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Via Sweeny Murti: Alex Rodriguez‘s return to the Yankees last night netted the YES Network its best ratings of the season. They averaged 393k total viewers for the game and topped out at 756k from 8:30-8:45pm ET, right around when Alex came to the plate for the first time. In terms of Neilsen ratings, YES was at 4.34 for the game compared to a season average of 2.52, which is down almost 40% from last year (4.17) and 50% from 2009 (4.72).

Obviously ticket sales and television ratings are way down this year, that’s no secret, but A-Rod‘s return will definitely help on the business side of things as well as on the field. He’s a car wreck and people can’t look away — most watch because they hate him and some watch because they actually like him. The important thing is people watch. Brian Cashman recently called the A-Rod trade his best not only because he was awesome on the field, but also because he helped increase ticket sales and cable subscribers. The Yankees seem to truly hate A-Rod and want him gone as soon as possible, but I’m guessing they’ll have no trouble taking in all that extra revenue while waiting for his appeal.

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(Rich Schultz/Getty)

(Rich Schultz/Getty)

Alex Rodriguez started what is supposed to be a quick little two-game rehab stint with Double-A Trenton last night, hitting a long homerun and playing five innings at third base. During his post-game press conference, the team’s third baseman came out swinging with some thinly-veiled accusations. Here are the quotes, courtesy of Ronald Blum:

“There are a lot of layers,” he said after homering Friday night for the Double-A Trenton Thunder in his return from a leg injury. “I will say this: There is more than one party that benefits from me not ever stepping back on the field. And that’s not my teammates and it’s not the Yankee fans.”

(snip)

“I think it is pretty self-explanatory. I think that is the pink elephant in the room,” he said. “I think we all agree that we want to get rid of PEDs. That’s a must. I think all the players, we feel that way. But when all this stuff is going on in the background and people are finding creative ways to cancel your contract and stuff like that, I think that’s concerning for me, it’s concerning for present — and I think it should be concerning for future players, as well.”

Poor Alex can’t even get through a simple cliche without messing it up. He also said he expects to return to the team Monday in Chicago “unless I get hit by lightning, and these days you never know.”

Anyway, it’s obvious A-Rod is referring to the Yankees here, and he isn’t exactly wrong. There have been countless reports in recent weeks and months suggesting the Yankees are trying to find a way to wiggle out of the 4+ years and $90M-something left on his contract, not to mention all the stuff about MLB wanting him out of the league. He’s just saying what we all know.

Between the recent Mike Francesa interview shenanigans and these quotes, basically all the public barbs the two sides (technically three sides) have traded in recent weeks, one thing is becoming increasingly clear: if A-Rod goes down, he’s going down with guns blazing. I’m not going to lie, part of me is looking forward to the ensuing chaos. It will be fascinating.

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Indians right-hander Carlos Carrasco has been suspended eight games and fined an undisclosed amount for intentionally throwing at Kevin Youkilis earlier this week, MLB has announced. He was making his first start after serving a six-game suspension for throwing at Billy Butler. That incident happened back in 2011, but Carrasco’s Tommy John surgery got in the way.

In case you forgot, Carrasco threw at Youkilis on Tuesday after Robinson Cano had taken him deep one batter earlier. Given his history of throwing at people, the suspension isn’t surprising. Just glad Youkilis wasn’t hurt more than anything.

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(REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst)

(REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst)

Just seven months before hitting the open market as (by far) the best free agent available, Robinson Cano has fired agent Scott Boras. He is now represented by CAA Sports and Jay-Z’s new Roc Nation Sports. Cano will be Roc Nation’s first client and they will handle his marketing. Buster Olney, Mark Feinsand, Ken Rosenthal, and Dan Barbarisi all had a hand in breaking the news.

“At this point in my career, I am ready to take a more active role in my endeavors both on and off the field,” said Cano in a statement released on Roc Nation’s site.  “I am confident that the pairing of Roc Nation Sports and CAA Sports will be essential in helping me accomplish my short- and long-term goals.  I am making this important decision now so I can keep my focus on helping the Yankees succeed in 2013, while minimizing any distractions for me and my teammates.”

Darren Rovell notes that Jay-Z hopes to become a certified agent in baseball, football, and basketball. Roc Nation’s initial launch is with CAA Sports, but it will be its own stand-along company. Given his new affiliation with Jay-Z, it is very hard to see Cano leaving New York. I doubt he has his eyes on joining the Mets either.

Brodie Van Wagenen of CAA will handle the bulk of Cano’s contract talks. He represents Ryan Zimmerman, Carlos Quentin, Ryan Howard, and Drew Storen, among others. CAA itself has a long client list, including stars like Ryan Braun, Buster Posey, Matt Cain, and Roy Halladay. Current Yankees Phil Hughes and Boone Logan are both CAA clients.

“Robinson Cano is an extraordinary all-around talent who has established himself as one of the game’s best and most consistent players,” said Van Wagenen in a statement. “Our mandate is to minimize his distractions while helping him achieve his goals on and off the field in both the short- and the long-term. His immediate concern is continuing to show respect for the New York Yankees organization, his teammates and fans.”

