansky, Jesse Barfield, Steve Sax, Chili Davis and Ron Washington among others. So, like I said, Ripken is the biggie.
1983 Topps Traded
Sorry, Reggie, “The Straw That Stirs the Drink” here in the first Traded set to be printed on bold, bright white stock (a big deal back then) is the Darryl Strawberry card, which is a shell of what it was in the 1980s yet still iconic. Other fan favorite but definitely lesser rookies here include Julio Franco, Tony Phillips and a number of others who haven’t aged all that well.
1984 Topps Traded
This rookie crop isn’t bad — but again it hasn’t aged well, so I’ll go with the obvious card, Dwight Gooden. “Dr. K” leads a pack that includes Bret Saberhagen, Ron Darling, Jimmy Key and Mark Langston but not the biggies — Kirby Puckett and Roger Clemens — that are found over in 1984 Fleer Update. Just imagine if they’d been in this one …
1985 Topps Traded
Arguably the absolute worst Traded set of them all (though not the least-valuable) is this one, which is paced by rookies for Ozzie Guillen, Mickey Tettleton, Vince Coleman, Roger McDowell and Tom Browning. Flip a coin between Guillen and Coleman for importance on the field, but most would probably go Guillen.
1986 Topps Traded
The 1986 Topps flagship checklist is arguably the worst of the year for all of the card sets that year and that’s because of its lack of rookies. The flipside is that the 1986 Traded set is arguably the most-loaded on that front of them all. It includes Barry Bonds, Bobby Bonilla, Jose Canseco, Will Clark, Bo Jackson, Andres Galarraga, John Kruk, Wally Joyner and Mitch Williams — all players who have had their share of attention in the history of the game. I’ll go with Bonds but others hold a more treasured place in my collection, despite whatever the dollar signs say.
1987 Topps Traded
One glimpse at the crisp wood borders on white stock might make one wonder what might have been for an already iconic flagship release from this year. Rookie-wise, the Traded set includes some gems from the past and present — Ellis Burks, David Cone, Greg Maddux, Fred McGriff (OK, not a RC due to 1986 Donruss but feels like it should be), Matt Nokes, Kevin Seitzer, Benito Santiago, Terry Steinbach and Matt Williams. The winner here is Maddux for sure.
1988 Topps Traded
The first USA Baseball appearance on Topps cards since 1985, this one includes Jim Abbott, Robin Ventura and Tino Martinez in the Red White and Blue along with rookies for Roberto Alomar, Brady Anderson, Jay Buhner, Ron Gant, Mark Grace, Jack McDowell, Chris Sabo, David Wells and Walt Weiss. Even the best of them here can be had for next to nothing, but it’s still a quality set with some super-bright orange backs. My winner here? Abbott.
1989 Topps Traded
The Ken Griffey Jr. Rookie Card here won’t ever be his most-iconic release, but this one could arguably be one of his most-overlooked RCs. Other highlights here? Deion Sanders, Randy Johnson (a rookie traded to the Mariners), Omar Vizquel and a pair of Cubbies who were big then but definitely aren’t now, Dwight Smith and Jerome Walton.
1990 Topps Traded
This set is among the cheapest of the bunch out there — poke around and you can find the 132-card set for $1 — but it’s still got some good MLB names among its rookies. Steve Avery, Carlos Baerga, Kevin Maas, Ben McDonald, Dave Justice and John Olerud are among the notables who made their mark in the past. It’s a toss-up here, so I’ll take Justice.
1991 Topps Traded
The baseball card landscape was changing a lot by the time this one arrived but nothing changed in the Topps Traded formula. This one included another roster from USA Baseball — Jason Giambi in there — along with Jeff Bagwell and Ivan Rodriguez. It’s another toss-up between the two 2017 Hall of Famers. I’ll take Pudge.
1992 Topps Traded
Topps abandoned the glossy Tiffany parallel release that it had began in 1984 in favor of a Gold version of this set. That one’s an interesting option but we’ll stick to the standards and a rookie crop that includes Nomar Garciaparra and Jason Varitek in their USA Baseball uniforms along with, well, not much. Nomar gets the nod.
1993 Topps Traded
This Traded set seems a lot less plentiful than previous years but that’s not too big of a deal as it’s really only got a Todd Helton USA Baseball Rookie Card inside that’s anything of note. It’s that simple.
1994 Topps Traded
Also less plentiful and somewhat lacking on the Rookie Card front (remember, Bowman had changed things rather dramatically in 1992). You can find Jason Schmidt and Paul Konerko. The slugger is pricier but still not very big in the card world.
