Revisiting the Blue Jays' trade for Daulton Varsho

Varsho has struggled so far this season, while Lourdes Gurriel Jr. and Gabriel Moreno are loving life in Arizona

The Blue Jays made a big splash when they traded for Daulton Varsho last offseason, but has the move paid off so far? (Getty Images)

Daulton Varsho is struggling, so much so that the Blue Jays had to make a lineup change.

In the midst of a four-game losing skid, the 26-year-old was demoted from his usual clean-up spot to seventh in Toronto’s order, with Brandon Belt assuming four-hole duties for the time being.

"[It's about] not ignoring how [Belt’s] at-bats are going,” Jays skipper John Schneider said Saturday of the lineup flip. “At the same time, probably taking a little bit of pressure off Varsho."

Varsho’s difficulties at the plate aren’t unique to his season; he has always run hot and cold as a hitter, but when the Blue Jays acquired the outfielder from the Diamondbacks this winter, they envisioned a tad more production. Through 46 games, Varsho is slashing .206/.279/.359 with six homers, 16 RBI and 45 strikeouts. He got off to a great start in Toronto, but pitchers have adjusted by pumping him up with fastballs.

Meanwhile, Arizona’s half of the Varsho trade — Lourdes Gurriel Jr. and Gabriel Moreno — have enjoyed swell beginnings to their time with the D-backs. With that in mind, let’s revisit the Blue Jays’ trade for Varsho. Did Toronto “lose” the deal? Is it too soon to decide? Let’s take a look.

Gurriel and Moreno thriving in Arizona

Blue Jays fans know Gurriel, like Varsho, has his ups and downs. Right now, the D-backs left fielder is mashing baseballs to the tune of .307/.367/.536, with a career-low 15.4% strikeout rate. Now, is that sustainable? Almost certainly not. Varsho won’t end the season with a .638 OPS, and Gurriel won’t finish with a .903 OPS.

With the Blue Jays struggling to drive in runs lately, I imagine they wish they had Gurriel’s clutch-hitting talent and his career .816 OPS with runners in scoring position. But long-term, Varsho is much better, and after a full 162 games, things are bound to average out.

Moreno, however, is a more interesting case. Since the Jays have Alejandro Kirk and Danny Jansen, the Venezuelan wasn’t an exceptional positional fit, but the bat always played. Even if Moreno’s power never kicks in, he’s a contact machine, batting .311 through 36 games in Arizona and under team control through 2028.

But within the Blue Jays’ competitive window, there was never an easy fit, and forcing Moreno, one of the most physically gifted backstops in baseball, to play the outfield would be sacrilegious to the art of catching. I’m not sure the 2023 Blue Jays are better with Moreno instead of Varsho.

Varsho offers more than hit tools

Varsho’s well-roundedness was always a kicker in this trade. The Wisconsin native was part of a “hustle-and-defence” revolution in the offseason, when the club added Varsho and Kevin Kiermaier to the outfield. And so far, good things are happening on that front. Varsho is on pace for 22 stolen bases, and he’s playing above-average in left field, as his +2 Outs Above Average would dictate.

Gurriel, while an incredible outfielder thrower, was still a net-negative on defence. He also doesn’t possess anything close to Varsho’s speed and explosiveness on the field. If Gurriel or Moreno — who, again, would be positionless on this roster — slumped at the plate, they’d have much less to offer.

Verdict: Still a good trade for both teams

Don’t get me wrong: Varsho is still a pivotal piece in this Jays order, and if the club is serious about World Series contention, he needs to make more contact. But even if Gurriel wins a Silver Slugger this year, I don’t think the Blue Jays front office would take this trade back.

Yes, 2023 is crucial. Given the short-term financial commitments made to Kiermaier and Belt, as well as Matt Chapman's approaching free agency, Toronto needs a deep playoff run to consider this season a success. A hot Gurriel would aid the Jays in their pursuit of a World Series, but if we step back, Varsho is a better fit.

Varsho remains under team control through 2026, which is when the Blue Jays teardown will happen. Beyond Varsho, Vladimir Guerrero Jr., Bo Bichette, Kevin Gausman and Jordan Romano are all free agents after 2025. Even though things aren't working out right now, Varsho will undoubtedly have opportunities in the years to come. The deal with the Diamondbacks will seem much more appealing as he settles into a routine in Toronto and accumulates big-league at-bats.