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New York Yankees: The Mariano Rivera Trade That Nearly Halted a Dynasty

NEW YORK, NY - MARCH 31:  Mariano Rivera #42 of the New York Yankees pitches against the Detroit Tigers in the ninth inning on Opening Day at Yankee Stadium on March 31, 2011 in the Bronx borough of New York City. The Yankees won 6-3 in the ninth inning.  (Photo by Jeff Zelevansky/Getty Images)
Jeff Zelevansky/Getty Images
Stephen MeyerDeputy MLB EditorJanuary 3, 2017

It was the spring on 1996, and the New York Yankees had just had their hearts broken in the 1995 ALDS at the hands of the Seattle Mariners.

This article will tell a tale of how those same Mariners nearly broke the Yankees hearts in a much more profound and crippling way.

While preparing for the season, they 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 an unproven yet highly-touted rookie shortstop named Derek Jeter. Though they loved Jeter as a prospect, they were understandably apprehensive about throwing him into the fire without a safety net.

As a result, 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 be going with a youngster of their own at the position—Alex Rodriguez.

Funny how things come full circle, isn’t it?

Dubbed “El Gato” as a play on words for Felix the Cat and his reflexes at shortstop, Fermin seemed like a solid short-term caddy—just a year removed from a .317 season.

The Mariners were seeking some bullpen help in return and had their eyes on Bob Wickman or a young prospect named Mariano Rivera.

Rivera was unproven at that point of his career—a converted starter with a limited arsenal and 5.51 ERA. He had an electric 1995 postseason but could five innings overshadow the previous 67?

The organization was “split”—to put it generously—on the idea of trading Rivera for Fermin, but there was enough support for the deal that is was on the brink of consummation in late March of 1996.

Luckily, for the fans back in New York, who had little idea of what the future held for this scrawny hurler, the trade fell through.

It is possible that a budding Yankees dynasty could have been hanging on for dear life waiting for principle owner George Steinbrenner to make the final call.

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.

Felix Fermin, meanwhile, hit .125 in 16 AB for the Chicago Cubs in 1996—subsequently retiring thereafter.

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.

It is virtually impossible to imagine Jeter not earning his way into the starting lineup by October—even with Fernandez, Kelly and Fermin all healthy and on the active roster in 1996.

Even so, it is interesting to wonder if Jeffrey Maier, Rich Garcia and Tony Tarasco would have been intertwined on that fateful October 9th night under differing circumstances.

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.

There was something magical about that first 90s title, and the pieces to the puzzle all seemingly fit with perfection on its way to jumpstarting the last of MLB’s dynasties.

It would have never occurred, however, without the respected voice of Gene Michael chirping “hang onto our top prospects” into the ears of anyone who would listen.

While there have been countless one-sided deals over the course of baseball history, the Felix Fermin trade that never was may be one of the biggest hindsight exhales of all time.

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