The wild, crazy, incredible MLB trade barrage of 2016

Jeff Passan
MLB columnist

If it seems like the trade deadline madness got madder than ever this year, it was with good reason: Since June 1, teams have struck 48 deals, a staggering number that illustrates just how wide open the chase for the 2016 championship really is. Even if the world has anointed the Chicago Cubs, the baseball industry knows the reality: This October is anyone’s for the taking.

10 Degrees

And so we had Monday’s frenzy of maneuvering, deal on top of deal, one of those great baseball days that allows dreamers to dream of glory days now or in 2019. The trade deadline is great because it doles out hope in equal measures: the buyers for today, the sellers for tomorrow, both sides feigning confidence publicly as they wonder, deep down, whether this really was the right move. They’re all satisfied with their trades; they’re just not happy.

Because inherent in every trade is risk — risk that someone will underperform or blow out or turn into a pumpkin or turtle from the pressure or something else from the laundry list of things that can go wrong. And, just the same, exists the possibility of great success, something that will play itself out over the next three months or the next three years. Which is why 15 minutes before 4 p.m. ET on Monday …

1. Jonathan Lucroy became a Texas Ranger and a couple of top prospects went back to the Milwaukee Brewers. Reliever Jeremy Jeffress joined him, though this was really a deal about Lucroy, a catcher with an OPS near .850, an arm that throws out 40 percent of those with the temerity to test it and a magical glove that turns balls into strikes with the sort of wizardry that has fooled umpires for years on end.

Jonathan Lucroy became a Texas Ranger and a couple of top prospects went back to the Brewers. (AP)

About 48 hours earlier, Lucroy was supposed to be a Cleveland Indian. He rejected that, invoking his no-trade clause after the Indians refused to tear up the cheap 2017 option on his contract, and that was well within his rights, even if it was rather specious thinking, what with all the other interested teams not on his no-trade list. He ended up with one of them, and now the Rangers get him next year at $5.25 million.

It was a bold parley, especially considering just how little the Rangers had cooking in the days leading up to the deadline. For them to land Lucroy and …

2. Carlos Beltran showed, unequivocally, Texas saw the American League for the taking and endeavored to grab it. Cleveland did get Andrew Miller, but it whiffed on Lucroy and now has Danny Salazar with an elbow that he told reporters has been sore since the All-Star break. Houston is excellent, and it’s got Yulieski Gurriel on the come, but it may still be a starting pitcher short. And then there’s the AL East, which we’ll get to after this aside.

Yankees GM Brian Cashman might be the biggest winner of this deadline. He turned two relief pitchers and a 39-year-old free-agent-to-be DH/sorta outfielder into arguably the best farm system in baseball. The Yankees’ minor league system is positively loaded, with position players and pitchers, and getting Clint Frazier, Gleyber Torres, Justus Sheffield and the return for Beltran, Dillon Tate, a top 5 pick in last year’s draft, was a masterstroke. They’re priming for a dynasty that resembles their last one: almost all from their minor leagues.

Until they arrive, the East is for the taking, with Baltimore and Toronto and Boston in a head-on collision for the last two months. Neither the Orioles nor the Blue Jays made significant upgrades. Toronto is sending its best starter, Aaron Sanchez, to the bullpen because, uh, it wants to protect his arm? Like, pitching full tilt in relief or limiting innings is some sort of proven panacea? Anyway, at least the Red Sox are putting their chips on the table, with …

3. Andrew Benintendi joining Boston on Tuesday to make for one hell of an athletic, dynamic outfield. The Red Sox’s first-round pick last season torched minor league pitching all year and will play alongside Mookie Betts and Jackie Bradley Jr.

The Red Sox still have pitching issues, no doubt, and if need be they’ll find a starter in August, during the waiver trade period. (Quick lesson: Most big league players are placed on waivers during August. Teams can claim them in reverse order of record. Those who are claimed can be let go for nothing, traded for or pulled back by the team. Most are pulled back and cannot be traded after that. If a player makes it through waivers unclaimed, he can be traded to anyone.) Boston has the money and prospect capital to make a waiver deal should it so desire.

Meanwhile, if Benintendi is what he should be, the Red Sox outfield will be the AL’s answer to Starling Marte, Andrew McCutchen and Gregory Polanco. Though following the …

4. Francisco Liriano deal on Monday, the Pirates outfield will be in front of a pitching staff with one fewer familiar starter. Yes, the Pirates replaced Liriano with Ivan Nova, which is reasonable enough, seeing as both have been awful this season. And yet the Liriano trade cost Pittsburgh far, far more than the man who entered the season as its No. 2 starter.

Going to Toronto, alongside Liriano, were catcher Reese McGuire and outfielder Harold Ramirez. They are prospects. Real, legitimate prospects, both considered borderline top-5 guys in a Pirates organization deep with kids. And maybe that was why Pittsburgh felt as compelled as it did to give them up: the Pirates always can replace them. Still, for a team as perpetually on the cusp as the Pirates are, to use their prospects not to trade for a bigger piece but to rid itself of Liriano’s salary – and that’s what this was, an unquestionable dump of about $16 million, when factoring in the $1 million or so their return, Drew Hutchison, has left on his deal this year – reeked of the skinflint days the Pirates seemed to have left behind.

