(Jorge Posada at his retirement press conference Tuesday. Photo by Associated Press)
I planned to run this post on Tuesday, but then the Prince Fielder news broke…
One day after the Mariners officially acquired a young catcher from the New York Yankees they hope blossoms into a star, the old catcher of the Yankees announced his retirement. Jorge Posada had a brilliant career, one that may one day land him in the Hall of Fame (a debate I’ll save for another day). He was part of the Yankee trio that was a part of five World Series titles, along with Derek Jeter and Mariano Rivera. Posada was an integral part of four of them. All things considered, he’ll go down as one of the greatest Yankees ever — not in the upper echelon of Ruth, Gehrig, DiMaggio and Mantle, but certainly in the next tier.
Here’s something to ponder one final time: How Posada came ever so close to becoming a Mariner after the 1995 season.
To put some context into this story, recall that the Mariners had just electrified Seattle by coming from 13 1/2 games behind to win the division, and then beating the Yankees in an epic division series. The legislature had finally passed taxes to build a new stadium. But management deemed that they couldn’t afford Tino Martinez, so he was on the trade block. GM Woody Woodward focused on the Yankees, who needed a first-base replacement for retiring Don Mattingly. Posada at the time was a 23-year-old catcher who had spent the ’95 season at Triple-A Columbus (with one game, and no at-bats, with the Yankees). For Columbus, he had hit .255 with eight homers and 51 RBIs, striking out 101 times in 108 games. He was a big switch-hitter, but as with Montero, there were questions about his defense. Posada was a well-regarded prospect, nothing more, nothing less.
According to a story by long-time Mariners beat writer Bob Finnigan in the Seattle Times on Dec. 4, 1995, the Mariners nixed a trade that would have sent pitcher Sterling Hitchcock and Posada to the Mariners for Martinez and a reliever, either Jeff Nelson, Bill Risley, or, wait for it, Bobby Ayala. The same report of a nixed trade that would have sent Posada to the Mariners was in the New York Times and New York Daily News.
Why did the Mariners turn down the trade? Because the Yankees pulled minor-league third baseman Russ Davis — Seattle’s main target — out of the deal. The Mariners were focused on getting a third baseman because Mike Blowers, who had driven in 96 runs as the primary third baseman in ’95, had been traded to the Dodgers in another cost-cutting move.
Woodward didn’t like the new Yankees’ offer — the one with Posada in it.
Here was the quote from Woodward: “Right now, the trade is off. The Yankees decided to take a different approach and go in another direction. I didn’t like the deal that was proposed. I told them this was my offer, and if we couldn’t work around these parameters, there would be no deal.
“My No. 1 objective was to get our payroll down and make us competitive for next year. With the approach the Yankees took, this would have accomplished only one of those goals.”
Three days later, the two teams finally agreed on trade terms. In the interim, the Yankees signed Wade Boggs, so Davis became expendable. The reconfigured trade had Davis and Hitchcock come to the Mariners in exchange for Martinez (who negotiated a five-year, $20-million deal with New York as a precursor to the trade), Jeff Nelson. and minor-league pitcher Jim Mecir.
The trade, of course, was a monumental success for the Yankees. Martinez became a cornerstone player of the Yankee dynasty, Nelson was an invaluable setup man to first John Wetteland, then Mariano Rivera. And Posada, well, he became a Yankee pillar as well, a five-time All-Star. Turns out he could catch well enough. Tino and Nelson won four rings, Posada five.
Hitchcock and Davis never developed into much for the Mariners. Hitchcock won 13 games in 1996 (but with an ERA over 5) and was traded after the season to the Padres for Scott Sanders, who was a washout. Davis had 20, 20 and 21 homers in 1997-99, but didn’t hit for much average and struggled defensively. The Mariners non-tendered him after the 1999 season. He landed with the Giants for two undistinguised seasons, was released after 2001, and retired, at age 31.
Even though Dan Wilson had a fine career as the Mariners’ catcher in that era, you can’t help but wonder how different the Mariners’ fortunes would have been — and the Yankees’ too — if the young Posada had forged his career in Seattle rather than New York.