Throughout the offseason, it was clear that the Blue Jays had a surplus of Major League-level catchers and that the Diamondbacks had a clear surplus of Major League-level outfielders. Alejandro Kirk and Danny Jansen are both arguably among the top 10 catchers in baseball while Gabriel Moreno was a top 10 prospect in baseball and showed he’s Major League ready in his limited playing time last year. As for the Diamondbacks, Varsho played at an All-Star caliber level last season, Jake McCarthy had a great rookie season, Corbin Carroll showed why he should probably be the 2023 NL Rookie of the Year favorite, Alek Thomas is Major League ready despite struggling at the plate in his rookie season, 2020 AL Rookie of the Year Kyle Lewis was acquired via trade, and although he’s a good bit away from making an impact Druw Jones was the second overall pick in the 2022 draft.
Considering each team’s surplus, it made sense that the Blue Jays and Diamondbacks agreed to the biggest trade of the offseason that sent Varsho to Toronto and Moreno and Lourdes Gurriel Jr. to Arizona on December 23.
When the Blue Jays traded Teoscar Hernandez to the Mariners, the move seemed odd at first. Hernandez was one of the Blue Jays’ best bats over the last three seasons, but his poor defense, poor plate discipline, and only one more year of team control were worrisome to the Blue Jays.
Shortly after Hernandez was traded to Seattle it was reported that the Blue Jays were interested in signing Brandon Nimmo which would likely have moved Geroge Springer, who has battled injuries over the last couple of seasons and will turn 34 during 2023, to right field. Last season Blue Jays’ left-handed hitters struggled mightily at the plate having the fourth worst wRC+ (84) among MLB teams’ lefties, the Blue Jays’ team -10.5 BsR was the sixth worst among MLB teams, and the Blue Jays outfield was just below average defensively as their -3 OAA was the 18th best in baseball; However, it is important to note that starting outfielders Hernandez and Lourdes Gurriel Jr. combined for -6 OAA. Brandon Nimmo’s 134 wRC+ from the left side, fine -0.3 BsR, and 6 OAA would have been a tremendous addition to the Blue Jays lineup, but he opted to return to the Mets for eight years and $162 million.
With Nimmo no longer a possibility, the Blue Jays pivoted to another left-handed hitting outfielder, Kevin Kiermaier. Kiermaier is at best a league-average hitter, but his tremendous defense in center field and base running were perfect fits for the Blue Jays.
While Kiermaier was a good fit, an outfield of Gurriel Jr./Kiermaier/Springer likely wasn’t good enough to give the Blue Jays a great chance of competing for a World Series. However, the addition of Varsho improves their outlook drastically.
Although Varsho isn’t as good as Nimmo offensively, he still gives the Blue Jays a much-needed offensive weapon from the left side as he hit 27 home runs and had a 106 wRC+ last season. By joining a Blue Jays lineup that ranked second in MLB in team wRC+ (118) last season and departing the Diamondbacks’ 24th-ranked unit, Varsho will likely see better pitches to hit as pressure should be alleviated off of him as instead of leading off, he’ll likely hit sixth following a tremendous top five of Springer, Bo Bichette, Vladimir Guerrero Jr., Kirk, and Matt Chapman.
Additionally, Varsho’s baserunning and defense will be difference-makers. Varsho’s 3.4 BsR would’ve been the second-best on the Blue Jays last season and his 17 OAA would’ve led all Blue Jay outfielders by a landslide. With Hernandez and Gurriel replaced in the outfield by two platinum glove caliber outfielders in Kiermaier and Varsho, the Blue Jays have turned its outfield defense into the most dynamic unit in the league, improved its team base running significantly, and added a much-needed pair of left-handed hitters to balance out its lineup.
Although Varsho was a great player for the Diamondbacks, it made sense to trade him coming off of a breakout season, the current state of the team, and their surplus of outfielders. While the Diamondbacks also acquired Gurriel Jr., he seems to be more of a stoppage gap/designated hitter than a big contributor like Moreno will be.
Per FanGraphs’ The Board updated 2022 prospect rankings, Moreno was the third-best prospect in Major League Baseball. Although he was Major League ready, Moreno was stuck behind Kirk and Jansen on the Blue Jays’ depth chart and only played in 25 MLB games. Besides displaying his power, Moreno made the most of his opportunity hitting .319/.356/.377 (113 wRC+) with 2 DRS and 0.7 FRM behind the plate. Carson Kelly is currently the projected starting catcher for the Diamondbacks, but Moreno should see his fair share of playing time as his ceiling is the clear highest of the two players.
In today’s state of Major League Baseball, the number of catchers who are above-average offensive and defensively is dwindling, which makes Moreno’s future outlook extremely promising. If Moreno is able to sustain what he showed in his limited action in 2022 over a full season in 2023, he’ll probably be regarded as a top 10 catcher entering 2024 and beyond.
With a loaded division headlined by the Padres and Dodgers, the Diamondbacks are probably still a couple of years away from making the postseason. However, their young core is starting to develop across the diamond. Moreno is set to be the catcher of the future, Christian Walker is among the best first basemen in baseball, Ketel Marte is capable of playing at an MVP level when healthy, Josh Rojas is solid at third base, and the outfield is stacked with Corbin Carroll, Jake McCarthy, and Alek Thomas for years to come.
The Blue Jays and Diamondbacks will both be looking to compete in 2023 and beyond, and this trade gives both teams a better chance of doing so.