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5 lessons from the 2016 MLB trade deadline

With the deadline now behind us, it’s time to reflect on what we’ve learned from the last couple of weeks.

MLB: Minnesota Twins at Cleveland Indians Ken Blaze-USA TODAY Sports

Phew, that was pretty crazy. The deadline now behind us, we can take a moment and reflect on what went down this July. Let’s debrief and figure out what we all learned this year:

General Managers are procrastinators

The Red Sox were the only active team until the Cubs sent the Yankees a haul for Aroldis Chapman a little over a week ago. The pace very gradually picked up this week, with two or three or even four trades as recently as yesterday.

But facing a deadline, MLB front offices cranked out those trades like they were term papers and it was the day before finals week. Eighteen trades went down today, involving 20 teams. The Pirates, Dodgers, Rays, and Blue Jays each completed three deals. Take a break guys. Go home, get a nap, and then go out and celebrate.

In all, 27 clubs made deals in the month of July.

Relievers are still highly valued

If it wasn’t clear before today’s trade deadline, it is now: The most coveted player in Major League Baseball today is a shutdown reliever. There were a number of deals made over the course of the last week, but none of them were as sexy or as dynamic as the trades to acquire Aroldis Chapman, Andrew Miller, and Will Smith. If you had an elite reliever to deal, you were in luck.

That trio netted a total of ten players, including four of the top 100 prospects on Baseball America’s midseason list that came out on July 11, and Billy McKinney, who was on their pre-season list.

But it’s not all relievers who can bring back such a huge return. Mark Melancon, a fine reliever in his own right, only netted the Pirates a couple decent arms. Zack Duke, Tyler Clippard, and Fernando Abad also didn’t fetch much.

So there’s still a tremendous difference between what a team is willing to pay for relief pitching, and for relief pitching they can actually count on.

Brian Cashman has not lost it

There was apparently conflict in the Yankees front office earlier this week, with owner Hal Steinbrenner and team president Randy Levine thinking the Yankees should push for a wild card, and GM Cashman advocating for at least a partial rebuild. Cashman apparently won that argument, and proceeded to win the deadline, turning his surplus of elite relievers and Carlos Beltran into Clint Frazier, Gleyber Torres, Dillon Tate, Justus Sheffield, Billy McKinney, Adam Warren, Rashard Crawford, J.P. Feyereisen, Ben Heller, and a couple lottery tickets.

The moves remake the Yankees farm system, giving them four impact prospects, a swingman who had had success for them in the past, and three more useful players. The 2017 may look very different, being younger, less expensive, and better than the 2016 club.

The Dodgers are weird

Despite leading in the wild card race and poised to make the postseason for the fourth straight year, the Dodgers have been something of a disappointment. Clearly trying to build toward a world championship, the Dodgers brass has authorized massive spending and has gotten one NLCS appearance out of it so far. If the Dodgers miss the postseason, it would be a disaster that could jeopardize the jobs of Andrew Friedman and Farhan Zaidi. So the Dodgers went out and made a big trade to land rentals Rich Hill and Josh Reddick from the A’s. That makes sense.

Hill may be the best pitcher available when he’s healthy, and Reddick is a fine corner outfielder. The Dodgers have struggled to keep their rotation on the mound and their outfielders on the field in 2016, so these provide both a stopgap for now and an upgrade for later. But to do that, the Dodgers gave up three very good pitching prospects in Grant Holmes, Frankie Montas, and Jharel Cotton for what is essentially a two-month rental. They also brought in Jesse Chavez and Josh Fields to shore up their bullpen.

But they told Yasiel Puig that he would either be traded or demoted, and the outfielder stormed off. Puig has played well since coming off the DL a month ago, hitting .308/.390/.440, and certainly didn’t seem to deserve a demotion when the corner outfielder starting opposite Josh Reddick is going to be a 32 year old Howie Kendrick. There’s no doubt Puig can be a frustrating player, so there’s a distinct possibility that we don’t have the whole story here. But barring that, I’m not sure why the Dodgers would want to antagonize the volatile outfielder, especially when winning in 2016 is clearly so important to them.

Jon Daniels is possibly the best GM in baseball

The Rangers are tied for the best record in the American League thanks to the moves Daniels has made and the farm system he has built. Last year, he acquired Cole Hamels and Jake Diekman at the trade deadline, and the club surged to the AL West title. This year, blessed with one of the best farm systems in the game, he also went out to get the best catcher on the market in Jonathan Lucroy, a good closer in Jeremy Jeffress, future Hall of Famer and bonafide playoff clutch guy (just don’t tell the Mets) Carlos Beltran. Plus, they wound up with Lucas Harrell and Dario Alvarez in previous deals to help their rotation and bullpen. Daniels managed to do this without trading his most talented young players, Jurickson Profar, Joey Gallo, and Nomar Mazara.

And, for the record, I was super wrong here.

Bonus! Contenders are not hoarding their prospects anymore.

I can’t claim this one. This comes from my colleague Chris Cotillo, so you get it for free:

That makes for an exciting deadline for all of us, and a great foundation for struggling clubs to build on in 2017.