We continue our series on the trades that almost changed the course of history for the Seattle Mariners. Today, we look at how the greatest closer in baseball history was almost a Mariner.
When you cover a team that has made over 100 trades the past 4 years, you aren’t exactly strapped for trade content. The Mariners and GM Jerry Dipoto have been very good to us in that way. But we don’t hear about most of the trades that are discussed. For the 100 or so trades Dipoto has made, there have likely been more than 500 discussed with varying degrees of likeliness.
But for this writer, I have always been fascinated by the deals that were discussed that never got done. I read through the chapter “The Trade Desk” in Michael Lewis’ Moneyball every month or so. I am just fascinated by those types of things (side note, if you want to make a million dollars, write a book about the trades that got close but didn’t come to pass).
So now that we have some time off from the daily grind of baseball and the many transactions of Dipoto, it feels like the right time to discuss a few Mariners deals that nearly came to fruition but didn’t quite get there. Last time, we looked at how Justin Upton almost came to Seattle. Today, we look at the deal that almost sent Mariano Rivera to the Mariners.
It was March of 1996. The Yankees had broken their playoff drought a few months earlier but were bounced in the newly created “division series” in a 5 game clash against the Mariners, a series I am quite certain you are familiar with.
But the Yankees were back and set to unleash a young shortstop named Derek Jeter on the American League. But Jeter struggled heavily in Spring Training that year, leading George Steinbrenner to worry about the position for the upcoming season.
So Steinbrenner went out shopping for a potential stop-gap measure and Seattle came calling offering veteran shortstop Felix Fermin to the Yankees. Fermin was coming off a truly awful 1995 season and Seattle was ready to hand the position to their own young shortstop, Alex Rodriguez.
But Steinbrenner was desperate to get back to a World Series, having not won one since 1978. Fermin was a solid glove and was fairly productive in 1994. So then Mariners GM Woody Woodward made a simple proposal; for Fermin, he would send either Bob Wickman or Mariano Rivera to Seattle. Steinbrenner was interested.
Unfortunately for the Mariners, and fortunate for the Yankees, Steinbrenner was talked out of this idea by assistant GM Brian Cashman and manager Joe Torre. It took several hours to talk the owner out of making this move and the rest is history. Mariano Rivera would go on to be the greatest closer in MLB history, and Fermin would be out of baseball by May of 1996.
Of course, there is no guarantee that the Mariners would have gotten the same results from Rivera that the Yankees did. Remember, Rivera was a starter at the time and not one with particularly high upside. And after the injury to Randy Johnson in 1996, Seattle would have likely given Rivera a spot in the rotation.
This is a trade that certainly wouldn’t have been a loss for Seattle, but it doesn’t mean that the Mariners would have had the best closer in baseball history. We have no idea how Rivera would have reacted to the trade, if the Mariners could use him properly, or if they could continue his development.
But while that will forever be a mystery, the “what ifs” remain. The Mariners almost landed a Hall of Fame pitcher for a shortstop they would release a month later. Instead, we have to wrestle with this massive question of what could have been.