The thing about Jonathan India is that, when healthy, he’s a pretty damn fine offensive player. It’s been the ‘staying healthy’ part that’s been the biggest problem, especially when you consider that the injuries he has dealt with have been the kind that take his legs right out from under him.
Middle-infield defense is difficult enough with two healthy wheels. With a bum hamstring and plantar fasciitis, it’s downright impossible. Those are the two injuries that have sunk India over the last two seasons, and his defensive metrics have tanked accordingly.
It’s easy to forget that while he emerged in 2021 by Opening Day as the everyday, regular 2B for the Cincinnati Reds, it was basically at the big league level where he first cut his chops at the position. He was primarily a 3B during his college days at the University of Florida, playing a grand total of one game at 2B during his trio of years there. After being drafted by the Reds, he was primarily a 3B with some spot-starts at SS and a grand total of 5 games played at 2B between the 2018 and 2019 regular seasons at the minor league level, and he eventually played 5 more games at the keystone during the Arizona Fall League in 2019.
10 pro games at 2B, and then the lost 2020 season due to the COVID pandemic. Then, in 2021, an everyday player at the position after a year spent playing only at the alternate site in fanless stadiums. The hamstring blew in early 2022, and the plantar fasciitis flared up in late 2023, and he therefore hasn’t had a full, healthy season of play in either year since, meaning the experience he was asked to gain on the fly at the big league level at 2B has barely had any chance to materialize.
I led with how good of an offensive player he is (when healthy), and I’ll circle back to that here. After returning from the hamstring injury in 2022 (after just four games of rehab in AAA), he struggled mightily for about 20 games before finally finding his form somewhere around July 7th. He played in 73 games from that point until the end of the season, slashing a more than respectable .267/.351/.418 in 308 PA. When he opened the 2023 season, it was pretty clear he looked fully healthy again and had an entire offseason to prep for the 162 game grind, and he came out of the gate mashing - in 72 games to begin the year through June 18th, he hit a robust .272/.356/.442 in 320 PA before his foot began to bother him at some point that month, eventually sidelining him in late July after attempting to play through the pain.
That’s a 145 game stretch that ended 2022 and began 2023 in which he played as a mostly healthy, everyday 2B, and he hit a combined .270/.354/.430 during that span, a 113 wRC+ and .343 wOBA to his name with 18 homers and 14 steals. Among the 21 MLB 2Bs who logged at least 450 PA during that span, his .343 wOBA ranked 3rd among them, with only Luis Arraez (.351) and Jeff McNeil (.344) ahead of him. The defensive metrics at FanGraphs rated him as the 2nd worst defender of that group, but the 2.3 fWAR he accrued during that healthy stretch had him smack dab in the middle of the group and on nearly a ~3 fWAR pace over a 162 game season.
He’s not dirt cheap anymore now that he’s entering his first year of arbitration eligibility, but at an estimated $3.7 million he’s hardly expensive for that kind of production, when healthy.
The trade rumors surrounding India persist, as they likely will.
Jonathan India trade talks remain active, especially since the Reds have added Jeimer Candelario.— Jon Morosi (@jonmorosi) December 16, 2023
I'm told multiple teams are engaged with the Reds on India, who won't be eligible for free agency until after 2026.
India, 27, has played exclusively 2B in @MLB. @MLBNetwork
The presence of Christian Encarnacion-Strand, Noelvi Marte, Matt McLain, Elly De La Cruz, and Jeimer Candelario around the infield mix mean someone’s likely squeezed into a reduced role, if not traded, and that’s before we factor in the versatility of Spencer Steer. Five of those six are making the league-minimum salary, which is now some $3 million less than what India will command. In the vacuum that is ‘players in the MLB universe,’ that makes him an obvious trade chip for the notoriously frugal Reds, even though the departures of Joey Votto, Kevin Newman, et al have opened up the possibility for a robust rotation if manager David Bell can manage it.
What I’m getting at here, I believe, is that trading Jonathan India right now wouldn’t just be trading him at a low point, it would be trading him at an injured point - not that he’s injured right now, but the most recent two seasons on the back of his baseball card are directly impacted by having been injured. He’s not injured now, and now the Reds have the kind of talent and depth to rotate him and, in theory, give him a better chance of being healthy - and when he’s been healthy, he’s hit.
He’s undeniably an obvious trade chip given who the Reds are and what the Reds have. What might be the most prudent thing to do, however, is to give him the perfect opportunity to rebuild his value during a 2024 season where he starts four out of every five games as part of a dynamic infield mix that can keep his legs fresh underneath him. There’s nothing that says the Reds can’t try that and then shop him at the trade deadline, next winter, or still - gasp! - build around him going forward if he shows, once again, that he can knock the snot out of the ball when healthy.