Somewhere along the line, as big-time Blue Jays acquisition Daulton Varsho began to struggle with the bat, the winter narrative shifted in Toronto.
What began as, "He pulls the ball like crazy and the Jays moved in the fences in right field, 35 homers is possible," soon became, "He's not scuffling, his offensive contributions are just subtler than anybody else's," before wrapping up as, "If he never hits a single ball this season, he'll still be valuable because of his defense."
Now, as the season concludes, Varsho will need an earth-shattering October moment to redeem the blockbuster offseason swap with Arizona, which has left Toronto defensively superior and offensively deficient time and again.
By metrics, counting stats and the eye test, Varsho's performance in 2023 has been quite poor. Instead of experiencing an offensive bump in prime conditions at the Rogers Centre, his OPS has instead dropped 60 points, residing in the territory Blue Jays fans have laughed at Anthony Volpe for inhabiting. His shaky batted-ball metrics last season have resulted in less production and a power decrease this season (imagine that?). Varsho being the "best outfielder in baseball" would outweigh his offensive deficiencies (at least somewhat), but he's regressed slightly in that department, too; OAA graded him in the 99th percentile in 2022 and the 97th in 2023, with his arm value decreasing from 95th to 89th.
Of course, that's roughly equivalent, and trying to surgically find glaring fault in those year-over-year high-variance metrics means looking for trouble. It's the offense that has cratered. His batting run value has plummeted year-over-year from the 58th percentile to the second. His fielding was his calling card in 2022, but he also used his pull power, bunt base hits, advanced instincts, and a solid degree of barrels to overcome a mixed-bag offensive profile. That has evaporated in 2023; Varsho's baseball IQ is still anecdotally excellent (and also tangibly excellent; his baserunning run value ranks in the 96th percentile), but his bat has been deadened. His advanced barrel percentage has decreased from the 70th percentile to the 36th. Anyone can spit a Savant page at you, though, and at a certain point -- especially in a case like Varsho's -- it's overkill. Every single number shows a bleak campaign. Every single data point further proves, "This turned out poorly. Acquiring this player added a nonfunctional chunk to the lineup."
And here's the kicker: even if he posted the same offensive and defensive season as he did in 2022, without an ounce of regression, the trade would still have represented an incorrect use of the Gabriel Moreno trade chip. That's only become more glaringly obvious as Varsho's OPS has flirted with the low sixes.
Yankees look better after Blue Jays acquired Daulton Varsho
Moreno, the 23-year-old catcher, opened the season in seemingly the perfect position to be leveraged in trade. He topped the Blue Jays' system, but was stuck behind 2022 All-Star Alejandro Kirk and world-class backup Danny Jansen. His future seemed to be elsewhere, but it also seemed to be extremely bright. ESPN's Kiley McDaniel ranked him as the game's fourth-best prospect entering the season, while Baseball America had him 12th. If the Blue Jays were going to trade Moreno -- and they were -- they had a responsibility to make absolutely certain they were letting him go for the right piece.
Instead, they traded both Moreno and Lourdes Gurriel Jr. to the desert for Varsho, a deal that has helped propel the Diamondbacks into the heart of the Wild Card race. Gurriel Jr., not known for his defensive contributions, has still posted 2.8 bWAR, drilled 24 homers, and made the 2023 All-Star team. Moreno has out-WAR'd Varsho as a rookie, racking up 4.2 and hitting .289 with a .753 OPS while grading out spectacularly well in every defensive aspect of the catching position except framing. That metric is soon to be obsolete once robots who cannot be swindled take over umpiring from the job's current stewards, 60-year-old men. If the Blue Jays were hell bent on trading Moreno -- and we certainly know why they were -- there had to be a greater need they could've cashed the chip in for at the deadline and beyond.
And, to add insult to injury to more insults, Kirk has regressed with a 93 OPS+, while Jansen -- who greatly outpaced him in the season's first half -- is now injured and greatly missed, lost for the regular season with a finger fracture.
Varsho will close 2023 as a 3.5-WAR player, which should definitely help casual fans understand why WAR is a valuable statistic (toxic minefield incoming). The Blue Jays will make the postseason anyway, so f*** us, right? But the most vociferously defended trade of their offseason has turned into a 10-layer flub, and we're still sitting here waiting for the apology to be as loud as the disrespect was back in March.
And to think the Yankees almost traded Volpe or Oswald Peraza for Varsho, instead choosing to spend the 2023 season with a hole in left field. Man. Guess they got the Varsho Experience anyway.