A highly subjective and judgmental ranking of major league and Triple-A cities

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I work at home by myself. Sometimes Gleeman keeps me sane via Gchat, but he was at the Twins game today. Sometimes the kids give me actual human beings with whom to interact, but now when they come home from school they just go up to their rooms and play Minecraft. So, today, I was left to slowly go crazy, listening to things rattling around in my head. The last thing that rattled before I was going to sign off was “I wonder what Triple-A city it would suck the most to be sent down to?”

So I decided to rank the possible demotions. The rules:

  • We’re not simply ranking what Triple-A cities stink the most. That’s lame. This is a comparative exercise: is it worse to be sent from Big League City A to Minor League City B, or Big League City C to Minor League City D? This is a multi-variable poll, in which a GREAT big league city can find itself farther down this list if it’s paired with a really good minor league city. We’re ranking big gaps in desirability between affiliates, with the bigger the falloff ranking higher on the list;
  • In some cases going from the big league city to the Triple-A city is actually an upgrade in city experience. There are likewise a couple of cities which are in the same metro area as their affiliates. I’ll list these places — UPGRADES and NEUTRALS — before the downgrade rankings;
  • For this exercise, actual baseball considerations are irrelevant. I mean, obviously, playing for a big league club in East Jesus, BFE is way better than playing for a Triple-A team in Paradise City, Utopia. The money and perks and cushy luxury of being in The Show dwarf the differences in, say, farm-to-table restaurants and nightclubs that stay open past a certain hour in your more cosmopolitan minor league cities. Here we’re just talking about the part of the day when our hypothetical player is not at the ballpark. We care about restaurants, bars, cultural attractions and the like; Finally
  • Obviously this is subjective. There are New York people and L.A. people. City people and country people. People who hate the heat and people who don’t. Just know that this ranking is just mine. Your mileage will vary. That’s what the comments are for, OK?

Good. Let’s do this:

THE UPGRADES and the NEUTRALS

In no particular order. Well, I start with Columbus because it explains a lot of my thinking here.

Cleveland to Columbus: Disclaimer: I live in Columbus. Counter-disclaimer: I talk a lot of smack about it anyway and probably won’t keep living here after my kids go away to college or the foreign legion or wherever they’re going so I can be objective about it. It ain’t perfect, but there is a lot to admire here. Allow me to explain the thing with Columbus — and a few other cities on this list — with a brief aside.

Columbus is one of the many, many mid-to-largish cities that get wrongfully hated on by people from major, major like New York, Los Angeles and Chicago. Cities such as Charlotte, the Triangle area in North Carolina, Indianapolis and a lot of other places like it fall into the same boat as Columbus. They grew up way later than other cities and thus didn’t have some major industrial magnate donate, like, 24 museums and libraries back during the McKinley Administration. As a result, yes, they are somewhat less cultured and are always gonna be thought of as minor league to some degree. Which, fine, OK, I get that. But you should also know that the lack of major industrial magnates back during the McKinley Administration means that these cities now lack all of that post-industrial wasteland garbage and painful transition-away-from-blue collar industries stuff a lot of cities suffer(ed) from.

What Columbus does have is a lot of educated white collar/medical/insurance/government workers who, while maybe less fashionable than big city folk (we REALLY like our pleated Dockers here) tend to support good restaurants and bars and things. The college kids and post-college folk help this a lot too, all aided by the lack of a crushing struggle those latter types have to endure simply to exist here. We get it, carving out an existence in your city made you stronger. So you’re stronger. We all have money to pay our rent and get a damn beer once in awhile. It’s a nice tradeoff.

We like that you don’t think that much about us, because it means we get to keep our good restaurants and our real estate prices stay low. We’re the quintessential “wouldn’t want to visit, but you’d sure want to live here” places. Perfect? No. But there are hidden charms most people from the coasts assume don’t exist. People from the coasts can be jerks like that sometimes.

Anyway, back to Columbus. No disrespect is meant to Cleveland — which I feel is unfairly maligned in the popular culture — but I’d prefer to live here than there. So here we are. For another eight years or so, when my youngest goes off to join the foreign legion.

