The mantra “it’s just a game” could not be further from the truth when it comes to professional baseball. Not only do many fans treat the performance of their teams as a life-or-death matter, but for the players who provide the entertainment, it’s a way of life and the way they make their living. Baseball, for all intents and purposes, is more than a game: It’s a business.

Thus while it seems obvious to fans that their favorite franchises should re-sign their best players, it isn’t that simple for the players and organizations to reach agreements.

In the modern era of free agency, it’s not surprising to see many of the best free agents switch squads. This past offseason Cliff Lee left the Rangers to return to Philadelphia, Carl Crawford joined the Red Sox from Tampa Bay and former Phillies outfielder Jayson Werth agreed to come to the nation’s capital.

Despite how many players yearn for free agency, others ultimately wish to remain with the franchises in which they grew up. Yankees shortstop Derek Jeter and Cardinals first baseman Albert Pujols represent a minority of individuals who are still with the franchises that drafted them 10-plus years ago.

Still, just because a player desires to return to the franchise he has represented for so long does not mean he should give the team a “hometown discount” and take a pay cut.

Although their situations are different as Jeter is entering the twilight of his career and Pujols remains one of the best hitters in the game at age 31, their contract negotiations with their respective clubs demonstrate the difficulties involved in reaching such agreements. In Pujols’ case, the inability to complete a deal could result in a parting of ways that neither the team nor player wants.

So what holds a deal back?

Many people will point their fingers at the players and suggest that demanding tens of millions of dollars per season is greedy. After all, when a player has accrued so much money in the past — like Jeter and Pujols — what is the need to argue over a couple million here and there?

What fans need to realize is that it isn’t necessarily the actual money that players seek. Rather, it is about receiving fair compensation based on their performance and value to the teams they play for. Players want to be paid similarly to other players who perform at a similar level and paid for the impact they make on their franchises.

In Jeter’s case, it’s hard to argue that he’s worth his new contract that will pay him $51 million over three seasons, given his recent on-field production as well as the likelihood of his decline as he nears his 40th birthday.

But Jeter’s impact on the Yankees organization is hard to put a price on. For a franchise that has developed and acquired some of the best players ever, Jeter ranks with them not only based on statistics but also in fan popularity. It also doesn’t hurt that Jeter has been an integral part of five World Series championship teams.

Likewise, Pujols’ impact on the Cardinals organization is unquestioned. In his 10-year career, Pujols has already collected three MVP awards while bringing a championship to St. Louis in 2006. Unlike Jeter, however, Pujols’ career is still at its peak, and after the 2011 season, Pujols will be the premier player available on the open market.

Given his impact, it’s hard to argue with Pujols as he seeks a record-breaking contract that could be for as many as 10 seasons. As arguably the best player in the entire league in the prime of his career, the Cardinals should listen to his demands. While Jeter probably would not have received a comparable deal on the open market, Pujols will not be without potential suitors after the 2011 season. Although Pujols has stated that he wants to remain with the Cardinals for the rest of his career, it will require the Cardinals owners to open up their wallets to retain their franchise player.

The longer a player stays with an organization, the harder it is for him to part ways with his club — a fact that franchises often take advantage of in negotiations. If Pujols and the St. Louis Cardinals fail to reach a deal and the slugger leaves St. Louis, fans should blame the team, not the player.

It is true that it’s outrageous to hand out that amount of money to players for playing a game they love. But given the money that franchises earn, players like Derek Jeter and Albert Pujols deserve to get paid.


Preston Barclay is a freshman in the McDonough School of Business. Turning Two in the 202 appears in every other Tuesday edition of Hoya Sports.

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