We don’t know if Jonathan India will be a 2B for much, if any of the 2024 Cincinnati Reds season.
We don’t know if he’ll play 1B. We don’t know if he’ll play LF. We know he’ll probably DH, but only if the hamstring and foot injuries that have plagued him the last two seasons subside.
What we do know - and what Major League Baseball’s arbitration process knows - is that he was the 2021 National League Rookie of the Year, and was so deservingly. For all the qualms about what he’s not been the last two years, we all know that in his first season, when he was truly healthy, he hit the snot out of the ball en route to a ~4 WAR season and took home some hardware, hardware that arbitration values retroactively much moreso than the projections from MLB teams often advise.
On Friday, India and the Reds settled their ongoing salary dispute, avoiding arbitration by agreeing to a two-year contract that will guarantee him some $8.8 million over the next two seasons. There’s the potential for him to earn some $2.05 million in bonuses during the 2023 season should playing time and production go his way, as MLB.com’s Mark Sheldon relayed in a more detailed breakdown of his deal. If so, that would go as far as to allow him to earn effectively as much in 2024 than he will during his 2025 season that’s already on the books.
On the one hand, it seems like a bit of settling on India’s part. He initially filed for $4 million from the Reds in 2024 while the team countered at $3.2 million, and he didn’t let that go to the actual arbitration hearing. On top of that, while the $2.05 million in bonus potential is nice, if he excels the way he did when he was last healthy he’s already locked in a net-neutral raise for the 2025 season - something the arbitration process, especially for former NL ROY winners, is actively structured to prevent.
It’s guaranteed money, though, and perhaps he’s already conceded that there are precisely the kind of younger, cheaper options on the roster and in the farm who could deem him redundant before he could even get a guarantee for 2025 at all.
For the Reds, though, it seems to be yet another move for them that establishes cost certainty. They now know exactly what he’s on the books for both in 2024 and 2025, short of a relatively marginal set of bonuses, and that makes him both a fixed piece of the payroll and a more concrete trade chip when those inevitable discussions arise.
And, who knows? Maybe he takes to the corner OF and runs with it, or figures out how to hit LHP better than he ever has and eliminates his reputation as a reverse platoon split righty. Maybe, just maybe, he stays healthy and the cards fall in his favor, and he gets regular time at 2B and shows that he can (and has) improved there defensively. It’s not like he played there a ton collegiately or in his minor league days, anyway.
What I will say is that I don’t think the Reds signing Jonathan India for two-years instead of just one is an indication that they are more committed to him long-term than they were before the deal. If anything, I think it sets his price in stone, and that might actually make him more moveable when the time comes.