Cincinnati to Louisville: This is an upgrade situation. Louisville is cooler than Cincinnati by every measure. Cheaper drinks, better restaurants, fewer uptight people. In Cincinnati, if someone asks you where you went to school, they mean what high school you went to. It’s just an insular place and no damn fun in my experience. In Louisville, if you ask someone where they went to high school, they’ll say “Do you care? No? C’mon, we’re going out for bourbon.” Always choose bourbon.

St. Petersburg (Rays) to Durham: As an avowed Florida disliker and someone from whom 50%+ of his high school graduating class bugged out for The Triangle in the 1990s and have since made nice lives for themselves there, I think I’d put this on the upgrade list. Plus, if you have to hate Duke and everything it stands for, it’s far more effective to do it from up close.

St. Louis to Memphis: Just not a fan of St. Louis, to be honest. And I had a lot of fun in Memphis the one time I was there. If I had to put down roots in one vs. the other, I’d probably pick Memphis. If, for no other reason, than to get away from what people in St. Louis call pizza.

Miami to New Orleans: The most even matchup on the list? My general hatred of Florida doesn’t always extend to Miami because Miami isn’t like most of the rest of Florida. New Orleans is arguably the best city in the country from a food and nightlife perspective. I’d probably skew upgrade with this one just given my personal tastes, but if it is a downgrade, it’s at the bottom end of the list where the downgrades are the least extreme.

Seattle to Tacoma: I’ll make my first trek to Seattle this summer when I do that Amtrak thing. I’m hoping it’s cool. But this is a Neutral, right? They share an airport, with both cities’ names in it. It’s like Raleigh-Durham, but with volcanoes in the distance.

Arlington/Dallas to Round Rock: If you get Austin thrown in with Round Rock, this is an upgrade. I assume you’d get Austin? Either way, I’m not a huge fan of Dallas, even if it’s bigger and shiner. If you haven’t noticed by now, I’m rather partial to towns with decent bar scenes.

Atlanta to Lawrenceville: This is Gwinnett County, of course, which is just outside of Atlanta in the same general mega-hella-city-plex, so we’re calling it a Neutral. I’m sure you inside-Atlanta people can explain the differences in traffic patterns and to where and from where you do and don’t want to try to commute, but it’s probably a push. No matter which of these cities you call home, when you travel someplace else, you tell people you’re from Atlanta.

 

THE DOWNGRADE RANKINGS

San Diego to El Paso: San Diego is currently on the top of my “where I’m moving when my kids move out” list. I have family there and it’s gorgeous and that’s pretty simple. El Paso has a famous song about a murder there, but not much else to recommend it. If you need any other evidence, know that a genuine Major League pitcher — a man who has played in no small number of these minor league cities — thought this was the top of the downgrade list:

I rarely yield to appeals to or from authority, but in this case I think it’s wise.

New York (Yankees) to Moosic (Scranton/Wilkes-Barre): When I floated this idea on Twitter this afternoon, this was the hands-down winner of steepest decline from cool major league city to bad minor league one in the minds of my followers. And though I personally don’t always find myself comfortable in New York all the time — I think Woody Allen is right in saying that people are either New York people or L.A. people, and between those I’m an L.A. person — I can’t disagree that this would be a precipitous and almost fatal decline. Mostly because I spent two weeks trying a case in Wilkes-Barre when I was a lawyer and it was the most miserable two weeks of my adult life. And my adult life includes a miserable divorce and a vasectomy (not in that order). It only comes in behind San Diego-El Paso because I can imagine myself getting away from Scranton for a weekend here or there if I had to, while El Paso appears to be so remote as to defy easy escape.

Los Angeles to Oklahoma City: This is the matchup which inspired the whole list. I thought of it when I saw that the Dodgers released Ryan Webb, just after they had thought to send him to Oklahoma City. I thought for five minutes “which would be worse?” And thus the list was born. At the time I hadn’t thought about Scranton. Oklahoma City is a pretty major city so you can probably find things to do and places to eat there, pushing it down a bit. But John Steinbeck didn’t write a novel about people leaving L.A. for a better life in Oklahoma, right?

