In this week’s head to head, we look at two rising star 3rd basemen who are widely considered to be among the top players in baseball today; Manny Machado of the Baltimore Orioles and Nolan Arenado of the Colorado Rockies.
Both play incredible defense, routinely make highlight reel plays, while also leading their respective teams in overall production at the plate. Both are also similar in age (Machado is 24 and Arenado is 25), and their rookie cards can often be found in the same set.
So, with this many similarities, which player’s rookie card should collectors invest in?
Machado made his debut with the Orioles in 2012 at the age of 19, and immediately made an impact right away with his glove, routinely finishing plays that the average 3B can only dream of completing.
In fact, in 2013 his dWAR for the season was an astounding 4.3 (per baseball-reference). Machado was also able to bring above average contribution at the plate as well, hitting for average (.284 career BA) with some extra base power.
Machado then took things to another level once the 2015 season began by increasing his production in the power department. After slugging just 33 HR from 2012-2014 he would hit 35 in 2015 alone, and another 37 in 2016.
The newfound power (without sacrificing average) would raise his OPS to the mid .800’s. Combined with the still stellar defense, Machado would now average 6.9 WAR from 2015-2016.
Machado has played himself into two top-five MVP seasons already, and still hasn’t even hit his prime. After slugging over 35 HRs in back-to-back seasons, it is clear that the power is real and here to stay, and we know the gold glove defense is not going anywhere.
Machado’s profile is on the rise, but it will cost investors interested in his 2010 Bowman Chrome 1st prospect card (BGS 9.5) a pretty penny with an average selling price of $325.
Arenado made his debut in 2013, and like Machado made an instant impact with his glove. Since his debut, Arenado was awarded with the 3B Gold Glove each year he has played.
His first year saw him put up average production from the plate with a 267/301/405 triple slash line, but he would make huge improvements each year. Despite some injuries in 2014, Arenado mashed 18 HRs in 2014, and finished with an OPS above .800 for the first time.
Like Machado, Arenado would fully breakout in the 2015 season. He would hit a league-high 42 HRs, along with 130 RBIs (also a league-high). He would follow up his breakout campaign with 41HRs and and133 RBIs in 2016. Over the two seasons, Arenado would put up slugging numbers in the .570’s and an OPS in the .900’s. However, the Coor’s Field effect would depress the stellar raw batting numbers in WAR calculations for a two-year average of 6.2.
It looks like Arenado is going to battle Bryce Harper and Kris Bryant for the next few years as the premier power hitter in the NL. As long as he continues to play half his games at Coors Field, it is not unimaginable for Arenado to once again lead the league in homeruns again next year.
The average (disclosed) selling price of his 2010 Bowman Chrome 1st prospect card is $248, but most listings will typically be well above $300.
WHO WOULD YOU CHOOSE?
It is a little surprising that Machado’s rookie card would sell for notably higher than Arenado’s, though there are a couple key points in Machado’s favor.
These include that he is a year younger, has a higher career WAR at 24 vs 20 (thanks to an extra season), and has played for competitive playoff teams. However, the most important thing that collectors should be aware of is Arenado’s home and away splits.
In 2016 he hit 312/384/646 with 25 HRs at Coors, while batting only 277/340/492 with 16 HRs on the road. Arenado is such good player that he will likely boost production away from the thin air in Colorado, but until he does, Machado would seem like the safer investment if both cards could be had at the same price.
With all the above said, I would not hesitate if Arenado’s 2010 auto prospect card came onto the market at $250, as that represents good value for a player who could easily have over a 50 Career WAR before his 30th birthday.
Investing in a Machado rookie at $325 is also probably a worthwhile investment, so don’t be shy if you are considering it. Whichever way you choose to go, you can feel confident that you are going to get a player who has a realistic shot at the title of best 3B of this generation.
Leave your feedback on who you would invest in below in our poll.