Blue Jays GM Atkins on Varsho trade: 'I can’t imagine a better fit for this team'
Blue Jays general manager Ross Atkins met with the media on Saturday to discuss his club's blockbuster trade with the Arizona Diamondbacks that landed outfielder Daulton Varsho in Toronto. Atkins described what Varsho brings to the Blue Jays, revealed how hard it was to give up Gabriel Moreno and Lourdes Gurriel Jr., and touched on what comes next this offseason.
KEEGAN MATHESON: When you look at Varsho, obviously, when we look at him, we can see the numbers, the upside there, but what specifically do you like most about him and how he fits your team?
ROSS ATKINS: Yeah, I think well-rounded is what comes to mind if I think about most. My doorbell is ringing here. Sorry about that. But the impact that he's going to have on our team is going to be on every side of the ball, the base running impact, the speed, the versatility, elite defense. And the fact that he can also catch for us is about as good of a fit as possibly we could have found. I think it is the ideal fit for this roster, and one that we are very excited about.
KEEGAN MATHESON: And a player of his age, you're obviously still betting on some upside, some more development. Where does he get better next? Where is the upside with Varsho these next three, four years?
ROSS ATKINS: It'd be hard for him to be better as a defender. I think tapping into the versatility, the fact that he could play all three outfield positions and catches, as I said, a very good complement to us. And we see him continuing to be a very effective offensive player. But if there's upside, it's probably there.
KEEGAN MATHESON: All righty. Thank you, Ross.
ROSS ATKINS: All right, Keegs.
- All right, Kaitlyn.
KAITLYN MCGRATH: Hey Ross, just kind of continuing on Keegan's question, it was kind of going to be mine, but with his offense specifically, do you see more upside there, and like how the shift ban might impact him as a lefty hitter? Or like, do you see more getting on base ability with him playing at the Rogers Center?
ROSS ATKINS: Yeah, the power is there for sure having hit 27 home runs, and getting on base potential I think is a real opportunity for him with the impact of his speed.
KAITLYN MCGRATH: And just on the players who depart your organization, obviously, Gabby Moreno, top prospect, we kind of knew his potential there. And then Lourdes was a core guy for you as well. So I guess, how difficult was it to move on from them, especially Lourdes, I think, because he's been with the organization and has been, I don't know, like kind of a core member of that group?
ROSS ATKINS: Yeah, I mean all trades are difficult. It's so interesting as soon as you pick up that phone call, or that phone to contact those players, how real that makes it, and how strong that feeling is. The commitment that they've had to this organization, the impact they've had on people, fans, teammates, obviously, on the game is something that's real and difficult with any trade. Having to acquire a player of this caliber, one of the really top players, one of the better players in the game last year, you're going to have to be uncomfortable.
So including Lourdes Gurriel in the deal was difficult for us, but necessary from their end. And they they were looking to consolidate talent at the Major League level as well. So the prospect driven deals wasn't as attractive to them.
KAITLYN MCGRATH: Great. Thank you, Ross, and have a great Christmas.
ROSS ATKINS: OK, thank you Kaitlyn.
- Go ahead, Mitch.
MITCH BANNON: Hey Ross, thanks for finding some time today. From a defensive position outlook, where do you see kind of the breakdown for Varsho? Is this going to be mostly in the outfield?
ROSS ATKINS: Yeah, as it stands right now, I mean, he'll predominantly be playing left field for us, with the ability to go to center, obviously, can be in right as we talked a lot about with the acquisition of Kiermaier. There's going to be playing time for all of our outfielders. And the benefit of the versatility of them, and, the ability to play multiple positions is obviously something that we value. But his ability to catch with Kirk and Jano being such offensive players as well is a huge benefit as well.
MITCH BANNON: And then just with potentially sending two Major League guys out, do you still see some holes on the roster, or what are you looking to do from here?
ROSS ATKINS: Yeah, I think this acquisition, as I stated from the beginning, is a very significant one for us that we are extremely excited about the fit, the person, the teammate. I can't imagine a better fit for this team. So I think our heavy lifting is done, but certainly, not ruling anything out, and would expect some incremental improvements. But very excited about this impact and feel good about the previous acquisitions that we've made as well.
MITCH BANNON: Thanks Ross, happy holidays.
ROSS ATKINS: You too.
- You're up, Mike.
MIKE WILNER: Hey Ross, thanks for doing this this morning, further to what you just answered with Mitch, is one of the things that you'd still be looking for a right-handed hitting complement outfielder, or is Espinal and Merrifield enough?
ROSS ATKINS: Yeah, I think that it certainly could be. It also could be leff-handed. So we feel very good about Merrifield and his versatility, obviously, the multiple positions that he can play, obviously, with Espi as well, him being versatile, and a right-handed complement to this acquisition is we're in a good spot, and we'll look to improve our team from the subtraction of Gurriel. But in our view, it doesn't need to be right-handed or left-handed. It's more about the impact and the fit beyond that.
MIKE WILNER: And how much of the top priority was it for you going into this off season to-- I mean, you radically have improved the outfield defense. How big a factor do you think the outfield defense was last year? And how big a priority was it to improve it this off season?
