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Playoff contenders load up on dizzying Deadline day

Price shipped off to Tigers while A's strengthen rotation even more with Lester @DougMillerMLB

Once again, July 31, the non-waiver Trade Deadline, well, let's just say it did not disappoint. Not by the longest of long shots.

In fact, the frenzy of activity on Deadline Day itself and the bartering that preceded it managed to radically alter the rosters of a number of contending teams. It was, quite simply, an all-timer, a Deadline that blew the doors off fans, players, executives, scouts and media members.

Once again, July 31, the non-waiver Trade Deadline, well, let's just say it did not disappoint. Not by the longest of long shots.

In fact, the frenzy of activity on Deadline Day itself and the bartering that preceded it managed to radically alter the rosters of a number of contending teams. It was, quite simply, an all-timer, a Deadline that blew the doors off fans, players, executives, scouts and media members.

We had serious gusto, with first-place teams going even more all-in than anyone could have imagined.

We had a Throwback Thursday in which the biggest deals were orchestrated the old-fashioned way: my big league talent for your big league talent.

We had deals within divisions, rare handshakes between archrivals, and, to top it off, the biggest trade of the whole season going down right at the wire in one whopper of a three-team fiesta.

Is that enough for you? Good. Let's try to make sense of it all as the dust starts to clear by going around the horn with nine takeaways from this amazing trade season.

1. Big league glue: Normally, when high-ticket Major League stars are traded around this time of year, they're going to other teams for packages rich with prospects. That didn't turn out to be the case this time around.

Sure, the Cubs scored shortstop Addison Russell and outfielder Billy McKinney from the A's for pitchers Jeff Samardzija and Jason Hammel in their July 5 blockbuster, but on Thursday, the biggest deals were big league deals.

Jon Lester and Jonny Gomes went from Boston to Oakland for Yoenis Cespedes. David Price was the centerpiece of that three-team deal and went to Detroit, while Drew Smyly and Nick Franklin went to Tampa Bay and Austin Jackson went to Seattle. And John Lackey departed the Red Sox for St. Louis in exchange for Allen Craig and Joe Kelly.

Just the facts: According to Elias Sports Bureau, since 2000, 25 Major Leaguers have been sent to another team during their All-Star season. There have been five this season -- Lester, Cespedes, Price, Samardzija and Huston Street. That's more than in the past four years combined.

2. The Price was right: Tampa Bay struck while the phone lines were hot and unloaded the most talked-about trade chip of the summer, getting a possible left-handed replacement in the rotation in Smyly and a touted infield prospect with some big league experience in Franklin.

What the Rays got more than anything, though, is serious contract relief. Price is due for a $20 million salary next year, which is his walk year, so Tampa Bay got young, controllable talent in return.

Just the facts: By acquiring Price, the Tigers now have the past three AL Cy Young winners (Max Scherzer, Price and Justin Verlander) and the past three AL MVPs (Miguel Cabrera (twice) and Verlander).

3. Beane counting: Why don't we just rename it Crazyball? This trade season was A for Active, and Oakland's general manager, Billy Beane, is being quite clear in his intention to seize the World Series right now and worry about everything else later. First, he got Samardzija and Hammel, and now Lester and Gomes at the expense of Cespedes and a Competitive Balance Draft pick.

Risky? Sure, what with impending free agent Lester likely being a two-month rental. But Oakland's pitching just got a lot better, Hammel is now a trade possibility ahead of the August waiver deadline, and Beane recognized the same about southpaw Tommy Milone and flipped him to Minnesota for outfielder Sam Fuld.

Meanwhile, parting ways with Cespedes is explainable because of the stipulation in his contract that dictates he will be automatically non-tendered and granted free agency if he doesn't re-sign by Oct. 31, 2015, or five days after the last game his team plays that season.

"Cespedes is a big bat that's going to be missed," A's shortstop Jed Lowrie said. "But they've always hung their hat on pitching. I think this is another example of that.

"Jon's a bona fide ace who has done it on the biggest stage. That experience, it's an intangible, having that knowledge that you've done it before. He's a guy that will bolster an already good pitching staff. There's quality arms all the way through. You look at the top four, some pretty good stuff. It's a deep rotation."

Just the facts: In the 2013 postseason, Oakland starters had a 3.60 ERA in 30 innings, while Lester had a 1.56 ERA in 34 2/3 innings.

4. It wasn't Babe Ruth, but still … Speaking of the Red Sox, why don't we throw in the Yankees, too? The rivals have thrown down trade after trade, and they didn't stop until they had … wait for it … wait for it some more … traded with each other.

OK, so the deal that sent shortstop Stephen Drew to the Bronx for Yankees infielder Kelly Johnson might not have been the sexiest move of the day, but it was the Yankees trading with the Red Sox, and that hadn't happened since the Mike Stanley era of 1997.

Add to that the fact that the Red Sox moved Lester and Lackey and traded reliever Andrew Miller to another division rival, the Orioles, and the Yankees got Martin Prado from Arizona on Thursday and starter Brandon McCarthy from the D-backs earlier this month while also landing third baseman Chase Headley from San Diego.

