It was Bye-Bye Blue Jays, hello World Series for two Diamondbacks

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In the second part of six-part series, Rob Longley breaks down what lies ahead for the Blue Jays after a disappointing 2023

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The 2023 World Series will begin 383 days after Lourdes Gurriel Jr. and Gabriel Moreno were effectively finished as Blue Jays, their time in Toronto ending quietly with the only Major League Baseball team they’d known.

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Moreno was the third catcher on the Jays team that suffered an epic collapse against the Seattle Mariners, Gurriel left off the doomed playoff roster due to injury.

The subsequent expulsion of those two, plus Teoscar Hernandez being dealt to Seattle, were the triggers of a thematic change to the Jays roster that didn’t exactly cash in.

But life couldn’t be more different now for Gurriel and Moreno, two important pieces for the National League-champion Arizona Diamondbacks, who will begin play in the World Series on Friday in Texas.

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Nor for the Jays, quite obviously.

“You can’t evaluate a trade in the short term,” team president Mark Shapiro said earlier this month, referring to the move that brought outfielder Daulton Varsho to the Jays. “You’ve got to give it four or five years to understand whether a trade was effective or not.

“Over the season I still feel like that was a good trade.”

It is, however, a deal that may haunt the Jays for the better part of a decade.

Shapiro’s rationale aside, should the Diamondbacks knock off the Rangers in the best-of-seven championship series, it’s an instant loss for the Jays — and a rather significant one.

Over the season, I still feel like that was a good trade.

Mark Shapiro on the Daulton Varsho deal

Put it simply: A trade designed to help lift the Jays to a Fall Classic as early as this year, instead did the same to the other party in the transaction.

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But this is not another hot-take swing at the low-hanging fruit submission that the Ross Atkins-orchestrated deal was the worst in club history because it likely isn’t.

It does, however, further sting in the aftermath of a Jays playoff “run” that lasted all of two games (again) with two runs scored. The fact that Moreno and Gurriel, hitting high in the D-backs order, certainly provides some painful piling on.

The fact is the Jays felt the effects of the trade long before Arizona launched its unlikely cruise through the Brewers, Dodgers and Phillies.

It started in spring training, when catcher Alejandro Kirk reported late after awaiting the birth of his first child and clearly not in physical condition to begin such an important season in his career. Kirk never truly recovered and, although he was fine defensively, regressed significantly at the plate.

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Danny Jansen, the stable figure at the catcher position, once again battled injury in 2023 and continued a frustrating career trend of bad luck despite some renewed power and production at the plate.

The fact that the Jays felt that they were solid enough at the catcher position to swap a top prospect for a corner outfielder seems like a gross miscalculation — and not just in hindsight.

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Circling back to Moreno, his performance this post-season is precisely what was feared by his supporters both in and outside of the Toronto organization.

His elite defensive skills have earned rave reviews on the Snakes’ magical October run and the blossoming performance has included some slugging at the plate, a feature not often on display during his days developing in the minors.

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Moreno has been comfortable and productive in key situations while hitting third in the D-backs lineup. Varsho, meanwhile, started his Jays career hitting cleanup, but plunged all the way to ninth, where he was a non-factor 0-for-5 in the abbreviated playoff loss to the Twins.

(We interrupt the Moreno love-in to note that we believe considerable upside remains in Varsho, an elite defender with game-changing skill in the outfield. He’s young, has room to improve and can hit for power, albeit far too erratically.)

Moreno, however, is the type of player who could be a difference-maker and an all-star for years. There is a reason there would have been heated debate among Jays executives about dealing the 23-year-old Venezuelan. Those that saw the upside would certainly have feared parting with the club’s top-ranked prospect, a home-grown talent touted for exceptional things.

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He may be the gift that keeps on giving for his new team, a reality that has the potential to haunt Atkins and Shapiro long after they leave Toronto.

It certainly didn’t help that Gurriel was included as a throw-in, though let’s not lapse into revisionist history about his star power with the Jays.

While popular in the dugout, Gurriel was often a liability in the outfield position now aced by Varsho and was wildly inconsistent at the plate. His 2022 numbers were modest thanks to a nagging wrist injury that was surgically repaired in the off-season.

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The 24 home runs in Arizona were a career high for the Cuban, who will be a free agent next month. He was certainly a fan favourite in Toronto and the 2021 version of Gurriel, anyway, was one that fit nicely in a more electric Toronto offence.

And now he will join Moreno in facing the Rangers and former teammate Marcus Semien, in the showcase event of the sport and, with it, the potential for a nightly revisit of the biggest move of a 2022 Jays off-season that proved fruitless.

Grade the trade in four years all you want, but if the Diamondbacks walk away with a World Series title in Year 1, it will feel like a swapping swindle for the ages.

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