Looking back at the worst moves of the Ross Atkins era

Photo credit:Rich Storry-USA TODAY Sports
Brennan Delaney
2 months ago
It’s been a year since the Daulton Varsho trade, which may go down as one of the worst moves from this front office.
So in honour of that, we’re going to look at the worst moves from the Ross Atkins and Mark Shapiro era in this article, as well as their best moves in an upcoming article. It’s only fitting we start with the Varsho trade.

Blue Jays trade Gabriel Moreno and Lourdes Gurriel Jr. to Arizona:

Two days before Christmas 2022, the Blue Jays moved a top catching prospect in Moreno as well as long-time Blue Jay Gurriel Jr. for an outfielder.
On paper, this trade made sense, as the Jays had one of the best catching tandems in baseball between Alejandro Kirk and Danny Jansen. As for Arizona, they had (and still have) a ton of left-handed batting outfielders, with top prospect Corbin Carroll on the way.
It was a heavy price to pay for Varsho, who slashed .235/.302/.443 with 27 home runs in 592 plate appearances with Arizona in 2022 for a 107 wRC+. Varsho also had a 4.8 fWAR, mainly due to Gold Glove calibre defence in right field and centre field.
So how’d everyone do in the trade? In his first season in Toronto, Varsho slashed .220/.285/.389 with 20 home runs in 581 plate appearances for an 85 wRC+. Furthermore, his fWAR dropped to 2.1 despite Varsho putting up 29 Defensive Runs Saved in 1280 innings in the outfield. This was in large part because he only played 462.1 innings in centre, and 817.2 innings in left field.
Former top prospect Gabriel Moreno had a slightly better season with the bat, slashing .284/.339/.408 with seven homers in 380 plate appearances for a 103 wRC+. Despite playing the most important position on the field – and doing it well as he had the highest DRS for a catcher at 20 – Moreno only had a 1.7 fWAR. After starting the playoffs hot, Moreno cooled down considerably and slashed just .238/.304/.444 with four homers in 70 plate appearances for a 101 wRC+.
Surprisingly, Gurriel Jr. tied Varsho in fWAR, as he slashed .261/.309/.463 with a career-high 24 homers in 592 plate appearances. Still, his 106 wRC+ highest second-lowest total of his career, barely edging out his rookie season’s 102 wRC+. Gurriel Jr. is no Varsho in the outfield, but he managed to post a career-high 14 DRS, and even had an Outs Above Average over 0 for the first time, posting a 1 OAA.
Both players that headed to Arizona were better with the bat, but Varsho’s defensive value cannot be understated. Had he played centre field full time, he’d have likely had more fWAR than both Moreno and Gurriel Jr. combined.
It’s still way too soon to judge this trade, as it really depends what Varsho can do with the bat next season and how Moreno pans out moving forward. There’s also the added factor of Kirk’s poor performance with the bat in 2022, but if he can find his Silver Slugger form as he had in 2022, it’d help soften the blow if this trade is a loss.

Blue Jays trade Nick Frasso to the Dodgers for Mitch White:

This is yet another trade that could be bad for the Jays in the future, but hasn’t quite hurt them just yet.
Frasso burst onto the scene in 2022 after missing most of 2021 with a variation of Tommy John surgery. Before the trade to the Dodgers at the deadline in 2022, Frasso had a 0.74 ERA and a 1.71 FIP in 36.2 innings pitched, along with a 41.6 K% and a 7.3 BB% for the Single-A Dunedin Blue Jays and the High-A Vancouver Canadians. Now, it’s important to remember Frasso was a 23-year-old in the lower minors, but the stuff is so damn intriguing.
So damn intriguing in fact, that the Dodgers added him to their 40-man roster to protect him for the Rule 5 draft. In his first full season with the Dodgers organization, Frasso had a 3.77 ERA and a 3.33 FIP in Double-A and Triple-A, along with a 26.8 K% and a 7.8 BB%. He didn’t necessarily hit a wall in the upper minors, but his stats were just a little bit less impressive.
On the opposite end of the spectrum, Mitch White did not impress during his time with the Blue Jays. White has pitched 55.2 innings with the Jays, and has a 7.60 ERA and a 4.03 FIP, along with a 16.7 K% and an 8.7 BB%. In terms of limiting home runs, White has been great! It’s the 7.60 ERA that is uh, not so great.
There was an opportunity for the Jays to actually lose White, as the organization designated him for assignment in late-July, but he cleared waivers. Interestingly, the 28-year-old found success after being removed from the 40-man roster, as he posted a 3 ERA and a 4.32 FIP in 36 innings pitched with the Buffalo Bisons, along with a rather impressive 30.3 K% and a 10.5 BB%.
If you remove his first two starts where he was hit hard, White finished the year with a 1.89 ERA and a 3.21  FIP in 33.1 innings pitched, along with a 31.4 K% and a 10.2 BB%. This was so impressive that the Jays actually added him back to the 40-man roster to protect him from the Rule 5 draft.
With all that being said, White still has an upward battle ahead of him, as he has no option years remaining. This means that he’ll need to win a spot on the Jays 26-man roster to start the season, or once again be designated for assignment where a team will surely pick him up unless the Jays trade him.
There were also other prospects involved in the trade. Alex De Jesus played with High-A Vancouver and slashed .248/.340/.466 with 11 homers in 344 plate appearances for a 114 wRC+, and also hit for his second-career cycle. Moises Brito, 20, pitched 45 innings between the Dodgers Dominican Summer League team and Arizona Complex League team, posting a 2.80 ERA and a 2.98 FIP, along with a 33.7 K% and a 7 BB%. However, a 21-year-old pitcher dominating the DSL isn’t all that impressive, and he’ll be tested in Arizona next season.

The Josh Donaldson Fiasco:

Toronto traded Josh Donaldson to Cleveland on August 31, 2018 through the trade waivers deadline, which no longer exists. In return, they received hard-throwing Julian Merryweather, who never really figured it out with the Jays before he was designated for assignment in January 2023.
That’s obviously a pretty terrible return for the 2015 American League MVP and a pretty notable rental, especially considering that the Cardinals reportedly offered Jack Flaherty, who had one really good season in 2019 before a whole bunch of mid-seasons.
Realistically, you could say that the Jays just waited too long to start the rebuild, as Donaldson probably should have been moved at the 2017 trade deadline, or the ensuing off-season. It doesn’t help that he got injured midway through the season, which significantly impacted his trade value.
Still, you just wish they got more for a former MVP.

Rapid fire time:

In this section, we’ll look at some trades that weren’t so good, but not notable enough to write an entire section on.
The Jonathan Villar trade was not really much of a trade as they only moved Griffin Conine, a home run hitter with 91 plate appearances in Triple-A as a 26-year-old. The only reason why this trade is notable is because Villar walked out on the Jays because he was pinch hit for. The other moves at the 2020 deadline were good, though.
Signing Tanner Roark was… interesting. Were the Jays expecting to be good in 2020? No idea, but they signed Roark to a two-year, $24 million deal heading into the 2020 season. Prior to the signing, he had a 3.71 ERA and a 4.02 FIP in 1100 innings pitched, totally respectable numbers. As a Blue Jay, he had a 6.75 ERA and a 7.03 FIP in 54.2 innings pitched before being designated for assignment.
Trading for Brad Hand was a mistake.The Blue Jays moved catcher Riley Adams (they had five catchers on the 40-man roster) for the left-handed pitcher who had a 3.59 ERA and a 4.34 FIP in 42.2 innings pitched with the Washington Nationals. With the Jays, he only pitched 8.2 innings, but had a 7.27 ERA and a 7.55 FIP before being designated for assignment, and then proceeding to own a 2.70 ERA and a 3.40 FIP in 13.1 innings with the Mets.
The three trades with the Cardinals at the 2023 deadline have the potential to be pretty bad. The Jays traded Adam Kloffenstein and Sem Robberse for Jordan Hicks, Sammy Hernandez for Génesis Cabrera, and Matt Svanson for Paul DeJong. Kloffenstein and Robberse were added to the Cardinals 40-man roster to protect them from the Rule 5 draft, while Svanson was great in their Double-A bullpen, and Hernandez has an intriguing blend of power and defence prowess behind the plate. The Jays received three major league players, but they may have already lost two of the three trades.
So yeah, they’ve made two trades that look bad, but could turn out okay, mismanaged another trade, and made several acquisitions that were  basically a nothing move, but were annoying. The front office isn’t perfect and leaves a lot to be desired, but they usually come out winners in trades, as we’ll learn in the next article.

As always, you can follow me on Twitter, Instagram, and Threads @Brennan_L_D.


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