It was a sad day for Pittsburgh, and the shock of that was exceeded only by the …

5. Yasiel Puig drama that unfolded in Los Angeles. Puig-mania, long forgotten, officially died Aug. 1, 2016, when the Dodgers prepared to send the 25-year-old to Triple-A Oklahoma City. We may have seen the last of Puig in a Dodgers uniform.

Puig is doubtful to clear waivers. Surely if he were a free agent, some team would sign him to a two-year, $14 million deal – which is what he’s owed from 2017-18. Which means should Puig be claimed, the Dodgers will have to hammer out a deal without any leverage. Dodgers management can be criticized, sure, but one thing it does not do is misappropriate leverage.

So that puts Los Angeles in a bind. Puig is undeniably talented, but he is suffering through the worst season of his career. His baggage was OK until his performance wasn’t, and now he pays the price for it. Puig could go to the minor leagues, of course, remind himself of what it feels like to own a baseball field and return to Los Angeles reinvigorated and ready to take back his job from …

6. Josh Reddick, who is the newest Dodger after a trade brought him and Rich Hill to Los Angeles for three pitching prospects. This is the sort of deal talked about earlier, one that could blow up in the Dodgers’ faces, whether because they gave away three talented arms in Grant Holmes, Frankie Montas or Jharel Cotton or because the blister on Hill’s finger doesn’t heal quickly.

The market for him was slow to develop, and that the A’s got three prospects with ceilings as high as Holmes, Montas and Cotton’s is impressive. The Dodgers happened to value what they were getting in Hill, with his 2.25 ERA, and Reddick, the definition of steady in right field.

Los Angeles smells blood, even with Clayton Kershaw’s return from a back injury on hold. It helps that the San Francisco Giants have frittered away nearly all of their National League West lead and needed to deal for …

7. Matt Moore to fortify a rotation gone bad. No longer are Matt Cain or Jake Peavy the answer. The 27-year-old Moore, finally getting back into his groove after Tommy John surgery, was the Giants’ rejoinder, and it was a well-played shot that cost them a haul in return.

Between Moore and left-hander Will Smith, the Giants dealt their everyday third baseman (Matt Duffy), their backup catcher (Andrew Susac), their top pitching prospect (Phil Bickford), their $6.5 million shortstop prospect (Lucius Fox) and one more pitching prospect (Michael Santos). The Rays got Duffy, Fox and Santos, and even if Moore’s deal is cheap at $26.5 million for the next three years, the price to acquire it wasn’t.

It’s an even year, though, and, well, San Francisco isn’t going to stand pat in those. The Giants went for a high-ceiling starter instead of dabbling in the mid-level market for a guy like …

8. Jeremy Hellickson and settling there. The Phillies holding onto Hellickson came as a surprise to those certain he’d be traded. This implies Hellickson will be receiving a qualifying offer, expected to be between $16.5 million and $17 million, this offseason. Hellickson could accept it. If he chooses to leave – and he’d be the youngest free agent starter available – Philadelphia would get a draft pick for its trouble, provided the rules don’t change with the next collective-bargaining agreement.

Others stayed when it didn’t make a whole lot of sense: Kansas City’s Edinson Volquez and Kendrys Morales both have mutual options they’re likely to decline and don’t warrant qualifying offers. Miami didn’t get another starter after returning Colin Rea and his damaged elbow to the Padres. Derek Norris was the last man standing in San Diego.

Only the Phillies, Rockies and Tigers didn’t make a trade in July. That’s 27 teams wheeling and dealing and working through hurdles, like that one that again came up as …

9. Jay Bruce and the Mets were once again reunited. He was supposed to be in New York last season … and then he wasn’t. He was supposed to go to Toronto this offseason … and then he didn’t. Now, finally, Bruce is gone from the only club he’s ever known, taking his NL-leading 80 RBIs to New York, where he’ll try to give the same jolt to the Mets that Yoenis Cespedes did last August.

Finding a spot for Bruce is a bit hinky, seeing as they’ve got four corner outfielders – Bruce, Cespedes, Michael Conforto and Curtis Granderson – with only two spots for them. Conforto and Granderson seem to be destined for center, which isn’t likely to work out well, but the Mets – fading seven games back of Washington and 2½ behind the Marlins for the second wild card – wanted to do something.

They get Bruce at $13 million next year, too, good insurance in case Cespedes opts out of his deal and leaves. Much as the Mets want to stay in the present, they realize next year is when they expect to have their full complement of young starters, and casting one eye toward the future is the same tack the Rangers took when doing the …

10. Jonathan Lucroy deal. If Beltran was for today, Lucroy is for today and tomorrow. He’ll join a lineup with Beltran and Ian Desmond and Rougned Odor and Adrian Beltre and Nomar Mazara and Shin-Soo Choo – a Boston-style wrecking crew – and even if Beltran and Desmond leave via free agency, the Rangers then have room for Joey Gallo and Jurickson Profar.

Texas didn’t empty its system, but it put a dent in it, and that’s fine. Because they’ve also got Yu Darvish and Cole Hamels and Martin Perez signed for next season, and a power bullpen of Jeffress and Sam Dyson and Keone Kela and Matt Bush and Jake Diekman all coming back, and, damn, the Rangers are loaded on paper, ready to do in 2016 what they couldn’t finish in 2010 or 2011.

The Rangers built themselves for a day like Aug. 1, 2016, when 18 of those 48 trades came down, when the frenzy built and turned into madness and left everyone a little tired and a lot giddy. It was a day where fear and wishful thinking commingled, a day for champions, present and future.