As for the Yankees, Cano cutting ties with Boras is pretty much the best case scenario as far as contract extension talks go. They’ve already made their franchise cornerstone a “significant offer,” though apparently there hadn’t been much progress in recent weeks. With a few notable exceptions, Boras has always taken his biggest clients out onto the open market and created a bidding war. Teams like the Tigers, Nationals, Angels, and especially the Dodgers figure to be in the mix for Cano after the season. Nearly every star CAA client has signed an extension in advance of free agency.

Does the agency switch means it will be easier for the Yankees to sign Cano long-term? Maybe, but I’m not sure easier is the best way to put it. I do think it improves their chances of signing him to a more affordable contract — not a ton because I doubt Jay-Z wants his first baseball contract to be a sweetheart deal — though Robbie is getting paid either way. He’ll clear nine figures easily and could double Chase Utley’s second base record of $85 million guaranteed. Perhaps he’ll sign a shorter (six years?) deal instead of seeking a massive eight- or ten-year agreement. That would be awesome.

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Ladies and gentlemen, after weeks of position battles and scrap heap pickups, here are your 2013 New York Yankees…

Catchers Infielders Outfielders Rotation Bullpen
Frankie Cervelli Robinson Cano Brennan Boesch CC Sabathia Mariano Rivera
Chris Stewart Lyle Overbay Ben Francisco Hiroki Kuroda David Robertson
Jayson Nix Brett Gardner Andy Pettitte Boone Logan
Designated Hitter  Eduardo Nunez Ichiro Suzuki Ivan Nova Joba Chamberlain
Travis Hafner Kevin Youkilis Vernon Wells David Phelps Shawn Kelley
Cody Eppley
Disabled List (* denotes 60-day DL)
Adam Warren
Cesar Cabral* Phil Hughes Alex Rodriguez*
Curtis Granderson Derek Jeter  Mark Teixeira
Michael Pineda*

The pitching staff, specifically the front of the rotation and the back of the bullpen, is the clear strength of the club right now. Cano is the focal point of the offense and he won’t get a damn thing to hit with men on-base or the late innings of close games. It will be up to Youkilis, Hafner, and Wells to make the other club pay in those spots, and it’ll also be up to Robbie to not get himself out by chasing pitcher’s pitches off the plate. He did that quite a bit in the postseason last year.

Wells takes over as the everyday left fielder while Overbay will start at first base against righties — Youkilis will slide over to first with Nix playing third against southpaws. Francisco could replace Hafner, Ichiro, or Gardner against lefties. Boesch … I’m not quite sure what the plan is there, but he figures to get some work as a left-handed bat off the bench, particularly as a pinch-hitter for the Stewvelli catching tandem against tough righties late in close games. Eppley and Warren are just keeping the bullpen seats warm until Hughes (mid-April?) returns.

Thankfully, the Yankees are not married to this roster all season. It’s just the Opening Day roster. Jeter, Granderson, and Teixeira are all expected back at some point in the first half and are better than their replacements, even if their performances suffer a bit as the result of the injuries. Pineda, Cabral, and A-Rod are all second half players, if anything. I think it’s very safe to call this a patchwork roster in need of major in-season reinforcements, either by players returning from injury or through trades.

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Forbes released its annual MLB valuations yesterday, and for the umpteenth consecutive year (actually 16th), the Yankees rank as the sport’s most valuable franchise. Their $2.3 billion valuation is a) higher than any other club in U.S. sports, b) $700M higher than the second most valuable club (Dodgers), and c) more than double the fourth most valuable club (Cubs). It’s also up considerably from 2012 ($1.85B), especially with regards to 2011 ($1.6B) and 2010 ($1.5B). You can thank the YES Network and the new Yankee Stadium for that.

“The Yankees sold some of their interest in the YES Network as part of Fox’s purchase of 49% of the regional sport network in late 2012 and as part of the deal the team’s rights fee from YES will increase from $85 million this season to $350 million in 2042,” wrote the publication, meaning the team’s value is going nowhere but up. Forbes estimates the Yankees’ revenue at $471M and their operating income at just $1.4M, but Yankee Global Enterprises is far more profitable due to its other holdings. The team technically operated at a loss for about a decade before the new Stadium opened.

The Athletics, up 46% from 2012, saw their value increase more than any other club in the last year. At $450M, the Rays are the least valuable franchise in the sport while the Cubs ($32.1M) and Angels ($-12.9M) had the largest and smallest operating incomes, respectively. Revenue sharing throws a big wrench into those calculations, however. Baseball will be getting a big financial boost in 2014 when its new agreements with FOX and TBS kick in, doubling the money each team receives from national television broadcast.

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Say your prayers... (AP Photo/Kathy Willens)

Say your prayers… (AP Photo/Kathy Willens)

Barring a complete surprise, Mariano Rivera will announce his retirement from baseball following the 2013 season during a press conference in Tampa this morning. The 43-year-old has been hinting at retirement for two years now, so the announcement will be no surprise. The show starts at 10am ET and can be seen on YES. I’ll liveblog the particulars below.

