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Blue Jays Acquire Daulton Varsho From D-Backs For Gabriel Moreno, Lourdes Gurriel Jr.

The Blue Jays are in agreement with the Diamondbacks on a trade that will see them acquire outfielder Daulton Varsho, reports Jeff Passan of ESPN. The Blue Jays are sending a package including catching prospect Gabriel Moreno to Arizona. Lourdes Gurriel Jr. will also head to Arizona in the deal, reports Bob Nightengale of USA Today. Jon Heyman of The New York Post previously reported that the Jays were close to landing Varsho. The Blue Jays have since announced the deal.

For the Blue Jays, they’ve long been looking to add a left-handed complement to their right-handed heavy lineup. They’ve also been rumored all offseason to be willing to deal from their catching surplus in order to address other areas of their roster. With Danny Jansen, Alejandro Kirk and Moreno all jockeying for playing time, it seemed like they would use one of them to line up a deal with a catching-needy team. The Diamondbacks, meanwhile, have drawn much trade interest this offseason on their multiple outfielders. Corbin Carroll, Alek Thomas, Jake McCarthy and Varsho are all left-handed and have various attributes, but it made for a logjam that many expected to be cleared via trade. Given those factors, the two teams have been frequently made for speculative trade partners, which has come to fruition with this deal.

Varsho, 26, was a top 100 prospect in the minors and debuted for the Diamondbacks in 2020. Though he was primarily a catcher, his natural athleticism has pushed him into more of an outfield role recently. It was reported towards the end of the 2022 campaign that the Diamondbacks were so impressed by his outfield work that they were planning to keep him there going forward. That was a fairly sensible conclusion to draw given his excellent defensive grades on the grass. He was given a +19 from Defensive Runs Saved in the outfield this year, along with an 18.8 from Ultimate Zone Rating and 17 Outs Above Average. All three of those figures were tops among all MLB outfielders this year, with the DRS tally tied with Michael A. Taylor.

The Blue Jays have largely been focused on run prevention this offseason, adding Chris Bassitt to their rotation, Erik Swanson to their bullpen and defensive specialist Kevin Kiermaier to their outfield. Now with Varsho, they’ve continued down that run prevention path by adding the best outfielder of 2022. Varsho isn’t merely limited to being a glove-only contributor, however. He hit 27 home runs this year and stole 16 bases. He finished the season with a .235/.302/.443 batting line, good enough for a wRC+ of 106, indicating he was 6% above league average. Those contributions put together amounted to 4.6 wins above replacement for the year, per the calculations of FanGraphs.

This move, and their other moves this offseason, have resulted in righties Gurriel and Teoscar Hernandez swapped out for lefties Kiermaier and Varsho. Gurriel and Hernandez are more productive at the plate but both are generally regarded as subpar defenders, while Kiermaier and Varsho are generally the inverse, though Varsho took a big step forward at the plate this year. Varsho and Kiermaier should slot into an outfield mix that also includes George Spring and Whit Merrifield. While last year’s alignment saw Springer as the top defensive option, flanked by two bat-first teammates, he now seems like the third best defender in Toronto’s outfield mix.

For the Diamondbacks, they are acquiring one of the top catching prospects in the sport, regardless of position, but certainly one of the top catching prospects. Moreno, 23 in February, is considered the No. 3 prospect in the game by both Baseball America and FanGraphs. He made his MLB debut in 2022 and carried himself well in over his first 73 plate appearances, hitting .319/.356/.377 for a wRC+ of 113. Spending most of the year in Triple-A, he hit .315/.386/.420 for a wRC+ of 120. Though the power part of his game could be lacking, all reports point to him being an excellent defender who has keen bat-to-ball skills. That’s borne out by his 16.9% strikeout rate in Triple-A this year and 11% rate in his MLB debut.

The club has used Carson Kelly, 28, as its primary catcher over the past four seasons, who has proved inconsistent in that time. His 2019 and 2021 seasons were both above average at the plate, as he hit double-digit home runs and walk rates, leading to a wRC+ of 107 in the former and 103 in the later. However, his 2020 and 2022 seasons were on the low side, with the walks and the power both dipping. He posted a wRC+ of 70 in 2020 and just 73 in 2022. Defensively, he’s generally considered around average, with DRS have graded him at exactly zero thus far in his career.

Kelly still has two years of arbitration control remaining and likely has the catching job for now, given Moreno’s youth and limited experience. Moreno will also require some time to get to know Arizona’s pitching staff. But as Moreno continues to develop, it’s possible that Kelly will get squeezed out in time and become a trade chip himself before he reaches the open market.

More to come.

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