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Pujols deciding on more than his future as a player

Albert Pujols, one of the best players in baseball, is deciding between $200 million deals from the Maimi Marlins and the St. Louis Cardinals, his current team. What can each provide Pujols–during his playing days and beyond?

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St. Louis Cardinals first baseman Albert Pujols reacts on the field after the Cardinals defeated the Texas Rangers to win MLB's World Series baseball championship in St. Louis, Missouri.

Jeff Haynes/Reuters/File

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Most of us will never get to experience of having three organizations fighting over who gets to give us $200 million, but such is the problem plaguing Albert Pujols.  The Cardinals’ first baseman is currently mulling over deals from three teams: The Cardinals, the Miami Marlins, and a mystery team that many are pegging as the Chicago Cubs. Today, the World Series champion Cardinals upped their offer to $220 million over nine years, trying to avoid the fan backlash that would surely follow a Pujols exit from St. Louis.

“I find it hard imagine him anywhere other than St Louis,” says Bruce K. Johnson, an economics professor at Centre College in Danville, KY. “Staying would make him an all-time great in Cardinals and St. Louis sports history.”

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The Marlins, meanwhile, are courting on the nine-time All Star to stock a team that aims to be a World Series contender.  They’ve already signed two marquee players, shortstop Jose Reyes and reliever Heath Bell. In addition to a 10-year deal somewhere north of $200 million (the exact figure is unknown) the contract the Marlins have offered Pujols contains an interesting twist: provisions that would ensure Pujols a role in the Marlins organization after his playing days, aiming to make him a figurehead of the franchise.

In the absence of a no-trade clause (the Marlins don’t include them as a matter of policy), the post-retirement provisions are meant to show Pujols that the Marlins are committed to him for the long haul. But in including those terms, the Marlins may have other motives.

“This looks more like deferred compensation,” says Steve Walters, a sports economist and professor at Loyola Marymount University. “This may be a way for the Marlins to defer some of his playing contracts in the future.”

The details are unknown, but depending on the terms, this means that the Marlins could shave come money off of Pujols player salary in exchange for him playing a role in marketing, scouting, coaching, or management several years down the line.

According to Walters, who sometimes acts as an economic consultant for teams including the Baltimore Orioles and the Boston Red Sox, such provisions are usually reserved for fan favorites who have already been with their teams for several years. “It’s common for popular local personalities to be welcomed into the fold. The teams want you around to promote the product, be an adviser. He cites “Mr. Cub” Ernie Banks, who played his entire career with the Chicago Cubs and continued on coaching, as an example.

“But with a free agent, you are just establishing the relationship, and it doesn’t always work out.”

The Texas Rangers, for example, pinned their franchise’s hopes on shortstop Alex Rodriguez in 2000 with a 10-year, $249 million contract, the second largest in baseball history.  But Rodriguez was traded to the Yankees in 2004, and the Rangers had to pay $67 million of the 179 million left on the contract. In 2009, the firm holding a controlling interest in the team went broke, and the Rangers had to be put up for auction.

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The Marlins need big name players like Pujols and Reyes to fill the seats in their new, $515 million taxpayer funded stadium. It’s quite the spending spree for the franchise, formerly a penny-pinching small market outfit best know for dismantling and selling off the bulk of its 1997 World Series champion team. But both Walters and Johnson point out that there is no guarantee that fans will warm to big name players, especially if they don’t win. Rodriguez in Texas, or more recently, LeBron James and company on the Miami Heat in the NBA, are prime examples.

Ironically, post-play provisions would make more sense for Pujols in St. Louis, where he has won two Word Series rings and is adored by an enthusiastic core of Cardinals fans. It still might happen; both Walters and Johnson are betting on the three-time national league MVP to stay in St. Louis. “The betting has to favor the Cardinals at this point,” says Walters. “He has a loving relationship with what are arguably the best fans in baseball. If the money’s close, I think he’ll stay at home.”

UPDATE: According to ESPN, the Miami Marlins have reportedly withdrawn their offer to Pujols after signing pitcher Mark Buehrle, though Pujols is still fielding offers from teams other than the Cardinals.