PHOENIX – On the surface, pundits appear to be in consensus. The deal just before Christmas which sent outfielder Arizona Diamondbacks’ Daulton Varsho to the Toronto Blue Jays for catching prospect Gabriel Moreno and outfielder/infielder Lourdes Gurriel looks to be a win-win situation for both teams.
From the Arizona perspective, general manager Mike Hazen was able to unlock the burden of a plethora of quality outfielders. The dilemma was the amount of playing time granted to Jake McCarthy who finished fourth in the National League rookie-of-the-year balloting a year ago, Corbin Carroll, Alek Thomas and Varsho. In addition, the search for a right-handed bat was somewhat addressed with the acquisition of Kyle Lewis from Seattle.
Still, Hazen left the recent winter meetings with a hand full of wild cards. The phone likely did not stop ringing and suitors from just about every club called about the rising stable of Arizona outfield talent. During the course of the off-seaosn, Hazen made it known that Carroll was pretty much untouchable but would entertain offers in relation to the others.
While Hazen appears to improve the team without vast economic resources, needs continue to be obvious. The inconstancy at the plate from catcher Carson Kelly was a principal factor that concerned Hazen and other decision makers. With Cooper Hummell, a potential backup catcher dealt in the Lewis trade, the search was on to either help Kelly with playing time or supplant the veteran backstop.
That need could be answered with the acquisition of Moreno, who will be 23 years-old in February, and regarded the number three prospect in the game by Baseball America and FanGraphs. After his call to the Show in late 2022, Moreno engaged in 73 plate appearances with the Jays hitting .319 and batted .315 for most of the season at Triple-A. His eye-to-bat ratio appears to be strong and had a 16.9 percent strikeout rate at Triple-A and just 11 percent at the major league level.
While the potential for Moreno appears encouraging, here’s where the trade does not meet the excitement of pundits.
The Diamondbacks are wise to trade Varsho and the reason is his limited offensive potential. Granted, the left-handed hitter banged out 27 homers a year ago and knocked in 74 runs. During his three years in the desert, the 26-year-old from Marshfield, Wis. hit a combined .234 in 283 games, 45 doubles, 41 homers, and drove in 121 runs.
In the current age of free agents and potential high-profile trades, owners now pay for past performances. Varsho falls into that category and could be a disappointment. That’s because he has not been a proven, contact hitter and if the Jays are able to get a .230 batting average in 2023, that would be considered positive. Plus, his 2022 home run production could be regarded as an aberration.
A realistic season could be around a .230 batting average, a considerable drop in home run production and Varsho might finish between 18 and 23 homers. His defense is strong and one of his strengths, when drafted by Arizona, was his speed as a catcher. When he proved incapable of catching at the major league level, Arizona decision-makers moved Varsho strictly to the outfield.
The “x” factor, with this and all transactions, is a player’s ability to form consistent patterns. Players transcend through strong seasons and the tail off and tend level to a pattern that decision-makers would like as more productive.
Varsho’s departure should not be regarded as significant. Proven to be an average player, with some defensive acumen, Hazen clearly chose the right player to move.
In a Zoom with reporters following the trade, Hazen said he is not likely to move Kelly at this point. This is regarded as a transition period for Moreno to eventually catch the majority of games, For the 2023 season, a likely scenario is Kelly and Moreno divide the season, and each catch about 80 games.
ALSO … The acquisition of Gurriel is intriguing. Originally drafted as an infielder, he was moved to the outfield in 2019. While his defensive play was regarded as average, he gives the Diamondbacks versatility which both Hazen and Torey Lovullo, the field manager, desire. … after the trade, the Diamondbacks now have four of the top 20 prospects in the game. This includes Moreno at number three, Carroll at number five, shortstop Jordan Lawler at number 11, and outfielder Druw Jones at number 19.