Sunday, March 4, 2012

Product Review - 2011 Panini Playoff Contenders

2011 Panini Playoff Contenders released at the end of February. The hobby boxes will run about $120-$135 and will come with 6 autos per box. Most of these autos are going to be prospects autos, however there are a few MLB vets sprinkled in through the MLBPA license that Panini was able to secure for this year. At my LCS Trade Night last night, they only had one pack war for baseball cards and I figured I'd buy a few packs and review the product. We'll start with the base set, a 50-card set of current MLB players.
I know that Panini doesn't have a whole lot of choice about the logos, unless they want to end up like Upper Deck, but these posed shots in plain colored t-shirts and hats are pretty bad. I can't say I'm a fan, but I also acknowledge the limitation they are under. A 50-card base set isn't bad, except that you only get one base card per pack and so you're looking around 3 boxes to get a full set considering you'll get some duplicates. I don't think I'll be chasing this one personally.
 Next up are the "Draft Ticket" inserts. There is a 100-card checklist of these, and you get 2 per pack on average. I have an extra because the guy next to me pulled an Astros guy and gave it to me. Again, same issue as with the base set. If you're a prospect hunter, these are definitely for you though. The cards have a good weight and feel to them, they don't feel as cheap as the Donruss Elite Edition set that came out a month or two ago.
This didn't scan well, but it's a refractor-ish version of the base draft ticket insert, numbered on the back /299. They look ok in person, but Panini definitely has some catching up to do in the refractor technology, just not as impressive as Topps' refractors. I think it's supposed to have a bit of the same look as the Atomic refractor from Topps Chrome, but just doesn't quite get there.
These inserts are where it starts getting interesting. I really like the Prospect inserts with the wood grain border. They are pretty sharp, and again they come about 1 per pack. The last two cards are the Future Stars insert set, 19-20 cards deep depending on what checklist you believe. There are autograph versions of these cards as well.
Finally we have two of my favorite inserts in the set. First are the "Winning Combos", which highlight two players who either played in college together (Springer/Barnes) or guys who are in the majors together (Upton/Kennedy). There are dual autograph versions of these as well. Finally, the Legendary Debuts subset which has a very nice silver foiled background. There are 15 cards in total and would make a very nice set.

There are 6 autographs per box, but unfortunately I didn't pull any in my handful of packs. However, the guy sitting next to me needed help opening his two boxes before time ran out in the pack war, so I started busting his cards with him, and he pulled a MAMMOTH auto! It came from the Sweet Signs subset of inserts, which mimics the "Sweet Spot" autos from other sets. A faux baseball with a signature across the sweet spot of the baseball, you know what they look like! Anyways, his auto was numbered 2/6 and was none other than Stan "The Man" Musial. It was a SWEEEEEET looking card and for those lucky enough to pull the Sweet Signs autographs, you'll be very happy with the cards.

Overall, I say this is a 2.5 out of 5 stars release. There are a bunch of autos per box, but without licensing, all other competitors will be a step behind Topps and the sets just won't look as nice, have the same staying power, or for that matter, resale value. I think if Panini is able to sign these prospect guys to long term exclusive autograph deals, and then some of them hit it big in the majors, they'll start seeing people chase these boxes a bit harder, but as long as collectors can wait a couple years and get Topps' autographed RC from Chrome or Bowman, Panini just can't compete.

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