ESPN signs an eight-year, $5.6 billion deal to keep baseball

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We talked about lucrative local TV rights yesterday. Let’s talk national: ESPN just agreed to pay Major League Baseball nearly double what it’s paying now to keep baseball rights through 2021:

ESPN has agreed to a deal that locks down MLB rights into the next decade, according to several sources. The eight-year deal is worth $5.6B (an average of $700M per year), approximately doubling the nearly $306M ESPN currently pays MLB every year for domestic TV rights.

That includes digital, radio and, for the first time, the playoffs: one wild card game. Otherwise the deal is basically the same: Sunday Night Baseball and Monday and Wednesday night games.

The current deals with ESPN, Fox and TBS are in place through the end of the 2013 season. As the New York Times reported in July, there is a frenzy afoot, with those three outlets still wanting to keep their games, plus NBC wanting to get in on the action. Clearly those remaining will be in frenzied bidding for the Saturday and Sunday afternoon games, the postseason and any other national products that may be added over and above what exists now.

That’s a recipe for skyrocketing rights fees. And we just saw the first rocket launched.

UPDATE: Putting this money in perspective. Short version: windfall.

Will Middlebrooks carted off field with left ankle injury

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Phillies third baseman Will Middlebrooks suffered a serious injury during Saturday’s Grapefruit League contest against the Orioles. The infielder was chasing down a pop fly in the eighth inning when he ran into left fielder Andrew Pullin, who inadvertently trapped Middlebrooks’ ankle under his leg. Middlebrooks was unable to put weight on his leg following the collision and was carted off the field and taken to a local hospital for X-rays.

Per MLB.com’s Todd Zolecki, not much is known yet about the severity of the ankle injury or the recovery time it will require, though it appears serious enough to set Middlebrooks back considerably as he seeks a backup/bench role with the team this spring.

The 29-year-old is currently seeking another opportunity to extend his six-year major-league career in 2018. He’s coming off of two down years with the Brewers and Rangers, during which he slashed a cumulative .169/.229/.262 with four extra bases through 70 plate appearances.