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Can Daulton Varsho reach his ceiling on Toronto Blue Jays?

Can Daulton Varsho reach his ceiling on Toronto Blue Jays?
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Daulton Varsho, one of the most fantasy-relevant catchers of the past two seasons, is on the move. With his trade to the Toronto Blue Jays, there’s a greater chance his days behind the plate will soon come to an end. Thankfully, he’ll carry his eligibility forward to 2023 thanks to his 31 appearances at catcher last season.

Varsho should take over as the Blue Jays’ starting right fielder, giving them a great defense at all three outfield spots, at least when both Kevin Kiermaier and George Springer are healthy and out there. That’s big news for the team’s pitchers, none of whom has an especially heavy ground-ball leaning. Chris Bassitt, Jose Berrios, Kevin Gausman, Alek Manoah and Jordan Romano are all worth an extra buck, considering the Blue Jays’ focus on defensive improvement this winter.

Additionally, Varsho’s left-handed bat gives the Blue Jays some much-needed lineup balance, as they had byfar baseball’s fewest plate appearances from left-handed hitters last season (a 351 PA gap between first and second). That is helpful to the other members of the batting order, who could sneak in a handful more advantageous at-bats against lefty relievers thanks to the three-batter-minimum rule, but it might work against Varsho, who has a 166-point OPS platoon split in his career, considering there aren’t that many lefty bats opposing managers might target with their premium bullpen lefties late in the game.

Ultimately, Varsho’s fantasy stock shouldn’t shift too much in Toronto, as he was my No. 3 catcher entering the week and remains that following the deal. What did change, however, is his 2023 ceiling. As a catcher-eligible player who might serve as an everyday outfielder, he stands a chance at exceeding the 592 plate appearances — second-most among catcher-eligibles behind only JT Realmuto’s 612 — even if he serves as the Blue Jays’ No 6 hitter rather than at leadoff, a role he occupied on 62 occasions last season. Batting behind that loaded top half of the order could mean a substantial boost in RBIs, giving Varsho an outside chance at a rare 30-homer, 100-RBI, 15-steal season — only Carlton Fisk (1985) and Ivan Rodriguez (1999 ) have ever done that, among primary catchers. Varsho has a strong case to be the position’s No. 1 rotisserie pick, and he has narrowed the gap in points leagues too.

It’s future years where Varsho’s dynasty league managers should now worry. In Toronto, he’s unlikely to see as much time behind the plate, where it appears the team will go with an Alejandro Kirk and Danny Jansen tandem next season. Varsho might struggle to get to even the 20 games required to carry that eligibility into 2024, so keep it in mind that the outfield move might now be permanent, other than the occasional time where the Blue Jays shake up the lineup to give Kirk and Jansen a defensive day off.

The Arizona Diamondbacks’ haul in the trade, catching prospect Gabriel Moreno and outfielder Lourdes Gurriel Jr., is fantasy relevant as well.

Moreno might not begin the season as the Diamondbacks’ starting catcher, but he’s unquestionably now their future at the position. He’ll be a player to watch during spring training, as it’s only a matter of time before he pushes Carson Kelly for the starting job. Moreno’s hit tool is extremely polished for a catcher of his age (22) and experience (122 games combined between Double-A, Triple-A and the majors), something he showed during his brief big-league stint in 2022. He hasn’ t yet shown much power at the higher professional levels. In some ways, he’s reminiscent of the player he once played behind, Kirk, and Moreno’s 2023 fantasy appeal is similar, a higher-than-typical statistical floor with the potential to be a locked-in, top-10 positional option if he takes hold of the job come Opening Day.

Guriel could be the sneaky inclusion of the trade. He has at times shown good power throughout his career and has improved his contact rate in each of the past three seasons. Perhaps a change of scenery will do him good, though the move from Toronto’s Rogers Center to Arizona’s Chase Field represents a power downgrade, the latter more of a doubles-and-triples venue since the introduction of the humidor there a few years back. Gurriel’s big danger is that he’s joining a team with three young, left-handed, incumbent outfielders (Corbin Carroll, Jake McCarthy, Alek Thomas) as well as multiple designated hitter types (Pavin Smith, Seth Beer), putting him at risk of a weak-side platoon role. He’s worth a fourth-or-fifth-outfielder gamble in leagues that use that many, but be prepared to move on quickly if he starts the season slowly.

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