Yankees' pitcher Mariano Rivera warming up his arm during a...

Yankees' pitcher Mariano Rivera warming up his arm during a spring training workout. (Feb. 21, 2012) Credit: Newsday/J. Conrad Williams, Jr.

TAMPA, Fla. -- Yes, general manager Brian Cashman said, the unthinkable nearly happened.

It was spring training 1996, and the Yankees weren't sure what they had at shortstop.

"We were going to go with the young shortstop that turned out to be Derek Jeter,'' Cashman said Saturday. "Derek wasn't having a good spring training.''

Cashman said there were some people in George Steinbrenner's "circle'' who raised concerns about how ready Jeter would be. Then, Cashman said, infielder Tony Fernandez and Pat Kelly got hurt, leaving the team with few alternatives at shortstop "if Jeter failed as a rookie.''

So the Mariners came calling with a trade proposal.

"They had Felix Fermin they wanted to move,'' Cashman said. "They wanted either Mariano Rivera [who had pitched against Seattle in the 1995 ALDS] or Bob Wickman. One of those two guys for Felix Fermin, and The Boss was honestly considering it and forced us to have some serious conversations about it.''

Cashman recalled the talks -- held in then-manager Joe Torre's office and including Gene Michael, then-GM Bob Watson and Cashman -- as being spirited.

"It was a fight to convince The Boss to stand down and not force us to do a deal none of us were recommending,'' Cashman said. "And it wasn't because we knew what we had in Mo or Wickman, it was we had committed to go with young Jeter. Thankfully, we didn't do that deal. That was as close as we ever came to trading Mariano.''

Rivera, of course, excelled as John Wetteland's setup man in 1996, saved 43 games after replacing Wetteland in 1997 and became the top closer in major-league history.

Cashman is fond of saying the best trades often are "the ones you don't make.'' That obviously was the case in 1996.

"That was [close],'' he said of Rivera being moved. "We wound up keeping both Wickman and Mariano. Life of the Yankees could have changed drastically if a mistake is made there.''

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