San Francisco to Sacramento: San Francisco is one of my most favorite cities in the country. Maybe my absolute favorite. I get the impression that Sacramento has a lot of that Columbus stuff going on, but it also gets over 100 degrees a lot and screw that noise.

Philadelphia to Allentown: My only datapoint with Allentown is that Billy Joel song. God, I hate Billy Joel. And while I obviously don’t like the Phillies, Philadelphia is a major city where you can do all sorts of cool things. Like not be in Allentown. This has got to be a micro-version of the New York-Scranton thing, right? Philly being a place where I’d probably live less readily than a lot of cities on this list, but which is this high up due to how far a fall down it is to its Triple-A town.

Phoenix to Reno: I’ve been to Phoenix enough that I know all of the good places. And there are a lot of them, even if you have to look around quite a bit. Reno? I went there once too. Once.

Washington to Syracuse: I went to law school in D.C. It’s different now than it was between 1995-98, but I go back a lot and what I liked and hated about it is still generally the same, only more so. In both directions. I could make a go of living in D.C. based on that familiarity. I can’t think of what would ever possess me to go live in Syracuse. It is farther down the list than Philly-Syracuse, though, because at least there’s a big university there and that suggests some better food.

Houston to Fresno: When the Giants had Fresno, this may have been at the top of the list. It’s still pretty damn high given what I know of Fresno, but I think San Francisco-to-Houston would be a huge downgrade in and of itself. And that’s if you only take humidity into account.

Toronto to Buffalo: I haven’t been to either place since I was a kid, so I’m on word of mouth here. But the consensus is that Toronto is a world class city on par with the other major capitols of the world, and Buffalo is . . . not. So this is pretty easy.

Denver to Albuquerque: I sometimes wonder if “Breaking Bad” and now “Better Call Saul” has given Albuquerque any hipster cachet. God, I hope not. That would be the dumbest basis for a place rising up in perceived status than anything I can ever imagine. But it probably wouldn’t be unprecedented. I’ve harbored a theory for years that NBC’s lineup of white-people-friendly, New York-based sitcoms in the 1990s hastened that city’s gentrification and, though New York people won’t readily admit it, homogenization over the past 20 years. Sure, it’d always be a big place that attracts artists and creatives and stuff, but “Friends” and “Seinfeld” and “Mad About You” probably convinced a lot of people who could’ve made nice lives for themselves in, say, Charlotte, to go to New York and encourage them to put Gap stores all over the place.

Boston to Pawtucket: I only drove through Rhode Island once, so I have no idea what Pawtucket is all about. I do feel like all of New England gravitates to Boston, though, and when you get sick of Boston you go to some small town someplace, not back to Pawtucket.

Minneapolis to Rochester: I liked Minneapolis a lot when I was there last year. I know jack crap about Rochester. I’d say, though, that all competitive considerations aside, if I was a player and my agent said “you gotta live in Minneapolis,” I’d be OK with that way before I’d be cool with anyone telling me I had to live in Rochester.

Kansas City to Omaha: You can get Boulevard Beer on tap everyplace you go in K.C., plus the barbecue is amazing. I’ve never been to Omaha. I’m sure it’s a nice place and, heck, you can get Boulevard in Ohio now, so I imagine they’ve had it in Omaha a while. Still.

Baltimore to Norfolk: My brother spent several years in the Navy in Norfolk. I bought a 1987 Cavalier there once. Beyond that and some touristy beaches nearby I’m not sure what the attraction is. Baltimore is kind of fun if you’re with someone who knows where to take you.

Milwaukee to Colorado Springs: Milwaukee hides along the lake, not far from Chicago and closer all the time, hoping like hell no one notices it and decides that every bad thing about rapidly growing cities has to come to Milwaukee now too. Colorado Springs has that big mountain with the Air Force base in it, so you could maybe take over that place and make it a super villain lair. I also had a waitress tell me a really funny dirty joke there one time. But on the whole I’d rather be in Milwaukee.

