TAMPA — Yankees legend Mariano Rivera didn't officially say it. But the greatest closer of all time strongly hinted Monday that this could be his final season.
Rivera, 42, who broke the all-time saves record last year, admitted he has said probably the past seven or eight years that he'd retire after the season, then changed his mind.
However, Rivera, whose two-year contract is up after this year, said he made a decision on his future three weeks ago, and it is final. He insisted it is "irrevocable, even if I save 90 games, even if they want to pay me as much money as they want — any team.
"This one is different," Rivera said. "This is it."
He just won't reveal it.
Rivera reported to Steinbrenner Field on Monday feeling great, saying he enjoys everything "like it was the first day" and calling himself the "Energizer Bunny."
Despite having nothing left to prove, boasting 603 saves and five World Series rings, Rivera said he's driven by his love of the game and desire to win it all again. He said when he chooses to retire, it'll be because there are other things he wants to do with his life. He'd like to stay in baseball, but not as a manager and not at the major-league level, he said.
Rivera said he has discussed the issue with his family and will inform the Yankees — and the media — when the time is right.
"Decisions like that are always hard, always," Rivera said. "It involves what you do, it involves what you have done for 22 years, you know? Decisions like that are always hard, but at the same time, they have to be made."
Rivera became the Yankees closer in 1997, becoming uniquely consistent and durable during a career that will likely make him a first-ballot Hall of Famer. A 12-time All-Star, Rivera set postseason records for saves (42) and ERA (0.70), with Phillies' Jonathan Papelbon calling him "the Godfather of closers."
Manager Joe Girardi said the club has been fortunate to get so many great years from Rivera.
"I would say if he was 32 and we asked everyone in this room, 'Do you think he'll still be pitching at 42?' I don't think a lot of us probably would have said yes," Girardi said. "So it's a blessing, and the Yankees have been blessed well."
NEW DH: The Yankees reportedly reached an agreement with Raul Ibanez, 39, on a one-year, $1.1 million deal. General manager Brian Cashman had wanted a left-handed hitting DH who could also play in the field.
"It's a guy that's hit right-handers very well over his career and can still play the outfield," Girardi said. "He's been a productive player."
A.J. OUT: While RHP A.J. Burnett had his share of struggles and disappointment in his Yankees stint, Girardi said he should be given credit for his contributions, specifically in the team's 2009 playoff run.
"If not for A.J., we may not win that World Series because he pitched in the playoffs that year," Girardi said. "I'll miss him, and I want to wish him the best of luck."
STARTING UP: With six solid starters and five spots in the rotation, Girardi said the members — and order — will be decided throughout spring training, with CC Sabathia (of course) starting opening day. … Girardi said if he had to fill out a lineup Monday, Derek Jeter would lead off, followed by Curtis Granderson, Robinson Cano and Alex Rodriguez, whom he believes will have a "big year."
Joe Smith can be reached at email@example.com.