1995 Topps Traded
Topps changed things up for this one by releasing it in wax packs and its set size was upped to 165 cards fro the traditional 132. It didn’t really help the rookie crop all that much but one player stands out from the pack — well, really two. It’s the Carlos Beltran RC that mistakenly shows Juan LeBron. Beltran, meanwhile, appears on LeBron’s card. Which one wins? Well, naturally you need both. Other RCs of note here include Hideo Nomo and Bronson Arroyo. Sadly, this was the last Traded set until 1999 — a sign that the baseball card world was once again changing dramatically and that the 1995 strike had also taken a toll on the hobby.
1999 Topps Traded
Traded returned as a 121-card factory set with a bonus autographed card in every box. More than half of the players in the set are on their Rookie Cards here and the crop includes Mark Mulder, Corey Patterson (notable then), CC Sabathia, Carlos Pena, Adam Dunn, Alfonso Soriano and Carl Crawford. That’s a pretty strong crop … I’ll take Dunn as a fan of all the home runs.
2000 Topps Traded
Traded grew for this year to a close-to-traditional 135 cards per boxed set and they once again included an autograph inside. This one includes Rookie Cards for Brandon Phillips, Carlos Zambrano, Francisco Rodriguez, Miguel Cabrera, Mike Young, Adam Wainwright and Rocco Baldelli. Your biggie here, of course, is the Triple Crown winner. Trumping this set a tad is the fact that Topps also released it in a Chrome version.
2001 Topps Traded
You may not find this one all that easily today as it came in wax packs along with 2001 Topps Chrome Traded cards — and included two rookies that dominated then and have to this day. You’ll find Ichiro Suzuki and Albert Pujols in this 265-card set. Other RCs don’t come close. Since Suzuki was in the standard set, Pujols gets the nod here, and, if you’re wanting a chase (away from Chrome), there’s also a Gold parallel.
2002 Topps Traded
Another set where there are Chromes and there are more than 100 different RCs in the standard paper set, too. Jose Bautista debuts here as a member of the Pittsburgh Pirates along with Dontrelle Willis — but there’s not much else. I’ll pick the slugger, though Willis in a Cubs uniform still looks enticingly weird.
2003 Topps Traded
There are more than 100 Rookie Cards to be found in this one with notables at times in the past including Brandon Webb, Hanley Ramirez, Robinson Cano, Brian McCann, Dan Haren, Shane Victorino and Chien-Ming Wang. My pick for the best one here? Cano and you can find Gold parallels along with Chromes in those packs, too.
2004 Topps Traded
This year’s MLB card lineup included another big expansion of players but Topps Traded just kept trucking along with more than 100 Rookie Cards. Among them? Rookies and some new draft picks. The lineup includes Homer Bailey, Huston Street, Kurt Suzuki, Felix Hernandez, Joel Zumaya and a lot of guys that history hasn’t treated all that well. King Felix wins here. Added bonus? Once again two Chrome cards per pack.
2005 Topps Updates
Rebranded slightly and available in both packs and as a factory set, this one includes more than 100 Rookie Cards among the 330 in the release. The RCs include Nelson Cruz, Mike Morse, Brandon McCarthy, Matt Kemp, Jason Motte, Stephen Drew, Jered Weaver, Ryan Braun, Jacoby Ellsbury, Matt Garza, Colby Rasmus, Ryan Zimmerman, Jay Bruce and Andrew McCutchen. It’s tough to pick from this crop of on-and-off big names but Zimmerman (and his 16 homers right now) get the nod for now.
2006 Topps Update
Once again this one is a 330-card set but there are just six — six — Rookie Cards to consider here. At least that list includes Jon Lester, James Shields and Mike Napoli. There are other cards with RC logos in this one but they’ve mostly had traditional Rookie Cards before the implementation of the RC logo beginning with this season. Lester gets the nod here but there’s not much else to chew on for the newcomers.
2007 Topps Update
These black-bordered cards have just 30 RCs out of more than 300 in the product and there are some names who have made their mark at times in the last decade. Cameron Maybin, Mark Reynolds, Carlos Gomez, Tim Lincecum, Daisuke Matsuzaka, Joba Chamberlain and Justin Upton are in this one. Who wins? Coin toss. Will take Upton.
2008 Topps Update
Once again we get around 30 Rookie Cards from this 300-card release and there are some names who emerge as stars at times. Kosuke Fukudome was the biggie then, while Evan Longoria, Chris Davis, Clayton Kershaw and Max Scherzer have emerged since. Some argue that Kershaw’s RC might be the next Trout-esque RC from Update. It’s a thought and it’s a pricey card, though the rarer Chrome box-topper definitely steals this base card’s thunder. (Trout doesn’t have a Chromed version of his Update RC — maybe one reason it’s more valuable?)