ROSS ATKINS: We've been entirely focused on preventing more runs, and we feel like we've made huge strides in that area. All too often, I think the industry, everyone in the game focuses so much on pitching, and certainly never loses sight of the impact of defense. But it's a harder thing to quantify, and it's a harder thing to measure the impact of. And the industry is better at it than they were. We feel like we've improved at it a great deal, and just made significant strides that way.
MIKE WILNER: Thanks, and enjoy your Christmas.
ROSS ATKINS: Thanks, Mike. Happy Hanukkah.
- Your turn, Rob.
ROB: Hey Ross, you talked about the fact that Varsho is as a teammate, and sort of his personality. What is it specifically that you like about him? And why do you see him being a good fit in that clubhouse?
ROSS ATKINS: Oh well, I was speaking to everything about the player in terms of fit, but I do from a personality and teammates standpoint, he is a hard nosed gamer that loves the process, loves the work. We happen to know his dad pretty well. I worked with his dad a while back. But we know the character well. We feel very good about the teammate and the impact that he will have on this roster.
ROB: Was altering the character of the clubhouse part of your sort of off season priorities as well? You've got different personalities in there now compared to what you used to have. Was that sort of something that you were looking into?
ROSS ATKINS: I think it certainly wasn't a priority. We feel very good about the personality of our clubhouse, feel very good about the professionalism, but always looking to improve, and always looking to make progress. I think the influences and personalities, albeit different, I feel very good about the players who were here, and their impact, and their personalities as well. So having said that, we're exceptionally excited about how these guys that we've acquired this year, Swanson, Kiermaier, Bassitt, and now Varsho, how they go about their business, their competitiveness, their focus on process, and their focus on being good teammates.
ROB: Great. Thanks, Ross. Have a nice Christmas.
ROSS ATKINS: OK, thank you, Rob. You too.
- And Scotty.
SCOTT MITCHELL: Hey Ross, merry Christmas. Just wanted to ask you about the process of trying to trade one of these assets behind the plate. I mean, how many sleepless nights were there for you in terms of trying to figure out which one to move? Or was it kind of all about just finding the right trade and the value match?
ROSS ATKINS: Yeah, thanks, Scotty. You too. It was interesting. I think the most-- I've never been in a situation like this where we had so much interest in all of the catchers. Every single catcher had significant interest from every team. So that put us in a strong position to look for a more ideal fit, and not just a good value deal. And we were able to do it. In terms of sleepless nights, I mean, everything that we're-- it is interesting when momentum does take shape around a deal, around potential deals, it is very hard not to continue to think about them and to find time to sleep, because you're just so motivated, and driven, and anxious to do the best possible work we can do for this organization.
SCOTT MITCHELL: And then as you move forward with Kirk and Jansen behind the plate, I mean, what is it about them that you like how they complement each other? Because completely different skill sets, personalities. It seems to be a pretty good duo back there.
ROSS ATKINS: Yeah, it was exceptionally difficult thinking about taking players who had such large impacts on our team off of our roster. But at the same time, we felt so good about Gabby's potential impact with us that we were listening on all three. But having said that, the leadership component, the relationship component we felt to be of significance and meaningful for us with Kirk and Jano. And that was something that had to be factored in in any subtraction.
SCOTT MITCHELL: Appreciate it. Thanks, Ross.
ROSS ATKINS: All right, Scotty.
- Go ahead, Gregor.
GREGOR: Hey Ross, thanks for doing this. You guys have been kind of linked to the Diamondbacks just for a little while like externally, just because there seemed to be an obvious fit there with them looking for help behind the plate, and you guys having some to spare in the outfield situation over there in Arizona. Were the Diamondbacks an obvious fit for you as well? And how long had you been working on this deal? And how many different kind of versions of it did you work through as you're going through this process?
ROSS ATKINS: Yeah, I mean, great question. And it absolutely was a great fit with their surplus and outfielders, specifically leff-handed hitting center fielders, and us having a surplus of catching and their need right from the start we felt that was going to be a very important team and fit. So from the very beginning of the off season, that dialogue began. We've done deals with Arizona, obviously, and have an incredible relationship with that organization. Of any executive in the game, Mike Hazen might be the one that I'm the closest to outside of the Toronto Blue Jays. So I felt very fortunate to have very open dialogue from day one.
As far as iterations, it was similar. All three catchers were of some interest to them, and all of their outfielders were some interest. I think the component that made it challenging is that we were both trying to consolidate more talent on our Major League roster. So they are looking to take steps forward, obviously, and push the envelope on the winning front. And that's why Lourdes Gurriel came into the picture and made this deal work.
GREGOR: Was this deal kind of always in the back of your mind for the last couple of months? Was there doubt or skepticism at any point in time that you guys would be able to reach an agreement as kind of the free agency was kind of playing out at the same time? Or what was your view of that?
ROSS ATKINS: Yeah, I mean, the constructs were always in our minds. And then we were constantly thinking about this as a lever as we considered alternatives. And the other influence is the amount of left-handed hitting that is off of the board, and how limited that population in the market was was certainly creating a level of urgency, or increasing our level of urgency and anxiety, but at the same time, felt like we were in a very strong position for the reasons I mentioned about our catching.