That may not be warm enough for a hot stove, but the trade that sent Daulton Varsho from Arizona to Toronto for Gabriel Moreno and Lourdes Gurriel could be good for both sides.
Varshaw had a quiet breakout in 2022, hitting . 235/. 302/. 443 in hitter-friendly Phoenix, but he played outstanding outfield defense while also being behind the plate in 31 games. He’s not a good defensive player but he’s a plus runner and athlete who was well above the league average in both quarterback and right field last year, racking up an above-average 18 points and 16 blocked passes by Statcast metrics – ranking fifth and third in the game baseball in those categories, respectively. He’s become a rather extreme hitter, sacrificing contact and some contact quality for more power. He hit 27 homers last year, a career high at any level, but he came in with the highest strikeout average he’s had except his first appearance in the pandemic-shortened 2020 season.
In exchange for Farshaw, who has four years of team control left and is arbitration-eligible for the first time this year as a two-star player, the Diamondbacks get the Blue Jays’ No. 1 prospect in 2022, catcher Gabriel Moreno, and outfielder Lourdes Gurriel. Moreno is a super athletic catcher who offers hyper defense and a high-contact approach that probably won’t produce a lot of power but should result in strong on-base percentages because he does a lot of direct contact. He has an above-average throwing arm, good blocking and receiving, and has made great strides working with pitchers for his age. He is very aggressive at the plate, rarely walking or out because his plate coverage is so good, though he can have to make adjustments in that area against big-league pitching. He’s ready to take over as Arizona’s regular catcher, making Carson Kelly a potential backup or trading piece, though it may be two or three years before we see Moreno hit the 4-5 WAR ceiling.
Team sources confirmed to The Athletic that the Blue Jays acquired outfielder Dolton Farshaw in a deal with the Arizona Diamondbacks for outfielder Lourdes Gurriel and the best possible catch-up to Gabriel Moreno.
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Gurriel had a disappointing 2022 season as all his strength evaporated, but he underwent post-season surgery to fix a broken Hamty bone, which could easily explain the outage. He’s a free agent after 2023, and could give the D-Backs an offensive boost in left field, allowing them to trade quarterback Alec Thomas, or he could be traded himself. He needs to hit for more hits in order to be a passable regular, because he’s a below-average defender anywhere, even left field, and he doesn’t walk.
The trade seemed to help both clubs, as the Blue Jays had a surplus behind the plate, and the Diamondbacks had a surplus on the field that would only get worse with time. That said, I think I’d prefer the end of the Arizona deal, where they took a little more risk to get more of the cap – and got six from Moreno versus Toronto to get four from Farshaw. Arizona State is still edging into contention and is better positioned to take that risk for a potential star in Moreno, while the Blue Jays may have decided to go with the surest thing in Alejandro Kirk/Danny Jansen. Kirk played 78 games at catcher last year and 51 at DH, hitting .285/.372/.415 for the 3.9 rWAR/3.8 fWAR season. Jansen caught 63 games, with three starts at DH, hitting .260/.339/.516 for 2.9 rWAR/2.6 fWAR. Janssen has never been able to stay healthy for a full season, hitting 400 plate games only once in his pro career, in 2017, and I’m not at all confident he could keep that kind of production if he played every day. He’s in the perfect spot, with Kirk the better hitter and better able to handle the greater workload.
If you’re a Blue Jays, even if you fully believe in Moreno’s potential, the odds of him outselling the Kirk/Jansen duo in 2023 aren’t very high. There were only two 5-WAR catchers in baseball last year for the Fangraphs, JT Realmuto and the recently traded Sean Murphy. Kirk and Jansen produced 6.4 fWAR between them — though that includes Kirk’s DH time — but even if we conservatively set the overall catch value at 5 WAR, you can see just how high the bar Moreno has to clear now. I think he’ll get there in time, but the Blue Jays value winning in 2023-24 in the long run, while Arizona has the luxury of patience and can bet Moreno becomes that 5-win winner, even if it doesn’t come up for a few years. The D-Backs have a better chance of getting more total value from the trade, but the Blue Jays are clearly a better team now than they were before the deal, as Varsho is at least a 3-gain upgrade over Gurriel if we assume he takes over in a corner; And if Kevin Kiermayer gets hurt, the Jays now have a viable replacement at center. Both of these teams had a surplus of good players and made a very old-fashioned kind of trade that puts both teams in better shape. What a concept.
(Photo by Gabriel Moreno: Rick Ossentowski/USA Today Sports)