2009 Topps Update
The ratio of rookies remains about the same once again in this one but the names aren’t quite there with the Rookie Cards. Tommy Hanson, Gordon Beckham, Josh Reddick, Chris Tillman, Neftali Feliz, Mat Latos and Mark Melancon lead the way. Where? We’re not sure … hey, at least there are variations to chase?
2010 Topps Update
There are more than 50 Rookie Cards in this one with a rookie crop that made its mark very well before this season-capping release arrived. Giancarlo (Mike) Stanton is in this one along with Starlin Castro, Kenley Jansen, Jonathan Lucroy, Josh Donaldson, Carlos Santana and Jake Arrieta being the notables. Stanton is the obvious pick but if Donaldson gets back on track I think his RC is among the more-overlooked of the bunch.
2011 Topps Update
The RC total rises once again this year with 55 newcomers getting the logo — and we all know who the biggest of the bunch is. Mike Trout‘s card is arguably the biggest Topps Traded/Update card of the 2000s — if not the entire run since 1981 — right now. It’s got a number of RC buddies in here that aren’t bad, too. That list includes Paul Goldschmidt, Anthony Rizzo, Jose Altuve, Julio Teheran, Eric Hosmer, Mike Moustakas, Jason Kipnis, Brandon Crawford, Zack Cozart, Todd Frazier, Dee Gordon and Eric Thames. It’s a pretty solid crop and one that shows how the RC logo has been picking up steam in the case of Trout and others.
2012 Topps Update
It’s full steam ahead for rookies with Bryce Harper, Matt Harvey, Yoenis Cespedes, Brian Dozier, Yu Darvish, Matt Adams, Andrelton Simmons and Jose Quintana. It’s not quite as stacked as the previous year, but Harper is still big even though he’s been on cardboard for a few years up to this point. He’s got two cards in this one and his Rookie Debut card can outsell the ones found in flagship factory sets. Why? Because there are factory sets — and just wax for this one.
2013 Topps Update
We get about the same number of Rookie Cards here (and a Chrome Update set to compete with them) but there’s still a decent amount of stuff to collect. Anthony Rendon, Corey Kluber, Danny Salazar, Gerrit Cole, Michael Wacha, Yasiel Puig, Nolan Arenado, Alex Wood, Sonny Gray, Marcell Ozuna and Christian Yelich get the logo here among others. It’s all generally affordable right now. I’ll take Arenado — and parallels such as his Red found in this one are doing very well as it is right now. (Go check eBay!)
2014 Topps Update
The RC total rises to 70 in this one with another crop of Rookie Cards that further help the RC logo’s place in the hobby. It’s a list that includes Gregory Polanco, Masahiro Tanaka, Mookie Betts, Jacob deGrom, Jose Abreu, George Springer and Robbie Ray. It’s not quite as stacked as other years but Betts, Tanaka and deGrom help. Betts gets my nod for both cards he has. Also not hurting this one? The parallels. Whew.
2015 Topps Update
The RC total here balloons to more than 100 cards once again with a guy you should know leading the way, reigning NL MVP Kris Bryant. (Yes, it’s not his only RC as he’s in Series 2 but we’ve seen that the RC logo is fueling interest and the Rookie Debut-marked cards seem to be favorites. They’re not all expensive but they sell — and graded copies can definitely impress.) There are also a number of other notables — Bryon Buxton, Addison Russell, Francisco Lindor, Joey Gallo, Noah Syndergaard, Carlos Correa, Matt Boyd and Joc Pederson, Once again, parallels make an even bigger difference when you can land the right player(s) here and the Chrome Mega Box option doesn’t hurt either.
2016 Topps Update
The Rookie Card total falls under 100 for this one and some might say the rookie crop isn’t as stacked since 2015 was a strong, strong year. This one includes Julio Urias, Blake Snell, Scott Schebler (his only RC), Brandon Nimmo, Tyler Naquin, Michael Fulmer, Nomar Mazara, Jose Berrios, Albert Almora, Trayce Thompson, Trevor Story, Lucas Giolito, Aledmys Diaz and Willson Contreras. Give them time and someone will emerge here while there are plenty of parallel versions and, of course, just like the sets of the 2000s there are plenty of appearances from stars who aren’t rookies — something that’s an added plus in other sets, too.
2017 Topps Update
What’s to come in this one? We’ll find out in early October before it arrives but there should be some interesting inclusions with a strong rookie class and some inevitable All-Star Game and Home Run Derby (Aaron Judge?) highlights to come from the newcomers as well as the biggest names in the game that have made Topps Update a fun one for star power in the recent past.
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