Versatile Varsho acquired by Blue Jays for Gurriel, Moreno

December 24th, 2022

TORONTO -- The Blue Jays did some last-minute Christmas shopping Friday, agreeing to a deal to acquire outfielder from the D-backs for catcher Gabriel Moreno and outfielder Lourdes Gurriel Jr.

This is a major move for the Blue Jays, who have coveted a lefty-hitting outfielder as the one missing piece to their offseason, and the price reflects just how significant this is. General manager Ross Atkins said that Varsho will play primarily play left field, while fellow offseason acquisition Kevin Kiermaier will play in centre and George Springer will play right.

Introduced on Christmas Eve, Varsho detailed a playing style that should quickly make him a fan favorite in Toronto. 

“My mindset is fast and physical,” Varsho said. “That comes from my football background, playing football growing up. I don’t like to play things slow. If I’m going after a baseball, I’m going with a full head of steam. I’m going to do anything I can to help this team.”

Moreno, the key piece to this deal, was Toronto's No. 1 prospect entering 2022 and a Top 10 prospect in Major League Baseball, blending exceptional athleticism behind the plate with significant offensive upside to create a catcher who fits the modern game beautifully. The 22-year-old Venezuelan made his MLB debut in ’22, hitting .319 with a .733 OPS over 25 games.

Toronto’s catching position was a game of musical chairs, though, with coming off a strong season and an All-Star.

The music just stopped.

Varsho, who is 26 and comes with four years of team control, fits what the Blue Jays were looking for down to every letter. And with offensive upside potentially sitting atop his defensive excellence, he could quickly become another cornerstone of this organization.

Coming up as a Top 100 prospect himself, Varsho debuted in 2020 and is now fresh off his first full-season workload, hitting .235 with 27 home runs and a .745 OPS over 151 games for Arizona. There’s a speed element, too, with 16 stolen bases last season.

Where Varsho really shines, though, is in the field. Last season, his 18 Outs Above Average led all MLB outfielders and ranked fourth among all positions. Varsho brings truly elite defensive potential, and paired in an outfield alongside Kiermaier and Springer, this Blue Jays defense suddenly has a dramatically different look.

“[Left field] is another challenge, and I always enjoy those,” Varsho said. “It just puts a little more effort and a lot more work into understanding what I can do out there. I’m ready for it. It’s going to be a lot of fun, understanding different routes and different swings on my end. I’m just ready for that challenge, to be able to dominate that and master it.”

One potential projected lineup looks like this:

1. Springer, RF
2. Bo Bichette, SS
3. Vlad Guerrero Jr., 1B
4. Kirk, DH
5. Matt Chapman, 3B
6. Varsho, LF
7. Jansen, C
8. Kiermaier, CF
9. Santiago Espinal, 2B

The real kicker? Varsho catches, too.

In 2022, Varsho started 18 games behind the plate and was back there for 37 starts the year prior. “Unique” barely scratches the surface of his defensive profile, as he’s one of just five players in MLB history to appear in 30-plus games behind the plate and 90-plus in the outfield in one season. Behind Jansen and Kirk, Varsho is now baseball’s most interesting No. 3 catcher.

“The impact that he’s going to have on our team will be on every side of the ball,” said GM Ross Atkins. “The base-running impact, the speed, the versatility and elite defense. The fact that he can also catch for us is about as good a fit as we could have possibly found. I think that it is the ideal fit for this roster.”

Where this deal gets even more interesting -- and expensive -- is the inclusion of Gurriel. The Cuban left fielder has battled injuries throughout his career in Toronto, including a left wrist injury that cut his power numbers down in 2022, but he is still a .285 hitter with a .797 OPS and the potential for more. Gurriel is due to hit free agency following the '23 season, but after the Blue Jays traded Teoscar Hernández to the Mariners for , a move involving Gurriel wasn’t expected so soon.

This likely also leaves the door open to another move. Now that Toronto has acquired its long-coveted lefty bat, the club still needs a capable fourth outfielder who can spell Varsho, Kiermaier and Springer. In Varsho’s case, he may be needed behind the plate and the Blue Jays may want to keep him away from certain lefties. Kiermaier and Springer have injury histories, too, so even after two major outfield moves, Toronto isn't done just yet.