Rivera becomes highest paid closer with Yankees' deal

Updated: November 20, 2007, 9:49 AM ET
ESPN.com news services

It looks like Yankees fans won't have to get used to a bunch of new faces after all.

As Alex Rodriguez and the team nears a new deal, Mariano Rivera told the Yankees on Monday that he will accept their three-year, $45 million contract offer.

Closing The Door

Only two closers all-time have more saves than Mariano Rivera, who might be No. 1 by the end of his reported new three-year contract with the Yankees.

Pitcher Saves
Trevor Hoffman 524
Lee Smith 478
Mariano Rivera 443
John Franco 424
Dennis Eckersley 390

Earlier this month, the Yankees agreed with longtime catcher Jorge Posada on a four-year, $52.4 million deal.

"We've got everybody back," Yankees senior vice president Hank Steinbrenner said Monday. "It's good to have both Jorgie and him back."

Rivera's deal, which ESPN.com's Buster Olney first reported as official, is pending a physical.

Rivera had been holding out for an additional year, but a source who had spoken with both the team and Rivera's agent, Fernando Cuza, told ESPN.com's Jayson Stark that the deal will not contain any option for a fourth season.

The contract makes Rivera the highest-paid closer in baseball history. The Mets' Billy Wagner had been tops with an average annual salary of $10.75 million, and the Blue Jays gave B.J. Ryan the highest total contract for a reliever at $47 million, but that deal was over five years.

Within the life of the deal, Rivera should pass Lee Smith for second on the all-time saves list. In 13 years with the Yankees, the right-hander has 443 saves, 35 behind Smith. The Padres' Trevor Hoffman is the all-time leader with 524 saves.

Rivera saved 30 games last season, his lowest total since 2002 and posted a 3.15 ERA, his highest since his rookie year in 1995.

Rivera was coming off a three-year contract that paid him $31.5 million. He had hoped for an extension before the start of this season, but the Yankees decided not to discuss contract extensions with any of their players until after the 2007 season was over.

At the start of spring training, Rivera said he would test the market if he became a free agent.

"Everybody has the same shot," he said then. "The Yankees will not have an advantage."

The Yankees have been waiting to hear if Rivera would accept the deal for a week. But that hasn't been the only drama the Yankees have faced this offseason. A-Rod opted out of his contract during the World Series but then made overtures about returning to the Bronx. The team is currently negotiating with the American League MVP.

"Mariano is obviously someone that we can't live without because he's one of a kind and he's so unique in what he does for us," Rodriguez said. "He's such an unbelievable force in our clubhouse. In many ways he's kind of the voice for a lot of people in there."

New York next hopes Andy Pettitte will decide to pitch for the Yankees again next year. Pettitte turned down a $16 million player option, saying he needed more time to decide whether he wanted to play or retire.

"If we get Andy, there's no question that we'll have better pitching than last year. We may have better pitching, anyway, but certainly with Andy back we will," Steinbrenner said. "And of course, we've got the same lineup, which was a killer lineup, everybody knows that."

New York has not yet announced its agreement with Posada or a $4 million, two-year contract with backup catcher Jose Molina.

"We'll keep doing whatever we're going to do to improve," Steinbrenner said. "The offseason isn't over yet."

New York remains interested in Johan Santana. The two-time AL Cy Young Award winner is eligible for free agency after the 2008 season, and teams expect the Minnesota Twins to make him available if they can't work out an extension.

By retaining Rivera, the Yankees can proceed with their plan to have Joba Chamberlain in the starting rotation. Chamberlain was Rivera's primary set-up man late in the season.

Rivera had been in the Dominican Republic last week while the Yankees waited for word on whether he would accept.

"I was certainly hopeful," Steinbrenner said. "It's a good offer and an offer that was made because I wanted him back."

Buster Olney is a senior baseball writer for ESPN The Magazine. Jayson Stark is a senior baseball writer for ESPN.com. Information from The Associated Press was used in this report.

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