Daulton Varsho trade would give Padres top defensive OF in MLB

Sep 4, 2023; Oakland, California, USA; Toronto Blue Jays left fielder Daulton Varsho (25) returns to the dugout after making a catch to end the bottom of the first inning Oakland Athletics at Oakland-Alameda County Coliseum. Mandatory Credit: Kelley L Cox-USA TODAY Sports

Mandatory Credit: Reggie Hildred-USA TODAY Sports

The Padres are still in desperate need of viable outfielders. Toronto’s Daulton Varsho instantly would make the Padres one of the best defensive units in the league.

Fernando Tatis Jr. won the NL Gold Glove Award in right field in 2023, posting impressive defensive metrics in his opening year at the position. There wasn’t a single defensive metric where Tatis wasn’t at least in the 94th percentile. His arm strength rated in the 99th, with the fifth-most outfield assists in Major League Baseball. After a while, teams just simply stopped running against him.

He ranked second in all of baseball, regardless of position, with 27 Defensive Runs Saved. That earned him the NL Platinum Glove Award, the top defensive award given to the best fielder in each league.

There was only one player in the entire league with more Defensive Runs Saved than Tatis. That was Daulton Varsho, the outfielder for the Toronto Blue Jays.

It has become clear the Padres are not going to spend big on a flashy free agent to fill one of their open outfield spots. If a significant addition is to be made, it looks like the trade route is the best way. If the Padres were to trade for Varsho, they would instantly have the best defensive outfield in baseball, regardless of who plays left field next to him in center and Tatis in right.

Varsho is a defensive wizard. Since the start of 2022, no player has more Defensive Runs Saved that Varsho’s 48 in the outfield. In fact, the second place player is Cleveland’s Steven Kwan, at 31.

His 11 Outs Above Average last year for Toronto ranked in the 97th percentile, which was an even better mark than Tatis.

Varsho is extremely versatile. He posted 11 Defensive Runs saved in 117 games in left field last season, along with a whopping 18 in just 64 games in center. Not only that, he is a rare outfielder/catcher combo. He has caught 82 games over his big league career.

While the Padres likely wouldn’t ask him to be the backup catcher, there are a lot worse third or “emergency” catchers you can have than a guy with half a big league season’s worth of games behind the plate under his belt.

Certainly, there is concern with his bat. He hit .220 with a light-weight .674 OPS last season. However, the lefty also popped 20 homers for the Blue Jays, showing he can run into one at just about any moment. In fact, he has 47 homers over the last two seasons, as he spent 2022 with the Diamondbacks.

Given his defensive prowess and occasional power at the plate from the left side, he offers an attractive set of traits the Padres desperately covet.

Overall, Varsho earned 3.9 WAR in 2023. That would’ve ranked fourth among Padres position players last year. Compare that to Trent Grisham, who accumulated just 2.0.

Credit: Fox Sports

Now the issue, of course, is assuming the Blue Jays even want to deal him. He still has three seasons of arbitration, including 2024. If the Padres were to acquire him, they would have him for three full seasons while not yet 28 years old. Conversely, that might mean the Blue Jays are hesitant to move him.

On the Toronto side, they just re-signed another defensive guru in Kevin Kiermaier. If healthy, he is the assumed everyday centerfielder. They employ George Springer in right.

Meanwhile, Blue Jays fans desperately want a splash signing after the excruciating outcome of the Shohei Ohtani sweepstakes. Perhaps they want to clear room for a big outfield bat, such as Cody Bellinger, Jorge Soler, or Joc Pederson. If Varsho is still on the roster with those bats, his value would be slightly diminished.

His arbitration number for 2024 is nothing catastrophic, at roughly $5.6 million. That’s definitely within the Padres’ current, albeit tight, budget. Perhaps the Blue Jays are just $5-6 million away from feeling comfortable about adding Bellinger, who certainly will command a large-annual-value deal.

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Finally, with it being a trade, names in the swap should be discussed.

He’s certainly going to cost a bit since he’s under control for three years with Gold Glove-level defense and 20-homer power.

However, he also does not merit a blockbuster return of prospects. Defense-first players with a .715 lifetime OPS usually don’t and shouldn’t.

The Padres should be able to acquire him without touching any of their top 10 prospects. A.J. Preller certainly has a knack for creativity when making trades. It’s not hard to imagine he is itching to make one since the Padres have made basically one large trade this season (and arguably the biggest around the entire league). Plus, that was approaching two months ago.

In an All-Quiet-On-The-Western-Front offseason, for the most part, Preller needs to break the ice.

The Padres should not touch any players who might compete for a big league spot in the outfield over the next calendar year since this deal still leaves left field as a gaping hole. Assets in this trade should feature infield prospects or expendable pitchers.

Graham Pauley hit .308 between three levels in the San Diego organization last year. He displayed good power, with 23 homers combined at those stops while playing mostly third base. In case you haven’t heard, a guy named Manny Machado is likely going to be playing third base for the Padres for the better part of the next decade. Pauley might be able to be the future third baseman for Toronto.

Couple Pauley with a low-cost pitcher like Matt Waldron. The Padres could capitalize on his modest success late last season. That gives Toronto more big league-ready pitching depth without parting with any in this trade themselves.

Pauley and Waldron might be enough to get it done. If not, the Padres might throw in a lower-level pitcher. Either way, this deal would get the Padres outfield situation from basically a laughingstock to at least respectable.

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