Yankees general manager Brian Cashman retold a story to the New York Daily News’ Mark Feinsand recently. Apparently, the Bronx Bombers came close to trading away legendary closer Mariano Rivera during spring training in 1996.
“Yeah, it was close,” Cashman reportedly said. “The spring of ’96, he’d pitched in the playoffs for us. We were going to go with a young shortstop that turned out to be Derek Jeter. Derek wasn’t having a good spring training. There were some people in [former Yankees owner] George [Steinbrenner's] circle that raised concern about whether Jeter was going to be ready or not. Tony Fernandez got hurt. Pat Kelly got hurt. We didn’t really have any alternatives if Jeter failed as a rookie, so the Mariners came knocking on our door because they had Felix Fermin they wanted to move and they wanted either Mariano Rivera or Bob Wickman, one of those two guys for Felix Fermin, and The Boss was honestly considering it.”
Cashman, who was then an assistant GM, reportedly went on to say that the Yankees’ front office had “some serious conversations” in then-manager Joe Torre‘s office. Cashman insists that they ultimately recommended to Steinbrenner that they not do the deal, but it wasn’t because they knew what they had in Rivera or Wickman. Instead, it was because they were committed to Jeter.
“The Boss listened, backed down, made us go through the fire drill, and that was as close as we ever came to trading Mariano,” Cashman reportedly said. “Gene Michael had a chance to trade Mariano for David Wells, maybe in ’95. Mariano was in our minor leagues, Wells was pitching for the Tigers as a starter, and Gene Michael said no. But I don’t believe that got close.
“But the one in ’96, that was kind of like, I think the press were all lined up outside for what felt like an hour and a half, waiting for that door to open to Joe Torre’s office and for the papal smoke to rise as white, that we’ve elected to stay with Jeter and we wound up keeping both Wickman and Mariano. But the life of the Yankees could’ve drastically if a mistake was made there.”
Stories of star players nearly getting traded early on in their careers seem to pop up every now and then, but trading Rivera really would have had a lasting impact. He and Jeter, who have earned five World Series rings since, have been instrumental in the Yankees’ success.
Fermin, on the other hand? Well, he was instead released by the Mariners that April. The shortstop would go on to play in 11 games with the Cubs in 1996 before hanging up the cleats.