Welcome back to Smash or Pass, a new offseason series in which we examine various free agents and trade targets to determine whether they make sense for the Red Sox. Today, we’re taking a look at a former Rookie of the Year at a position of need for the Red Sox: Jonathan India.
Who is he and where does he come from?
He’s second baseman Jonathan India, and he comes from the Cincinnati Reds. In fact, he became such a fan-favorite in Cincy that noted Reds fan and FOOTBAW! analyst Kirk Herbstreit made a complete ass of himself when Ken Rostenthal and C. Trent Rosecrans of The Athletic quite rationally pointed out that a positional crunch may behove the Reds to trade him in the near future.
Is he any good?
It’s amazing the way that certain things you experience as a child can stick with you forever, long after you’ve learned better, isn’t it? The 1997 Rookie of the Year awards loom large in my imagination, even all these years later. In the National League, we had Scott Rolen with the Phillies, who played incredible defense, got on base at a .377 clip, and showed emerging power as the began his Hall of Fame career. In the AL, of course, we had Nomar, who finished 8th in the MVP voting (he would finish second the next season and be a top 10 finisher 5 times), proving himself to be one of the single most dynamic players in the game. That was the first year I really cared about the Rookie of the Year awards, and because Nomar and Rolen were so incredible, I came to assume that the RoY winners would always turn into superstars.
In reality, the list of previous Rookie of the Year winners includes a whole lot of Michael Fulmers and Chris Coghlans to balance out the Nomars. The truth is that winning the RoY doesn’t even guarantee success in a player’s second season, let alone future stardom. But nevertheless, thanks to 1997, I still get a jolt of excitement when I see a recent RoY walk up to the plate.
Jonathan India was the National League Rookie of the Year in 2021, and my first instinct in answering the question “is he any good” is to point to that accolade and say yes, of course he is. India was outstanding in 2021. In fact, his offensive numbers actually looked a lot like Rolen’s in 1997: they both played over 150 games, they both hit exactly 21 homers, their unadjusted OPS’s were separated by just 11 points, and India hit 34 doubles with a .376 OBP to Rolen’s 35 and .377.
But, unfortunately for India, he hasn’t been able to replicate his 2021 form. The next season he battled injuries all year long, started just 98 games, and saw his slash line plummet to .249/.327/.378. He bounced back modestly at the beginning of 2023, hitting 14 homers through the first four months of the season, stealing bases, and showing elite plate discipline (his chase rate of 19.6% put him in the 93rd percentile of all big leaguers). But plantar fasciitis put him on the shelf for another extended IL stint and, even before the injury, his offensive numbers were mediocre at best, as he struggled to make hard contact.
And then there’s the issue of his glove, which, despite having good speed, has never been his strong suit and never will be. In fact, his career Outs Above Average sits at -23. That sounds pretty bad, right? Wrong — it’s actually horrendously bad, as it ranks dead last among all qualified second baseman over the past three seasons.
Tl;dr, just give me his 2023 stats.
119 G, .244/.338/.407, 17 HR, 23 2B, 14 SB, 109 K, 52 BB, 100 OPS+, -6 OAA, 1.4 bWAR.
Why would he be a good fit for the 2024 Boston Red Sox?
Well, someone has to play second base, right? As of today, the second base options on the Red Sox 40-man roster are Pablo Reyes, Enmanuel Valdez, David Hamilton, and, theoretically, Ceddanne Rafaela, who has barely played second base but who easily could. Even with his back-to-back disappointing seasons, India is a safe bet to out-produce Reyes and Hamilton at the plate. Valdez has a promising bat, but his glove is probably even worse than India’s. And with respect to Rafaela, it’s quite possible that his approach at the plate won’t work at the Major League level at all, and while he’s a defensive savant, that genius is wasted at second, as opposed to either shortstop or center field.
India is a right-handed bat with power that should play well at Fenway, a base-stealing threat, and, if he can recover his RoY form, a potential All-Star. You don’t have to squint too hard to see him giving the Sox a boost.
Why would he not be a good fit for the 2024 Boston Red Sox?
Well, someone has to play second base, but with defensive question marks all over the field, the Red Sox really aren’t in a position to give that job to a guy who might be the worst defensive second baseman in all of baseball. And if India can’t hit above a league-average level (and he hasn’t for two years in a row now) then he hardly has any value at all.
What would he cost?
Given that he’s young, under team control for three more seasons, and that his shiny 2021 season wasn’t all that long ago, he’s a decent buy-low candidate who could probably be had for a back-end starter. The Reds want pitching, and a deal involving Nick Pivetta or Josh Winckowski might get it done.
But while the Reds seem very likely to trade him (and it’s already been reported that they’ve engaged in talks to do so with several teams, including the Sox) he’s also seen as a strong clubhouse presence and a fan-favorite. Moreover, teams like the Dodgers, Mariners, and Blue Jays could all be interested, meaning his price could go a touch higher.
Show me a cool highlight.
An opposite field home run is cool. An opposite field home run that makes your bullpen mates cower in fear as it lands directly in a cup of coffee is even cooler.
Smash or pass?
The 2021 version of Jonathan India would look wonderful in the Red Sox lineup. But there’s no guarantee we ever see that version again and no one wants to see his glove in the infield. The Sox should absolutely be looking to upgrade at second base, but if India is the best they can do, then it’s a pass for me. At that point, the Sox might as well just go with a Rafaela-Story middle infield combo (preferably with Rafaela on the left side) which might turn out to be one of the best defensive middle infield combinations in recent memory.