I don't think the trade of a young Arizona outfielder can have come as any surprise. Not least because of Mike Hazen's consistent statements that the team did not have to trade any of them. Unlike certain previous GM's, Hazen does not need to announce his moves ahead of time. But the reality is, the outfield was a position of depth and strength for Arizona, to the point that the team was better served by converting a piece of it into an area of need.
Catching is certainly one of those. While I was okay going in to 2023 with Carson Kelly as our everyday starter, he will be a free-agent just one more season after that. The Diamondbacks have literally NO catchers in their top 30 prospects. Their best was probably Adrian del Castillo, and his stock plummeted this year, hitting below the Uecker Line at High-A. The D-backs’ highest drafted catcher in June was 9th-rounder Gavin Logan, so that didn't help. This is now addressed.
It definitely feels like the team sold high on Varsho. I do not expect him to be a consistent 5-win player going forward, in part because that 2022 figure was based partly on 31 appearances at catcher. A 109 OPS+ plays much better there than at the corner outfield, where he'll be used by the Blue Jays. Also, while the defensive metrics loved Varsho in the outfield, putting up 2 dWAR consistently, like he did in 2022, is very hard. Over the past five full seasons (2017‐22), only two outfielders, Lorenzo Cain and Michael A. Taylor, have had more than one such year.
There's been some suggestion Varsho will benefit from the shift being banned next year, but his BA improved only seven points without it this season (.279 vs. .272). He's also going to a park which is less hitter friendly for lefties. Over the past three years, Chase Field has ranked 8th for LHBs, the Rogers Center is 18th. He's also going to be considerably more vulnerable to being targeted by opposing left-handed relievers, as one of the few LHBs on the Blue Jays. He had a better chance of hiding in the pack among the D-backs’ lefty-heavy line-up. That could hurt, as Daulton struggled badly vs. LHP last season, with just a .553 OPS, and one homer in 122 at-bats.
But enough of what we lost. The main piece gained is catcher Gabriel Moreno, the Blue Jays top prospect before he lost rookie status this year (under the 45-day limit, because there's no longer an exclusion for September). He seems destined to replace Kelly as everyday catcher: the question is, when? Moreno is still only 22, and I can foresee a transition period, as he learns to work with the pitching staff. That's partly why I don't see the team trading Kelly immediately. Though if they are not in contention, I could see Carson being moved at the deadline, with Moreno taking over full-time the rest of the way. The obvious loser here is Ali Sánchez, who was dropped back onto the waiver wire whence he came.
It is a risk, in that Moreno is not an established major-league player, with only73 MLB plate-appearances. However, he is basically as close as you can get, and has hit .310 with an .844 OPS in the minors - without the benefit of the Pacific Coast League! His power numbers dipped, but that may have been related to July 2021 thumb surgery, after being hit by a pitch. and also the inevitable adjustment to facing major-league pitching. There's no doubting his ability to hit for average. Moreno also took part in the Arizona Fall League last year, where he hit .329, with as many walks as strikeouts.
Then there's Lourdes Gurriel Jr., who effectively replaces Varsho in the mix. He's a less effective defender, but is a right-handed bat, which will help balance the line-up, especially in the outfield. Now Torey Lovullo has a genuine option there i.e. not Kyle Lewis, it's going to be interesting to see how Torey Lovullo constructs things. Against left-handed starters, who would sit to make way for Gurriel? It's also worth noting, the trade will bump the Arizona payroll up by about $2.6 million next year. Varsho was estimated to get $2.8 million in arbitration, while Gurriel, in what appears to be the final year of his contract, is due to be paid $5.4 million.
External opinions seem hard to come by - likely an offshoot of the trade happening just before the Christmas weekend! But MLB Trade Rumors concluded: “In the end, both clubs addressed their needs by dealing from positions of strength. For the Diamondbacks, they’ve sent out a solid contributor but should still have a great outfield without him, and they’ve also loaded their farm for future success. They now have four of the top 20 prospects in baseball, with Moreno at #3 at Baseball America, followed by Carroll at #5, shortstop Jordan Lawlar at #11 and outfielder Druw Jones at #19.”
Of course, we all would like to have given less and got more. But this feels like a solid trade for both sides, dealing from strength to address positions of need. There's risk on both ends, but each are getting what should be solid, everyday players who will help the teams. Only time will tell which does more.
[Apologies for any typos in the above. This was entirely written on my phone, while huddled up in a South Carolina hotel room, avoiding the coldest Christmas since the eighties!]