Jonathan India on the move?
In recent days, there has been considerable buzz that Cincinnati Reds second baseman and former Rookie of the Year winner Jonathan India could be on the trade market. Reds president of baseball operations Nick Krall had this to say regarding India's availability on Friday:
"I wouldn’t say we are motivated. If a deal comes around, we have to be open to anything. But just motivated to move players off your roster just because ’that guy might not fit (a specific spot).’ That doesn’t make any sense."- Nick Krall
This is typical baseball executive talk. Krall is not going to say that India is being aggressively shopped to teams. In order to keep his leverage he needs teams to buy into the possibility that he could walk away from trade discussions and decide to keep India if their offer is not up to his liking. What Krall does say here is that India is available for the right offer.
It makes sense from a roster construction perspective for the Reds to pursue trading India. The Reds had four standout rookies debut on their infield this year. Christian Encarnacion-Strand at first base, Matt McLain at second base, Elly De La Cruz at shortstop, and Noelvi Marte at third base would be the natural alignment. This would leave no room for India and FanGraphs' Roster Resource agrees as they have India locked into DH for the upcoming season. India has struggled to recapture his Rookie of the Year offensive production and the Reds surely know they can do better than a player coming off two below average offensive seasons at their designated hitter position.
Let's start with India's strengths. He has an excellent batter's eye and takes professional at bats. India's Chase% (out of zone swing rate) ranked in the 93rd percentile this year and has never ranked below the 75th percentile in his career. India has also showed that he has above average bat to ball skills. This is a good combination for not only avoiding strikeouts but taking walks on a consistent basis. India's 0.48 BB/K (walk to strikeout ratio) is the same as George Springer and Francisco Lindor. India also hits a lot of line drives which is always a positive in a hitter because of how well line drives perform on average compared to groundballs and flyballs. Line drive hitters tend to run high BABIPs (batting average on balls in play).
India's 2023 season resulted in just a .746 OPS which is a 100 OPS+ when adjusted for how hitter-friendly Great American Ball Park is. His wRC+ was very similar at 99. Therefore, India was almost exactly a league-average hitter this year.
In 2022, he posted a 96 wRC+ and in 2021, he posted a 122 wRC+ (his ROTY campaign). The expected stats liked India's offensive performance this year as he had a .339 xwOBA (expected weighted on base average) which is mostly formulated using launch angles and exit velocities. This was in the 65th percentile. India's issues offensively stem from his inability to consistently make hard contact, especially in the air. His exit velocities are average at best and too much of his best contact comes on the ground. His barrel rate (a measure of hard hit balls in the air) was below average this year and was far worse in 2022. The effect of his home ballpark is taken into account in a stat like wRC+ but it's worth mentioning that his 17 home runs this year are an overestimation of his true home run talent. His expected home run total was just 14.6 and he had just 4 "No Doubters" per Baseball Savant. When you take all these factors into consideration, it's fair to project India as an average offensive producer in 2024. Steamer projections are a bit higher than that and pin him at a 106 wRC+ for next year. Across MLB this year, second baseman had a 98 wRC+ on average so India is a tick above average at the position. He's not a bad hitter but for a team needing power like the Blue Jays do, he isn't a great fit.
A year after the Blue Jays prioritized team defense to the point of winning a Team Gold Glove and finishing 6th in runs allowed, it would be a bit of step back to go after someone like India who struggles to hold his own defensively at second base. Here is India's Outs Above Average (OAA) total and his Defensive Runs Saved (DRS) total over the course of his 3 year MLB career.
In a stat where 0 is considered average, it's clear to see that India is a well-below-average defender at second base. With a history this bad, you have to ask whether India should move off second base altogether. The issue is that India lacks the arm strength or accuracy for third base where he has to make quicker decisions and his range and actions are obviously not cutting it on the middle infield. Unless you teach him the outfield, this leaves first base as his defensive home. An average hitter at first base is simply not an MLB-caliber regular on a team that needs offense.
Additionally, India has struggled to stay healthy in recent seasons. He played in just 103 games in 2022 due to a hamstring injury. In 2023, he missed time due to plantar fasciitis after initially trying to play through it and this limited him to 119 games.
How would he fit?
Assuming you have to play India at second or third base, this would be a significant defensive step down from any of the Blue Jays current options. Cavan Biggio, Davis Schneider, and Santiago Espinal have all showed more defensively over the course of their careers than India has. Names at Triple-A like Orelvis Martinez, Addison Barger, and Damiano Palmegiani may not be proven MLB defenders yet but they have potential to be better than India defensively and have considerably more offensive potential because of their power. Even a light hitting but sure-handed middle infielder like Leo Jimenez could potentially be a similarly valuable option as India.
Considering the Blue Jays' wealth of intriguing options on the infield and the fact that you'd likely have to give up a major league ready piece or two in order to acquire India, a deal like this wouldn't make much sense for the Jays. If they go the trade route when looking for an infielder there are other options that have more to like.
Twins infielder Jorge Polanco who appears to be available struggles defensively like India but would bring considerably more thump to the lineup (116 wRC+ since the start of 2018) and would cost a similar amount given money and years of control.
Mariners third baseman Eugenio Suárez has been linked to the Blue Jays and brings premium defense and better overall offense than India. Suarez again would only cost a similar amount compared to India given money and years of control.
The Blue Jays could also opt to shop in the free agent market for a name like Jeimer Candelario or old friend Matt Chapman. Even a bounce back candidate like Amed Rosario or Tim Anderson could prove more worthwhile given the cost difference. It's worth noting that Steamer projections project both Rosario and Anderson to have a higher fWAR total than India next year.
All in all, Jonathan India is a name that the Blue Jays should be looking to avoid from a player perspective as well as a fit perspective. Let another team take the chance on him finding his 2021 offense or figuring out his defense.