What Could Have Been? Part Two.

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Mariano Rivera to the Seattle Mariners?

Imagine a scenario in which Enter Sandman would hit the speakers, and out came number 42 Mariano Rivera…of the Seattle Mariners. That almost happened in 1996.

In the previous season (1995) the Seattle Mariners ended the New York Yankees season, and broke some hearts of the fanbase, and the team. However, they almost truly broke the hearts of the entire New York Yankee’s history, fan-base, and entire organization.

Now we can fast-forward to the spring of 1996. While preparing for the season, the Yankees got word of some bad news regarding infielder Tony Fernandez—who broke his elbow while filling in at second base for the already injured Pat Kelly. This left New York with no other choice but to run with the unproven, but highly-touted rookie shortstop by the name of Derek Jeter. Though the Yankees adored Jeter as a prospect, they were understandably concerned about throwing him into the fire without a safety net. As a result of the questions revolving around Jeter, the Yankees were actively seeking a short-term replacement—or at least a “Plan B”—in the event that Jeter was not quite ready for Major League Baseball.

In stepped the Seattle Mariners, who suddenly had an extra shortstop named Felix Fermin on the roster. They’d instead would be going with a youngster of their own at the position…Alex Rodriguez. Fermin seemed like a solid short-term caddy—just a year removed from an amazing .317 batting average season.

Now we enter in with the juicy stuff. The Mariners were seeking some bullpen help in return and had their eyes on Bob Wickman or a young prospect by the name of Mariano Rivera. Rivera was unproven at that point of his career as he was recently a converted starter with a limited arsenal and 5.51 ERA in 19 games of work, and 10 of those being starts. However, he did have an electric 1995 postseason but could five innings overshadow the previous 67 for young Rivera? The organization was split on the idea of trading Rivera for Fermin, but there was enough support for the deal that is was very close to happening, and was the closest of the five potential deals Mariano Rivera had been rumored in to actually happen in late March of 1996.

Due to a final call at the almost putting ink on the papers, the trade did not happen. This trade could have altered history for both teams. The Seattle Mariners could have become the team to beat with a dominant closer for the late 1990’s and the early 2000’s. Imagine that 2001 Seattle Mariners team with Mariano Rivera coming out in the 9th inning every time they were leading. That is one scary scenario to think about. How would this have changed the course of history for New York? The Yankees would have had virtually no chance of winning the 1996 World Series without Rivera and may have never even reached the 2000 postseason without him jogging in for the ninth inning as closer. As for Felix Fermin, meanwhile, hit .125 in 16 AB for the Chicago Cubs in 1996, and subsequently retiring thereafter. Imagine if he brought that to New York for what Seattle would have gotten out of Mariano Rivera. This could have been one of the worst deals ever made in all of baseball history!

Jeter hit .314 on his way to 1996 AL Rookie of the Year honors and wasted little time building the foundation for his later “Captain Clutch” nickname hitting .361 with a .409 OBP that postseason. The Fernandez injury actually helped New York in other ways as well, as it allowed Mariano Duncan to enjoy a magical and unexpected .340 season at second base in 1996 as well. There was something magical about that first 1990’s title, and the pieces to the puzzle all seemingly fit with perfection on its way to jumpstarting the last of MLB’s dynasties.

While there have been numerous one-sided deals over the course of baseball history, a few including my Red Sox, the Felix Fermin trade that never happened may be one of the biggest hindsight exhales in all history. Thank you for reading.

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