Just the facts: Like most teams, the Red Sox don't like to trade within their division, having not made a deal with the Yankees since 1997 and the Rays since '99. But it's open season with everyone else: Boston has made at least one deal with the 28 other teams since 2007.

5. Pitching, pitching, pitching: The A's loaded up on it. The Cardinals did the same, getting Lackey and also acquiring Justin Masterson from the Indians on Wednesday in exchange for outfield prospect James Ramsey. But those weren't the only two teams in pursuit of pitching.

The Giants got Jake Peavy on Saturday, the Angels stocked their bullpen with Street, Jason Grilli and Joe Thatcher, the Tigers got fireman Joakim Soria from Texas, and late Thursday afternoon, the Astros and Marlins orchestrated a doozy of a deal, with Miami acquiring right-hander Jarred Cosart, outfielder/second baseman Enrique Hernandez and Minor League outfielder Austin Wates from the Astros for prospects Jake Marisnick, Colin Moran, Francis Martes and a 2015 Competitive Balance Draft pick.

Just the facts: The Cardinals might have acquired Lackey with October in mind. The big right-hander earned victories in the deciding game of the World Series for the Angels in 2002 and the Red Sox in '13. He combined for 11 2/3 innings and two earned runs (1.54 ERA) in those two starts, beating the Giants in '02, and, yes, the Cardinals last year.

6. Ben the Builder: Red Sox GM Ben Cherington has traded three of the pitchers who started in last year's World Series. In other words, he's got a plan, and it continued Thursday when he turned Lester and Lackey into Cespedes, Craig and Kelly and then wheeled Miller to Baltimore a day after saying goodbye to Felix Doubront.

Just the facts: The players that Cherington traded away on Thursday (Lester, Lackey, Miller, Drew and Gomes) have a combined wins above replacement of 80.2, which seems incredible until you consider the blockbuster he made in the summer of 2012, when he traded Carl Crawford, Adrian Gonzalez, Josh Beckett, and Nick Punto and their combined 111.1 career WAR.

7. Small but significant: Sometimes the little moves turn out to be the biggest. We'll see how it turns out come October, but there were plenty of intriguing small trades.

The Braves, for example, snagged utility man Emilio Bonifacio and lefty reliever James Russell from the Cubs for Minor League catcher Victor Caratini. The Mariners, after getting Kendrys Morales from the Twins, picked up outfielder Chris Denorfia from the Padres.

The Nationals got the infielder they wanted in shortstop Asdrubal Cabrera, traded to Washington from Cleveland for infielder Zach Walters and cash, and the Brewers got outfield depth for the stretch drive in the form of Gerardo Parra, whom they received from Arizona in exchange for two Minor Leaguers.

Just the facts: Don't sleep on the small trades. Three of the League Championship Series MVPs in the past four postseasons were role players picked up in summer transactions: Cody Ross, selected off waivers by the Giants in 2010; Delmon Young, acquired by the Tigers from the Twins in a 2011 waiver deal and was ALCS MVP the following year; and Marco Scutaro, acquired by the Giants from the Rockies in a Deadline deal in 2012.

8. Quiet time: We heard a lot in the weeks leading up to Thursday about what the Phillies might do with all their players who seemingly were on the block. We heard that the Dodgers were in on plenty of pitchers and that they might trade Matt Kemp. We heard that the Pirates might pull a surprise or three. And we figured the Angels might make a run at a starter.

As it turned out, none of those teams were heard from on Thursday, but Halos GM Jerry Dipoto didn't seem too bent out of shape by his team's role of spectator after their earlier bullpen splashes.

"In terms of activity on the last day, I'd be lying if I told you I wasn't a little surprised at the volume of moves and the magnificence," Dipoto said. "But it's fun. It's fun for the fans. It's fun for the different organizations. A lot of good teams got better and a lot of teams looking to check down and play for 2015 and beyond did a good job."

Just the facts: The cliché goes that you shouldn't confuse motion with action, but the past three World Series champs all made significant July 31 trades. In 2013, the Red Sox acquired Jake Peavy; in '12, the Giants got Hunter Pence; and in '11, the Cardinals acquired Rafael Furcal.

9. It ain't over 'til … August: Yep, let's not forget the waiver deadline of Aug. 31, before which deals can still happen, albeit in a different format, and could feature more big-name, big-salary pieces moving to contenders.

That's only a month away, folks.

Just the facts: Cliff Lee was going to be the hottest name on the August trade market, but he left his Thursday start complaining of a sore elbow, and he's back on the disabled list for the second time this year. A.J. Burnett, anyone?

Doug Miller is a reporter for Follow him on Twitter @DougMillerMLB.

Emilio Bonifacio, Asdrubal Cabrera, Yoenis Cespedes, Allen Craig, Stephen Drew, Joe Kelly, John Lackey, Jon Lester, Andrew Miller, David Price, James Russell, Drew Smyly, Zach Walters