How the AL Central Looks to Free Agents

Imagine that you are an established Major League baseball player. You are a free agent. You're an everyday player, or maybe a reliever with a decent reputation. You aren't a star and you aren't a scrub. For the purposes of our exercise, your agent tells you that every team in the AL Central wants you for two years, $9 million dollars total.

Of course, the money and playing time situations are never the same. Moreover, the qualities of the teams involved are never the same. And those are the factors that end up mattering the most. For the purposes of discussion, lets lay those aside and try to think about the cities themselves and what they offer to an athlete.

Where would you like to play?

 


(One last bit of assumptions: I'm assuming that you're going to make your permanent home in Texas or Florida [no state income tax] or somewhere else warm and hip, because this is what baseball players do, especially those without long-term contracts. Even if you have a family, this is probably where they'll be most of the time anyway.)

 

Chicago: Chicago is the largest city in the division, and by both hard and soft factors is the most distinct "big city" of the division. Chicago is the largest media market in the division, so there will also be more national attention, more national games, etc. The local media infrastructure is also comparatively larger than the rest of the division. Chicago provides the greatest variety of short-term housing options in the division, thanks to the vibrancy of various hip communities close to downtown, as well as standard suburban options. Although the price of a super-nice apartment or home will also be more here, if you choose to go in that direction. No matter what crowd you want to run with, Chicago can oblige you and then some. With five major professional sports teams, and a greater number of non-sports celebrities living in town than in other places, it'll be easier for you, as a mid-tier baseball player to have a relatively normal life, which may or may not be a good thing, depending on what you want. Pros: the big city amenities that most benefit wealthy people, diversity, wider housing options, more media attention. Cons: higher costs, more intense local media pressure.

Cleveland: Cleveland has some jock buzz at the moment because of Lebron James, arguably the biggest sports celebrity in the world, so we can be certain that the un-reachable-to-the-peons party scene has improved, especially with Shaq in town. If Lebron stays, you might wanna stay just for a chance to watch the NBA Finals courtside for the next few years. Cleveland is a very low-cost city real estate wise, but you don't have a huge number of options, at least not compared to Chicago. There are some downtown/close to the stadium options, but it may be easier to go with a gigantic house in the suburbs route here. Then again, those costs are low for a reason, and if you end up buying something, then you better hope the next athlete that comes along will buy from you when the time comes. Cleveland is sports-mad, and as long as you stay out of trouble and play decently, a mid-level player like yourself is never going to be scrutinized. Then again, Cleveland is, for better or worse, a deeply provinical city, so if they turn on you, they really turn on you. This is the fanbase that has stayed mad at Jim Thome for half a decade now. Jim Thome!  Lastly, because of the long-standing suffering of the Indians, there is a real "you have a chance to be a hero for life" potential here if you help the Tribe win the WS. Pros: Lebron buzz factor, jock-friendly local culture, low costs, no clear disadvantages compared to other non-Chicago rivals either. Cons: no clear advantages over any other city in the division.

Detroit: Basically, Cleveland without the Lebron buzz, only a little worse. Your downtown/close to the stadium living options are also probably worse than Cleveland's, with the Detroit suburbs potentially being nicer. Low costs, but you'll also have to endure meaningless media questions about playing hard because Detroit is a hard-working city on hard-times, etc. Detroit's stadium is the second newest in the division, so it likely also features the second nicest set of lockerroom/clubhouse amenities. Detroit could have a little extra appeal for an African-American player, and a little less for a Hispanic or Latin American one. Pros: New stadium, low costs, friendly media environment. Cons: no clear advantages over any other city in the division, greater distance from many points south where players have permanent homes.

Minnesota: Amongst my set you'll frequently hear that the Twin Cities is a secretly hip metro, with a nice arts and music scene, parks, lots of farmer's markets, and all that. Of course, my set has only a very small overlap with the set of you average Major League ballplayer. Even though it's basically irrelevant to your typical baseball player who lives way south in the off-season, Minnesota is likely seen as a frigid, ice-locked wasteland. Then again, the Twin Cities has been home to some notoriously hard-partying teams, especially the Vikings, from the days of Randy Moss to the Sex Cruise era. In terms of places to live, Minnesota gives you a few more options than does Detroit or Cleveland for comparable prices. And Minnesota now boasts the newest park in the division, which is a nice little bonus. Pros: nice place to live in the summer, good housing options, new park. Cons: perception as frozen, all-white, semi-rural community (which could also be a pro for some), does feature some legitimately cold weather during the season, far away from points south, comparatively difficult to get in and out of compared to some other Central cities.

Kansas City: Really, I'd like to hear what you guys think about this one. In putting myself of a baseball player, here's what I think I see. Kansas City probably appeals to a certain brand of guy more than any other city. KC is the furthest city south in the divison, both culturally and geographically. Elements of southern culture and southern lifestyle are more prominent in Kansas City than in other cities in the division. Kansas City is also the smallest metro in the division, and athletes frequently talk positively about the area being more relaxed and laid-back than other big league cities. I think Josh Fields is probably happy to exchange Chicago for Kansas City. If you're an athlete that wants to have a cool bachelor pad apartment in a high rise, Kansas City might not be for you. But if you were going to go for a more suburban feel, while still being close to the park, you can likely achieve that much easier in Kansas City than in anywhere else in the division. Pros: ease of lifestyle, low-level of media and fan pressure, low costs, warmer weather, less dangerous downtown than Detroit or Cleveland. Cons: a borderline baseball backwater, small community and smaller nightlife scene makes it harder to blend in.

And so...

As I see it, Chicago is in it's own class in the division. The other four cities all have much more in common with one another than they do with the Windy City. Chicago offers the most clear positives, but also might be somewhat unappealing to a certain temperment of player. After Chicago, there seems to be a clear pairing of Detroit and Cleveland. My wife is from Cleveland and I've lived there during a few stints, and I'm well aware of the (to me) nonsensical Ohio/Michigan rivalry. I see way more similarities than differences, although I also happen to think Cleveland is nicer overall. West from Chicago and the Rust Belt metros of the Great Lakes lies Kansas City and Minneapolis/St. Paul. They're both more similar to Cleveland/Detroit than Chicago, but they certainly have a slower paced lifestyle and lower intensity media scrutiny. What we have to remember is that most people don't have terribly nuanced views of anywhere. Be they athletes or anyone else. And maybe we aren't giving these guys enough credit, as they've likely travelled to all of these places many times. In any event, if you were offered a job in, say, Tulsa, and a job in Atlanta, you're going to fall back on the few things you think you know about those places. And in many cases you'll probably be wrong.

What do you think?

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