With Daulton Varsho's bat coming around, is the Moreno blockbuster still a 'loss'?

The Blue Jays outfielder is on a heater, but does it really justify the blockbuster trade to acquire him?
New York Yankees v Toronto Blue Jays
New York Yankees v Toronto Blue Jays / Cole Burston/GettyImages

Blue Jays fans are searching for reasons to believe that this team is turning a corner offensively. While many of the top-line offensive statistics are still residing in the bottom half of the league, there are flickers of bright spots if you look hard enough. Players like Ernie Clement, Davis Schneider and Isiah Kiner-Falefa are pushing for increased playing time.

If we are being honest, one of the biggest catalysts for the Blue Jays recent surge has been Daulton Varsho. This upswing by Varsho is causing Blue Jays fans to wonder whether the 2022 Christmas week trade of catcher Gabriel Moreno and outfielder Lourdes Gurriel Jr. to Arizona in exchange for Varsho is looking better in hindsight.

Let’s not get carried away because there is still a lot more time needed to see who "won" this trade. At the same time, the maneuver still seems to rank fairly high on the list of Ross Atkins misfires. The biggest problem with the trade may be the misjudgment Atkins made in going with Alejandro Kirk over Moreno.

One of the biggest jobs as a general manager is not only knowing the talent level of the players you acquire, but also evaluating the players in your system better than anyone else. When you survey the list of bad MLB teams, you’ll scratch your head at why the Rockies couldn’t foresee the breakout DJ LeMahieu would experience with the Yankees. Or why the Pirates couldn’t foresee the greatness of Tyler Glasnow while he was toiling away in their farm system. Why couldn’t the Blue Jays better evaluate what they already had in their system?

While his numbers may not be jumping off the page, Varsho is having a torrid last week-plus of games and helping offset the prolonged struggles of the top of the order. Over his last 10 games, the Wisconsin native is posting a .275 average while popping four home runs and driving in eight. He is still walking and the pull-side home runs are particularly impressive. Varsho projects as a player who can do a lot of different things, including stealing bases and playing outstanding defense.  Varsho still hit 20 HR last year, which is important because he may never hit for a high average, as evidenced by a depressed career slash line.

But the trade is tough to justify for Toronto simply because of who they gave up. Moreno is a bona-fide All-Star who will be behind the plate in Arizona for years to come. In fact, they are already talking about the prospect of locking up the young Venezuelan to a lengthy contract. In Canada, the Blue Jays are praying that Danny Jansen can remain healthy even for a short period. Moreno is only 24-years old but established himself during a 2023 season in which he claimed a Gold Glove while hitting .284 with a .747 OPS and 104 OPS+ in 111 games. Through the first couple of weeks in 2024, he is off to a slightly uneven start with plenty of time remaining.

On that same Arizona squad, Gurriel is proving himself to once again be a critical piece. Gurriel, 30, spent five years in Toronto during which he consistently amazed fans with his bat, yet made them squirm while playing defense on the Rogers Centre turf. All told, he hit .285 with a .797 OPS and 117 OPS+ in 468 games as a member of the Blue Jays. His production in the desert was immediately beneficial for all sides, leading to an All-Star appearance in 2023. Last winter, Arizona re-signed him to a three-year deal worth $42 million and he has picked up right where he left off. For what it's worth, he even turned in a positive dWAR reading last season (0.6) while remaining versatile defensively. At worst, Gurriel is matching what he did over half a decade in Toronto. The offensive ceiling for the Cuban seems to be really high.

The problem with Varsho is that he simply doesn’t carry that same ceiling as the two players in Arizona. Varsho is a career .228 hitter with a 97 OPS+. While he has been excellent defensively, it's worth wondering how much value that really has. Speaking of which, fans have yet to see Varsho suit up as a catcher! All jokes aside, Varsho has never posted an OPS+ north of 108 and just set a career high in games played last season. In Varsho, the Blue Jays just don’t seem to have the kind of durable player who will be a mainstay in the Toronto lineup for years to come.

Can he be a valuable presence in 2024 in the bottom third of the lineup if he posts 15-20 home runs, slashes .250 and plays outstanding defense? Yes, but it will take a lot more than a two-week stretch to bear out those outcomes. The Blue Jays had Moreno in their system and developed him into a No.1 prospect. When push came to shove, however, they sent him packing and will continue to pay for their transgressions as long as Moreno stays on his current trajectory. Combined with the exploits of Gurriel and one can only wonder how different this offense could have been.