The Blue Jays agree with the Diamondbacks on a deal that will see them acquire an outfielder Daulton Warsawreports ESPN’s Jeff Passan. The Blue Jays send a package including catch 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 have long been looking to add a left-handed addition to their right-handed heavy lineup. There have also been rumors throughout the offseason that they are willing to deal with their surplus catches to address other parts of their roster. With Danny Jansen, Alejandro Kirk and Moreno all eyeing playing time, it seemed like they would use one of them to make a deal with a catch-needy team. The Diamondbacks, meanwhile, have drawn heavy trade interest this offseason on their many outfielders. Corbin Carroll, Alex Thomas, Jake McCarthy and Varsho are all left-handed and have different attributes, but that made for a log jam that many expected to be cleared via trade. Given these factors, the two teams have often been made for speculative trade partners, which has come about with this deal.
Varsho, 26, was a top 100 prospect in the minors and debuted for the Diamondbacks in 2020. Although primarily a catcher, his natural athleticism has pushed him into more of an outfield role recently. It was reported near the end of the 2022 campaign that the Diamondbacks were so impressed with his outfield work that they planned to keep him there going forward. It was a pretty reasonable conclusion to draw given his excellent defensive rating on grass. He posted +19 Defensive Runs Saved in the outfield this year, along with 18.8 Ultimate Zone Rating and 17 Outs Above Average. All three of those numbers were tops among all MLB outfielders this year, with the DRS number tied for Michael A. Taylor.
The Blue Jays have largely been focused on run prevention this offseason, adding Chris Bassitt to their rotation, Eric Swanson to their bullpen and defensive specialist Kevin Kiermaier to their outfield. Now with Varsho, they’ve continued on the preemptive path by adding the best outfielder in 2022. Varsho isn’t just limited to being a glove contributor, though. 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, suggesting he was 6% above league average. Those contributions combined totaled 4.6 wins over compensation for the year, according to FanGraphs’ calculations.
This move, and their other move this offseason, has resulted in righties Gurriel and Teoscar Hernandez being traded for lefties Kiermaier and Varsho. Gurriel and Hernandez are more productive at the plate but both are widely regarded as subpar defenders, while Kiermaier and Varsho are generally the opposite, although Varsho took a big step forward at the plate this year. Varsho and Kiermaier should end up in an outfield mix that also includes George Spring and Whit Merrifield. While last year’s lineup saw Springer as the top defensive option, flanked by two bat-first teammates, he now appears to be the third-best defender in Toronto’s outfield mix.
For the Diamondbacks, they are getting one of the best catching prospects in the sport, regardless of position, but definitely one of the best 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 pitched well over his first 73 plate appearances, hitting .319/.356/.377 for a wRC+ of 113. He spent most of the year in Triple-A, hitting .315/. 386/.420 for a wRC+ of 120. While the power part of his game may be lacking, all reports point to him being an excellent defender who has keen bat-to-ball skills. That is borne out by his 16.9% strikeout rate in Triple-A this year and 11% in his MLB debut.
The club has used Carson Kelly, 28, as its primary catcher for the past four seasons, who has proved inconsistent during that time. His 2019 and 2021 seasons were both above-average at the plate, hitting double-digit home runs and walk rates, leading to a wRC+ of 107 in the former and 103 in the latter. But his 2020 and 2022 seasons were subpar, with both walks and power dropping. He posted a wRC+ of 70 in 2020 and just 73 in 2022. Defensively, he is generally considered around average, with DRS rating him at exactly zero so 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 need some time to get to know Arizona’s pitching staff. But as Moreno continues to develop, it’s possible that Kelly will be pushed out in time and become a trade chip himself before he hits the open market.
There will be more coming.