Chicago (Cubs) to Des Moines:All the stuff I said about Columbus applies to Des Moines, basically. People think “oh, Iowa, LOL” and don’t think much else. Mostly because they’ve never been to Des Moines and don’t realize that, yeah, it’s actually a real city. I mean, sure, it’s no Chicago, but this is not a New York-Scranton situation.

Pittsburgh to Indianapolis: Pittsburgh is fun and, at least in the last 25 years or so, a lot more cosmopolitain than the stereotypes suggest. Heck, most of you are probably too young to remember the stereotypes, that’s how cosmopolitain it has become. Indianapolis, for its part has a lot of that Columbus-Charlotte dynamic I described above going for it, but it’s also a place where you can’t get pizza catered to your gay wedding, and that’d a quality of life consideration one can’t ignore. Assuming of course any self-respecting gay person is going to cater their wedding with pizza which, really? Please.

Chicago (White Sox) to Charlotte: Again, the same deal a the Columbus thing. And the Des Moines thing, including the part about Chicago being cooler and hipper. I’d rather be in Charlotte than many big league cities — and I’d rather be there before Des Moines — but obviously it’s a falloff from Chicago.

Anaheim to Salt Lake City: So much of these rankings depends on what kind of parameters you set around your city. Do you get to include the whole general area, or just the city in which the park sits? Because, hell, if you let me have Newport Beach or something, Anaheim looks a lot better. If it’s just the giant office park, parking lot and theme park that is Anaheim, eh, you can keep it. Anyway, for now let’s just say it’s “the parts of Orange County from which an Angels ballplayer may reasonably drive” and “the General Salt Lake Area.” I feel like that makes it for a pretty big falloff. Mostly because I like the Orange County beaches a good deal.

Oakland to Nashville: Another boundary issue. If it’s just Oakland, and you can’t include the overall Bay Area, this could be an upgrade situation. Nashville is a pretty darn cool city and, while Oakland has come a long way in recent years, it has its problems. But it’s also silly not include at least Berkeley and other East Bay places along with Oakland, and an argument can and probably should be made that you get to include all of San Francisco. So, really, I have no idea what to do with this one.

Detroit to Toledo: Detroit is cooler than most of you assume, mostly because all of the stuff you assume is based on exploitative ruin porn, “8 Mile” if you’re young, “Gran Torino” if you’re old and those ignorant and judgy comments your Republican dad/uncle/co-worker said about how “THAT’s what the unions can do to a place.” My parents are both from Detroit, I’ve visited it all my life and since my girlfriend was born there and knows people there I’ve gotten to know it a lot better in the past few years. Am I moving there tomorrow? No. Does it have serious problems? Oh hell yeah. But Toledo is a falloff, not a push. And there would be more falloffs here too if the Tigers were affiliated with someplace else. Go to Detroit sometime. Take in a game. Research the places to go before you go and be surprised.

New York (Mets) to Las Vegas: Apples and oranges in a lot of respects, but at least you’re not taking a step down in electricity and nightlife and stuff with this move. A different sort of electricity and night life, to be sure, but I’m guessing that a lot of players would rather be in Las Vegas than a lot of big league cities if everything was equal on the baseball side. Could be an upgrade if you’re SUPER-wary of New York. I’m a bit wary. Not THAT wary. Long-haul I’d rather be in New York than Vegas. But this is so, so close to a Neutral.

OK, so that’s it. I’m sure some of you are offended about what I said with respect to your city. Well, tough. Say it right back. Like I said, this is subjective.

Just, God, please don’t make me go to Scranton, ever. For anything.

Texas Rangers ink free-agent ace Jacob deGrom to 5-year deal

Jacob deGrom
USA Today
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ARLINGTON, Texas — Jacob deGrom is headed to the free-spending Texas Rangers, who believe the health risk is worth the potential reward in trying to end a six-year run of losing.

The two-time Cy Young Award winner agreed to a $185 million, five-year contract Friday, leaving the New York Mets after nine seasons – the past two shortened substantially by injuries.

“We acknowledge the risk, but we also acknowledge that in order to get great players, there is a risk and a cost associated with that,” Rangers general manager Chris Young said. “And one we feel like is worth taking with a player of Jacob’s caliber.”

