Strasburg and Harper cards soaring on secondary market

By Chris Olds
Special to Page 2
(This story originally appeared on ESPN.com)

It’s been a great 24 hours for Washington Nationals fans, as their team took 17-year-old phenom Bryce Harper with the first pick of the draft Monday night and last year’s No. 1 pick, lights-out pitcher Stephen Strasburg, makes his first big league start Tuesday in Washington, D.C.

While the off-the-field euphoria might be at an all-time high, there’s a sobering thought for those same fans — they’ll need to take out substantial loans to own all of these players’ baseball cards.

Thanks to their time on USA Baseball rosters, these top-notch prospects already appear on a combined 151 baseball cards, and the average values, depending on the types of cards, might surprise even the most hardened collectors — and absolutely shock the average Joe.

Harper appears on 44 baseball cards, although 20 of them are too volatile or rare (fewer than 25 copies) for Beckett Baseball to publish a responsible average value. The other 24? They’re worth a total of $5,032 — or $209.67 apiece.

What makes the cards of a junior college star worth so much? They’re often autographed and often include a slice of a game-used USA Baseball jersey embedded in the card. Here’s a breakdown of values for Harper’s cards (specific card values can be found on Beckett.com):

Autograph cards: 13

Total value: $1,275

Average price: $212.50 (seven cards too rare to price)

Memorabilia cards: five

Total value: $110

Average price: $55 (three too rare)

Autograph memorabilia cards: 10

Total value: $2,650

Average price: $378.57 (three too rare)

Harper has a ways to go before he appears on a major league field — although given the kind of money he’s probably going to get and his big-time bat (a nation-high 31 home runs this year in a wood-bat league), it might not be too long — but Strasburg has proved this season that he’s ready.

And that’s not just on the baseball field, where he was 7-2 with a 1.30 ERA and 65 strikeouts in 55 innings. Strasburg is proving to be more than major league-ready in the eyes of collectors. (Did you hear about the eBay auction for a one-of-a-kind 2010 Bowman Chrome Strasburg SuperFractor that sold for more than $16,400 late last month?)

With Strasburg commanding some serious money, Topps is producing a special card that will be available later Tuesday, after he throws his first big league pitch. Because its 660-card 2010 baseball card set has already been released, the company has opted to create card No. 661, and it will be available only on toppsmillion.com — a site where collectors can enter codes good for original cards from past Topps sets dating to 1951.

Of course, the first step to landing one of these Strasburgs is to find a code card (or two) in a pack of 2010 Topps.

The card will show Strasburg playing in Tuesday’s start against the Pittsburgh Pirates — and it will not be obtained by each and every collector who enters a code. It will be produced in limited numbers.

"It will have a picture of his first pitch," Topps director of product development Clay Luraschi said. "We’ll also make No. 661 available in the [boxed] complete sets, but it will be a different photo."

Like Harper, Strasburg is already a pricey player — a move that is sure to come down, regardless of his performance.

Why? The law of averages.

Topps announced Monday that the pitcher will appear in the remainder of its 2010 products because he now will be eligible to appear in all baseball card sets, according to the rules established by the MLB Players Association. (A player can appear in only Bowman-branded MLB sets made by Topps before making his major league debut.)

But that doesn’t mean there won’t be more rare and valuable cards to come. In fact, it just means one thing for certain — more cards.

Largely because of his USA Baseball play, Strasburg presently appears on a total of 107 cards, although 74 of those are too rare for Beckett Baseball to price (fewer than 25 copies made). The total value of those that are priced? A cool $6,590 or $199.70 a card.

Like Harper, it’s the autographed cards leading the way. Eight of his 29 total signed cards carry a total value of $3,450 or $431.25 a card. The total value of his two signed cards that also include a piece of a game-used jersey? They’re worth $1,100 total.

The four unsigned memorabilia cards featuring Strasburg carry an average value of $150 a pop.

Both of these players are healthy examples of how the hobby of baseball cards has changed since the 1980s boom — and how healthy the present market just might be given the kind of money being thrown around well before the players even hit the field.

Now, the second part of that equation — player performance — comes into play.

The first step is Tuesday.

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