D-backs get Moreno, Gurriel Jr., send Varsho to Toronto

December 24th, 2022

PHOENIX -- When he attended the General Managers Meetings in early November, one of the first people D-backs GM Mike Hazen met with was his Blue Jays counterpart, Ross Atkins.

The D-backs, Hazen told Atkins, were interested acquiring one of Toronto's catchers, while the Blue Jays wanted to talk about Arizona's surplus of outfielders. With Daulton Varsho, Alek Thomas, Jake McCarthy and Corbin Carroll, the D-backs had four young left-handed-hitting outfielders, and there had been chatter since the final month of the season about how they would alleviate the logjam.

The two sides circled each other for six weeks afterwards to find just the right combination of players before finally agreeing Friday on a trade that sent Varsho to Toronto in exchange for catcher Gabriel Moreno and outfielder

D-backs get: C Gabriel Moreno, OF Lourdes Gurriel Jr.
Blue Jays get: OF Daulton Varsho

With one fell swoop, the D-backs filled their need for another catcher as well as adding two right-handed bats to a lineup that was left-handed heavy.

In Moreno, the D-backs are getting one of the best rising stars in baseball. He was ranked as the Jays' No. 1 prospect and No. 4 in the sport when he was called up to the big leagues in June, before he graduated out of MLB Pipeline's prospects list.

"We think he has the ability to be an impact catcher behind the plate, offensively and defensively," Hazen said. "He can throw the ball really well. I know some of his receiving stuff, we need to continue to work through and improve. We feel like he’s going to be a really good blocker. He’s a really good hitter. He’s always been a good hitter. He’s hit since the day he came into baseball. I think that’s the reason people think as highly as they do. He has the ability to get on base. He makes contact. He has a great two-strike approach. He’s just a really good hitter."

Moreno, 22, will not be eligible for salary arbitration until 2026 and cannot become a free agent for another six seasons.

The acquisition of Moreno does not spell the end of Carson Kelly's time in Arizona. The D-backs view Kelly's presence as a way to ease Moreno's transition to the big leagues. While regarded as one of the best prospects in the game, Moreno has just 73 plate appearances in the Majors.

As for Gurriel, he's hit .285 in five years with Toronto, including two 20-homer seasons. Gurriel has played primarily left field for the Blue Jays. He played some first base the past couple of seasons as well, and earlier in his career he played 46 games at shortstop and 33 at second base.

For right now, the D-backs see him as an outfielder, but Hazen did not rule out talking to Gurriel, who will be a free agent at season's end, at some point to gauge his comfort level playing in the infield.

"He’s always been a very good hitter," Hazen said. "We’re excited to add this guy into our lineup. We think he has a chance to be one of our better hitters."

While the D-backs were excited about what they acquired, they were equally anguished by what they had to give up. Varsho was not only an elite defender and above-average hitter, but he was also extremely popular with his teammates.

With that in mind, the D-backs baseball operations staff took the step of calling a number of key players to explain to them the thinking behind the move.

"I think they just had questions about what was our thought process behind what we were trying to do," Hazen said. "Explaining our valuations of the players that we acquired. I think in Daulton’s case, because he had the most tenure of that group, I think a little more explanation was needed, frankly. I don’t blame them for wanting more explanation for that. I don’t ask them to blindly trust us. Trust is earned and frankly over the last couple of years I haven't really done that. But we have a fairly robust thought process behind what we are doing and why we’re trying to get where we’re going."