Texas announced the signing after the 34-year-old deGrom passed his physical. A person with direct knowledge of the deal disclosed the financial terms to The Associated Press. The person spoke on condition of anonymity because the club did not announce those details.

The Rangers were also big spenders in free agency last offseason, signing shortstop Corey Seager ($325 million, 10 years) and second baseman Marcus Semien ($175 million, seven years).

The team said deGrom will be introduced in a news conference at Globe Life Field next week following the winter meetings in San Diego.

“It fits in so many ways in terms of what we need,” Young said. “He’s a tremendous person. I have a number of close friends and teammates who played with Jacob and love him. I think he’s going to be just a perfect fit for our clubhouse and our fans.”

Texas had modest expectations after adding Seager, Semien and starter Jon Gray ($56 million, four years) last offseason but still fell short of them.

The Rangers went 68-94, firing manager Chris Woodward during the season, and then hired Bruce Bochy, a three-time World Series champion with San Francisco. Texas’ six straight losing seasons are its worst skid since the franchise moved from Washington in 1972.

Rangers owner Ray Davis said the club wouldn’t hesitate to keep adding payroll. Including the $19.65 million qualifying offer accepted by Martin Perez, the team’s best pitcher last season, the Rangers have spent nearly $761 million in free agency over the past year.

“I hate losing, but I think there’s one person in our organization who hates losing worse than me, and I think it’s Ray Davis,” Young said. “He’s tired of losing. I’m tired of losing. Our organization is tired of losing.”

After making his first start in early August last season, deGrom went 5-4 with a 3.08 ERA in 11 outings. He helped the Mets reach the playoffs, then passed up a $30.5 million salary for 2023 and opted out of his contract to become a free agent for the first time.

That ended his deal with the Mets at $107 million over four years, and deGrom rejected their $19.65 million qualifying offer in November. New York will receive draft-pick compensation for losing him.

The fan favorite becomes the latest in a long line of ace pitchers to leave the Mets for one reason or another, including Nolan Ryan, Tom Seaver, Dwight Gooden and David Cone.

The Rangers visit Citi Field from Aug. 28-30.

When healthy, deGrom is perhaps baseball’s most dominant pitcher. His 2.52 career ERA ranks third in the expansion era (since 1961) behind Los Angeles Dodgers lefty Clayton Kershaw (2.48) and Hall of Famer Sandy Koufax (2.19) among those with at least 200 starts.

The right-hander is 4-1 with a 2.90 ERA in five career postseason starts, including a win over San Diego in the wild-card round this year that extended the Mets’ season. New York was eliminated the next night.

A four-time All-Star and the 2014 NL Rookie of the Year, deGrom was a ninth-round draft pick by the Mets in 2010 out of Stetson, where he played shortstop before moving to the mound. He was slowed by Tommy John surgery early in his career and didn’t reach the majors until age 26.

Once he arrived, though, he blossomed. He helped the Mets reach the 2015 World Series and earn a 2016 playoff berth before winning consecutive NL Cy Young Awards in 2018 and 2019.

But injuries to his elbow, forearm and shoulder blade have limited him to 26 starts over the past two seasons. He compiled a career-low 1.08 ERA over 92 innings in 2021, but did not pitch after July 7 that year because of arm trouble.

DeGrom is 82-57 with 1,607 strikeouts in 1,326 innings over nine big league seasons. He gets $30 million next year, $40 million in 2024 and 2025, $38 million in 2026 and $37 million in 2027. The deal includes a conditional option for 2028 with no guaranteed money.

The addition of deGrom gives the Rangers three proven starters along with Gray and Perez, who went 12-8 with a career-best 2.89 ERA in his return to the team that signed him as a teenager out of Venezuela. Young didn’t rule out the addition of another starter.

With several holes on their starting staff, the Mets have shown interest in free agents Justin Verlander and Carlos Rodon to pair with 38-year-old Max Scherzer atop the rotation.

Now, with deGrom gone, signing one of those two could become a much bigger priority.