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Walkin' away. (Star-Ledger)

Walkin’ away. (Star-Ledger)

An era is ending in the Bronx. Joel Sherman reports Mariano Rivera will hold a press conference on Saturday morning to announce his retirement from baseball following the 2013 season. He could always change his mind between now and then, but I wouldn’t count on it. The press conference is scheduled for 10am ET at George M. Steinbrenner Field in Tampa.

Rivera, 43, said he made up his mind about his future when camp opened, but he wasn’t ready to tell anyone anything yet. News of Saturday’s announcement is no surprise, as I think most of us expected Mo to retire following last season. The season-ending knee injury in early-May changed those plans. In fact, Rivera said himself there was a “good chance” he would have retired in the offseason had the knee gotten healthy in time to allow him to pitch in the playoffs.

The Yankees signed Rivera for just $2,000 as a 20-year-old out of Panama back in February 1990. He spent the early part of his career as a starter, gradually working his way to the big leagues and making his debut on May 23rd, 1995 against the California Angels. They clobbered him, hanging five runs on eight hits and three walks against Rivera in 3.1 innings. He remained in the rotation for another three starts and resurfaced later that season, most notably striking out eleven White Sox in eight two-hit, shutout innings on Independence Day. It was, by far, the best of his ten career starts.

(AP Photo/John Dunn)

(AP Photo/John Dunn)

The club moved Rivera to the bullpen to open the 1996 season and the rest, as they say, is history. He pitched to a 2.09 ERA with 130 strikeouts in 107.2 relief innings that year, serving as a super-setup man to closer John Wetteland. Rivera allowed one run in 14.1 postseason innings that fall to help the Yankees to their first World Championship in almost 20 years. All of that happened before Mo learned his trademark cutter.

As the story goes, Rivera was playing catch with fellow Panamanian Ramiro Mendoza in 1997 when the ball just started cutting. That was it, he didn’t alter his grip or anything. Rivera rode that pitch to become the most dominant reliever in baseball history. He took over as closer for Wetteland in 1997 and hasn’t looked back, pitching in that same capacity for the last 17 years now. Mo has helped the Yankees to five World Championships and 18 postseason berths during his 19 seasons.

Along the way, Rivera has become baseball’s all-time leader in saves (608), games finished (892), and ERA+ (206). His postseason record in beyond belief, with a 0.70 ERA and 0.76 WHIP in 141 total innings. That is ridiculous. Rivera has never won a major award but he owns five top-five finishes in the AL Cy Young voting and has received AL MVP votes in nine different years. He will also be the final player in baseball history to wear #42. Mo is a 12-time All-Star and one of the greatest Yankees to ever live. An icon.

Off the field, Rivera is well-known as a kind and caring person who is a true class act. He’s everything anyone could ever want in a baseball player and person. Mo has been my favorite Yankee for a long time and this is a bittersweet day. I’m sad he’s leaving and I’m glad he’ll leave under his own terms. Getting carted off the field following a pregame accident in Kansas City is no way to go out. Teams will give Rivera a grand Chipper Jones-esque send-off this summer and it will be glorious.

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Tuesday: According to Neil Best, Yankees Ticket Exchange will have price floors of some sort. “Right now, we’re experimenting,” said Yankees COO Lonn Trost. “We’ll use this year to make a determination. Certain games may have it; certain games may not. Certain sections may have it; certain sections may not.”

Apparently StubHub is looking to open an office close to the Stadium that will allow fans to pick-up their tickets on-site, but the Yankees will try to prevent that. The team seems to be going to great lengths to make purchasing tickets a pain in the ass just for the sake of resale value.

Monday: Back in December we heard that the Yankees were opting out of MLB’s agreement with StubHub in favor of a partnership with Ticketmaster, a partnership that is now in place. Darren Rovell says the two sides have formed Yankees Ticket Exchange, which allows fans to safely and easily sell their tickets — with no price floor — to others who can then download them immediately.

“The Yankees Ticket Exchange will be a safe, convenient, reliable and expedient way to purchase and sell guaranteed authentic Yankees tickets … It is unfortunate that unscrupulous resellers utilize deceptive practices and tactics and employ unofficial websites, all of which give rise to counterfeit tickets,” said Hal Steinbrenner in a statement/shot at StubHub. Yankees Ticket Exchange may be convenient, but it will be expensive thanks to all sorts of handling fees and per ticket service charges. You’ll still be able to purchase tickets on StubHub, but you won’t be able to download them instantly. What a pain.

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Via Tyler Kepner: The fake-to-third, throw-to-first move is now officially a balk. That was one of three rule changes — along with coaches being allowed to bring an interpreter to the mound and teams being allowed to have a seventh coach in uniform in the dugout — approved by the owners earlier this month that had to be run by the players’ union. I’m guessing the other two rule changes were given the okay as well, but I haven’t seen any confirmation of that. Minor stuff, but at least the rules will be implemented correctly. The fake-to-third, throw-to-first move was always a balk because it was attempting to deceive, it was just never enforced by umpires.

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