The Astros and Diamondbacks have had recent trade discussions regarding Arizona outfielder Daulton Varsho, reports Bob Nightengale of USA Today (Twitter link). There’s no indication the sides are anywhere close on a deal at the moment, with Nightengale unsurprisingly adding the Snakes’ asking price is high.
Varsho has been the subject of frequent trade chatter this offseason alongside outfield mates Alek Thomas and Jake McCarthy. Arizona has shown a willingness to listen to offers on their glut of talented young, left-handed hitting outfielders — other than Corbin Carroll, who appears off the table. The D-Backs aren’t planning to move anyone of that group for prospects, but they’re eyeing ways to balance their roster by dealing from an area of strength. Nick Piecoro of the Arizona Republic and Chandler Rome of the Houston Chronicle each wrote last week the Astros were exploring trade possibilities in the D-Backs outfield, and Nightengale’s report suggests Varsho is a player they’re targeting.
The 26-year-old Varsho has the most trade appeal of any of the players the Diamondbacks could ostensibly deal. A catching prospect coming out of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, he’s seen increasing work in the outfield in pro ball. That has suited him exceptionally well, as Varsho is a better athlete than one might expect for a player with his catching background. He has quickly developed into one of the sport’s top defensive outfielders, posting elite marks that earned him some consideration in this year’s NL Gold Glove voting in right field.
Varsho logged 920 1/3 innings in the outfield this past season, splitting his time between right (541 2/3) and center (378 2/3). He drew resoundingly strong marks from public metrics at both spots. Defensive Runs Saved pegged him as 19 runs above average, while Statcast estimated he was 16 runs above par. The latter mark tied San Diego’s Trent Grisham for most in the majors among outfielders. Varsho’s an above-average runner who got excellent marks from Statcast for his reads and first step off the bat, belying his lack of experience in the outfield.
The Diamondbacks also gave him 175 innings behind the plate, but his days as a catcher in Arizona seem to be in the rearview mirror. Varsho’s last start there came on June 9, with organization apparently deciding he was too gifted an outfielder to continue putting him behind the dish. He’s at least capable of moonlighting back there if needed, but his defensive ability as a catcher has long been questioned by scouts and advanced metrics alike. Any team trading for Varsho at this point would do so primarily to play him in the outfield.
Varsho has a more mixed offensive track record, but he’s coming off his best season to date. Through 592 plate appearances, he hit .235/.302/.443 and slugged 27 home runs. His batted ball metrics weren’t quite so impressive, as he ranked right around league average in both average exit velocity and hard contact rate. Varsho also has rather extreme platoon splits over the course of his career, with virtually all his damage done against right-handed pitching. He carries a .234/.276/.339 line in 255 plate appearances against lefties compared to a .233/.315/.465 mark in 767 looks against right-handers.
Those mid-tier hard contact numbers and marked platoon splits might give other teams pause about Varsho’s ability to consistently sustain above-average offensive production. Still, there’s room for him to remain a quality even if his performance takes a slight step back from this year’s marks. He’s a solid hitter against right-handed pitching whose stellar glove means he doesn’t solely need to work with favorable platoon matchups. Varsho also rates well as a baserunner and has gone 25 of 32 in his career on stolen base attempts.
With two years and 128 days of MLB service, Varsho qualified for arbitration as a Super Two player this winter. He’s projected by MLBTR contributor Matt Swartz for a $2.8MM salary, and he’ll remain under club control through the end of the 2026 campaign. With four affordable seasons of control and a well-rounded profile, the D-Backs can justifiably ask for a major return.
Houston already has Kyle Tucker locked into right field, but they’re facing some questions at the other two spots. Chas McCormick is a solid option to play center, although the Astros have given some consideration to taking a swing at a star trade acquisition at the position. Left field is a complete question mark with Michael Brantley hitting free agency. The Astros are known to want a left-handed hitting outfielder, and they’ve been tied to free agent possibilities like Brantley, Michael Conforto and Andrew Benintendi. It’s little surprise they’d check in on Varsho as well, particularly since he could also cover center field on days when Houston wants to pencil Yordan Alvarez into left.
It’s unclear what the Diamondbacks would want back from Houston to push a Varsho deal over the line. Given Arizona’s need for starting pitching behind Zac Gallen and Merrill Kelly, however, it’s easy to draw a speculative line to the Astros collection of excellent young starters. Players like Luis Garcia, Cristian Javier and top prospect Hunter Brown could each be of interest to Arizona GM Mike Hazen and his staff. That’s true to a lesser extent of José Urquidy, although he’d likely be more of a secondary piece if included as part of any Varsho deal.
D-Backs pitching coach Brent Strom is plenty familiar with that group from his days holding the same position in Houston. Whether the Astros would deal from their rotation depth after watching Justin Verlander depart seems an open question, but it’s at least plausible the teams could line up on an outfielder for starting pitcher swap given their respective areas of strength.
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