Just two days before Christmas, the Arizona Diamondbacks and Toronto Blue Jays agreed on a deal that involves three MLB players. Arizona will receive outfielder Lourdes Gurriel Jr. and young catcher Gabriel Moreno, while the Blue Jays pick up catcher/outfielder Daulton Varsho. The Jays part with a promising young talent in Moreno, but do a much-needed left-handed bat to a group that includes the likes of George Spring, Bo Bichette, and Vladimir Guerrero Jr.
How the Blue Jays Did
- Daulton Varsho (4.9 bWAR in 2022)
Daulton Varsho posted a career season in his third MLB season. After posting a 95 OPS+ between 2020-21, Varsho smacked 27 home runs and 53 extra base hits for Arizona last season. Despite a low average exit velocity (87.7) in 2022, the 26-year-old possesses above-average power and bat speed. That’s somewhat evident by Varsho’s pull rate from last season. The now-former Diamondback posted a league-leading 50.9% Pull% in 2022. On top of that, Varsho posted a 10.2% Barrel% in 2022, above the league average of 6.7%.
Getting back to exit velocity, the new Blue Jay did post one below the league average last season. So, how could a slugger with 27 home runs record a below-average average exit velocity? There is somewhat of a logical answer: bunts. The 26-year-old had nine bunts go for a base hit last season. That total tied for second in all of MLB last season, alongside Athletics infielder Tony Kemp. Only Nationals outfielder Victor Robles (10) had more bunt base hits than Kemp and Varsho last season.
Defensively, Varsho possesses fantastic speed and range. Even though Varsho was originally drafted as a catcher and has played 82 games at the position in the Majors, the new Jay clearly fits well in the outfielder. Varsho posted a +18 Outs Above Average last season, a figure that led all outfielders and tied for fourth among all players in 2022. Per Statcast, though, Varsho’s arm strength profiles in the bottom 50% in the league. With an average arm in the outfield, it’s plausible that he will see a good chunk of time in left field, alongside new center fielder Kevin Kiermaier and George Springer.
Toronto has been quite active since the end of the Winter Meetings. The Blue Jays picked up the aforementioned Kiermaier, and signed RHP Chris Bassitt to a three-year deal to solidify its rotation. Now, the Jays acquire a much-needed left-handed bat to balance out a lineup that included several of the game’s best right-handed hitters.
How the Diamondbacks Did
Arizona gets two players in this deal, one being Lourdes Gurriel Jr. The right-handed hitting Gurriel Jr. has a penchant for making hard contact, as evident by his Barrel% and Hard Hit% rates. Gurriel Jr. has regularly posted above-average figures in both categories since his first season in 2018. The new Diamondback posted 20+ home run seasons in 2019 & 2021, and drilled 11 in the shortened 2020 campaign. He did, however, hit only five homers in 121 games.
Arizona possesses a number of left-handed hitters, including first baseman Seth Beer, and outfielders Alek Thomas, Pavin Smith, Corbin Carroll, and Jake McCarthy. The presence of a right-handed hitter in the outfield with pop should provide balance, provided the new D-Back stays healthy. Injuries limited Gurriel Jr. to just 121 games last season, something of a theme in his career. Gurriel Jr.’s career high in games played is just 141.
Additionally, Arizona acquires catching prospect Gabriel Moreno from Toronto. Across 73 plate appearances with the Jays last season, Moreno hit .319/.356/.377, with one home run and seven RBIs. With AAA Buffalo, the 22-year-old hit .315/.386/.420 for the Bisons in 2022. Moreno has been lauded for his defensive ability behind the late. That, coupled with good contact skills and the potential to hit 15-20 home runs in a season, should have fans of the Diamondbacks excited for Moreno’s future.
What to Make of the Trade
It’s hard not to like with the Blue Jays did in this deal. With three catchers in Alejandro Kirk, Danny Jansen, and Moreno in Toronto prior to this deal, it always made sense for the Jays to use one as a chip to upgrade the team. Varsho can not only fill the role as a de facto third catcher, but the 26-year-old’s combination of power, speed, and fielding prowess make this quite the pickup. Plus, it’s also worth mentioning that Varsho still has four years of controllability left. With what Toronto is building, it’s difficult to say that the Jays lost this deal at this juncture.
Arizona, on the other hand, also made out well. The Diamondbacks receive Gurriel Jr., an outfielder who can hit for power and provide a veteran presence in a talented, but also young and inexperienced outfield. Additionally, the Diamondbacks receive a player in Moreno who has the potential to be the franchise’s backstop for years to come. In fact, Moreno could be take over as the D-Backs’ primary catcher beginning in 2023. 2022 starter Carson Kelly, once a key piece of the deal that sent 2022 NL MVP Paul Goldschmidt to St. Louis, hit just .211/.282/.334 for Arizona in 104 games.