Why new Blue Jays outfielder Daulton Varsho is a special player

Giving up Gabriel Moreno and Lourdes Gurriel Jr. wasn't easy but Toronto arguably has MLB's best outfield defence after adding Varsho.

Daulton Varsho gives the Blue Jays a lefty power bat and exceptional outfield defence. (Photo by G Fiume/Getty Images)

The Toronto Blue Jays finally executed a big trade involving one of their catchers Friday, shipping Gabriel Moreno and Lourdes Gurriel Jr. to the Arizona Diamondbacks in exchange for versatile outfielder Daulton Varsho.

From the start of the offseason, Toronto and Arizona were pegged as ideal trade partners. The D-Backs had a glut of left-handed-hitting outfielders, and the Jays had one too many catchers on their major-league roster, making this a logical swap.

Early Reactions to the Trade

I like this trade; it’s about as even as it can get for both sides.

Varsho, an elite defensive outfielder with good pop from the left side, immediately slides into the Blue Jays' outfield (likely in left field), joining forces with Kevin Kiermaier in centre and George Springer in right. Toronto now has arguably the best defensive outfield in baseball.

The trade is still solid if Varsho replicates his 2022 season (109 OPS+, 4.9 bWAR), though the Blue Jays are likely counting on him to improve at the plate, particularly with his on-base skills (he has a shaky .306 career OBP).

It cost legit assets for Toronto to acquire the 26-year-old Varsho (punting on Moreno’s future is tough) but the move gives the Blue Jays a well-rounded, athletic, left-handed-hitting player under team control through 2026.

Why Varsho is Special

Varsho started mixing in outfield reps as a minor leaguer in 2019 and has gradually improved his defence since. In 2022, he reached a new high, leading all outfielders with 18 outs above average. Varsho’s arm isn’t exceptional, but he makes up for it with an excellent jump, above-average sprint speed, and an all-in mentality.

“My mindset is always fast and physical,” Varsho said in his introductory Zoom press conference. “I think that parlays a little bit with my football background ... growing up, I didn't like to take things slow. So, if I'm going after a baseball, I'm going full head of steam."

Varsho, the son of former MLBer Gary Varsho, is versatile, capable of playing all outfield spots, as well as catcher. At the plate, he has good pop (27 home runs a year ago) and a career slash line of .234/.306/.432. That said, Varsho has struggled versus left-handed pitching in his career, slugging just .339 versus lefties compared to .445 versus right-handers. Those splits will need to improve as he gets settled in Toronto.

MLB’s plan to ban the shift in 2023 should also help Varsho. The Wisconsin native is a dramatic pull hitter, and his .589 OPS against shifted defences in 2022 dragged down his overall numbers. Varsho’s also quite creative at the dish, known for dropping the occasional drag bunt and using his speed to race up the line.

Blue Jays players have already reached out to their newest teammate, too.

“I think it's a very fun group,” Varsho said. “Bo Bichette texted me this morning, welcomed me to the team. And it’s just pretty cool, all those little things, it means a lot to me because it creates a little family bond.”

Players Leaving Toronto

The Diamondbacks weren’t willing to deal Varsho unless Gurriel was included, according to Blue Jays general manager Ross Atkins.

“Prospect-driven deals weren’t as attractive to [Arizona],” Atkins told reporters Saturday.

Toronto didn’t necessarily enter this winter looking to deal Gurriel, whose contract is up at the end of 2023. He became replaceable with Varsho, a much better lineup fit, filling his spot in the outfield. Gurriel’s career .285 batting average will be missed in Toronto, but, ultimately, Varsho has more to give in terms of defence and baserunning.

Atkins also said his club listened to offers on all three catchers – Danny Jansen, Alejandro Kirk, and Moreno – before shipping Moreno to Arizona. The relationships the veteran catchers have with Toronto’s pitching staff are very important, and Atkins explained the clubhouse impact would’ve been a factor in the subtraction of Jansen or Kirk. While Jansen’s defensive skillset isn’t top-notch, the 27-year-old is a leader and an excellent communicator, revered for game planning and helping pitchers and coaches work together smoothly.

What’s Next?

The heavy lifting is done, Atkins said. The Blue Jays will look to make “incremental improvements” before Opening Day, ideally by adding another bench bat. Handedness isn’t a massive priority for the club at this point.

“In our view, it doesn't need to be right-handed or left-handed,” Atkins said. “It's more about the impact and the fit beyond that.”

A lefty masher and another late-inning reliever would make this roster even sweeter. There are still some good hitters available, including A.J. Pollock, Adam Duvall, and Tommy Pham. On the relief pitching side, the likes of Will Smith, Corey Knebel, or Michael Fulmer make sense. There are also in-house options, like youngsters Nate Pearson and Yosver Zulueta, two hard-throwing arms who have a chance to crack the Opening Day roster.

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