Tigers Trade Targets: Could they have interest in Reds second baseman Jonathan India?

Bless You Boys

As we move into the busy part of the offseason, it is seemingly becoming more likely that the Reds are going to trade starting second baseman Jonathan India. While Nick Krall, the president of baseball operations for Cincinnati, has stated that they aren’t motivated to move him, his name continues to pop up among baseball’s most respected beat writers, and where there’s smoke, there’s fire.

Enter the Detroit Tigers. The Tigers are a team on the rise and have a nucleus of young talent that could have them competitive in a weakened AL Central Division as soon as this upcoming season. Between Tarik Skubal, Spencer Torkelson, Kerry Carpenter, and (hopefully) healthy Riley Greene and Casey Mize, the Tigers should be looking for players that not only complement the core but also fit the timeline. Scott Harris already added a quality veteran outfield bat in Mark Canha, but there’s still plenty of room for reinforcements.

Since Ian Kinsler was traded following the conclusion of the 2017 season, second base has been a revolving door in Detroit. Off the top of my head, here is an incomplete list of guys that have played second base since 2018: Niko Goodrum, Gordon Beckham, Harold Castro, Willi Castro, Jonathan Schoop, Zack McKinstry, and Andy Ibáñez. I bet that trip down memory lane stokes all sorts of feelings. Probably not a whole lot of good ones, either.

Jonathan India is far from a perfect player, but he’s only 26-years-old, has three years until he hits free agency, and has the control of the strikezone that has been a staple of Scott Harris’s acquisitions. He could be the answer to the Tigers’ woes at second base — for the right price.

India won the 2021 National League Rookie of the Year as a 24-year-old. That season he was worth 3.1 fWAR in 150 games with 122 wRC+, a .376 on-base-percentage and a .190 ISO. India hit 21 home runs and drove in 69 runs — obligatory “nice” comment — while walking 11.3% of the time. He also stole 12 bases and played average defense.

Since his breakout campaign, India has struggled to stay on the field. In 2022 he only played 103 games due to a nagging hamstring injury, and his numbers on both sides of the ball took a dip. Last season he spent time on the injured list with plantar fascitis. In 119 games he saw better results than 2022, but still only mustered 1.2 fWAR with 99 wRC+.

Peek under the surface and there’s quite a bit to like about India’s approach. His expected wOBA last year was 12 points higher than his actual. His chase-rate is in the 93rd percentile in baseball. He’s above average in whiffs, strikeouts, and walks. His base running value is in the 84th percentile in baseball and his spray chart shows that he has power to all fields. That’s the profile of a player that should be a solidly above average producer on offense, and also the profile of a player that Scott Harris has shown a lot of love to.

Jonathan India 2021-2023

Season PA wRC+ K% BB% ISO HR SB fWAR
Season PA wRC+ K% BB% ISO HR SB fWAR
2021 631 122 22.3 11.3 0.190 21 12 3.1
2022 431 96 21.8 7.2 0.130 10 3 0.5
2023 529 99 20.6 9.8 0.163 17 14 1.2

When trading for a player like Jonathan India, it’s about perceived value for both sides of the transaction. The famously penny-pinching Reds have a glut of infield prospects that are pushing for playing time, and although India is by no means old and expensive, he’s not as young nor as cheap as Matt McLain and Elly De La Cruz, who both look like stars in the making. At this point, India’s most valuable to the Reds as a trade piece who can bring them back the starting pitching that they so desperately lacked for the stretch run. For the Tigers, you’re thrilled by what India could be, but you also have to understand what India currently is: a replacement level infielder with upside.

India has the tools to be the hitter that won him the rookie of the year award, but he needs stay on the field to prove it. I’m not a doctor, but a hamstring injury and plantar fascitis seem unrelated. Still, it’s been two straight seasons of missing significant time with nagging injuries. Whether the issues led to a drop in defensive value, no one really knows, but he’s been well below average at second base after a rock solid rookie campaign there.

The Reds are targeting starting pitching, but given his most recent seasons and the fact that he’s arbitration eligible now, I can’t envision a contender giving up a top starting prospect or anything more than a backend rotational piece. Given the departure of Eduardo Rodriguez, the Tigers are in the market for starting pitching as well, so they don’t seem like a great match from the Reds perspective.

If the Tigers do pursue India though, off the cuff I’d guess the Reds ask for Matt Manning or Reese Olson. I’m higher on Olson than I am on Manning, and Olson has more team control as well, so he’d be a non-starter for me. Manning, on the other hand, has pitched better than his peripheral statistics would suggest, but he’s had trouble staying on the field due to injuries, even if some of them have been pure bad luck. Manning has one more season before he’s arbitration eligible, but the swap is intriguing considering it’s two players with injury issues that both organizations would hope to get more from. This trade feels very “meh” for both sides, which might mean it could work.

The other thing to consider for the Tigers are the in-house alternatives. Aside from Andy Ibáñez, who had a good year, Colt Keith played second base for Erie and Toledo last season and doesn’t have anything more to prove in the minors. Funny enough, both Keith and India project for the same 2024 offensive output according to Fangraphs. Jace Jung is also moving quickly through the system. For that reason, maybe Matt Manning becomes an overpay in the eyes of the Tigers’ front office.

Still, Keith and Jung are prospects while India has shown that he can be an above average major league player. He’s also a solid right-handed bat on a team that could use a bit more balance in that regard.

Whatever happens, Jonathan India will make an interesting case to follow this offseason. The Reds will shop him as if he’s the same guy who burst onto the scene in 2021, while opponents will try to buy him as the injury-prone replacement level player he’s been the last two years.

The Tigers need an upgrade at second base, or in the infield more generally, but it’s not clear how much of an upgrade India would represent. If the Reds expect a major league starting pitcher, I’d probably balk at that price. However, if the Reds are set on trading him and come down off the asking price, building a package around a high minors starting pitcher like Ty Madden would be a solid starting point from Detroit’s perspective.

If the Tigers believe they can get India back on track and producing like he did before the injury bug started biting, it’s worth investigating.

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