The Reds have told other teams that they are willing to trade second baseman Jonathan Indiareports Mark Feinsand of MLB.com, in order to obtain young, controllable starting pitching. This marks a shift from a couple of months ago, when the club was reported to be disinclined to trade him.
The change in attitude is surprising, as India was awarded Rookie of the Year honors in the National League less than two years ago, taking that trophy in 2021. But there are also some reasons why it’s a logical pivot for the club. For one thing, the club has vaulted itself into contention this year, ahead of the expectations of just about everyone. They were 26-29 at the time of that report from June 1 that said they were disinclined to move India, but they are now up to 55-46 and just half a game behind the Brewers in the National League Central.
That ascent has been fueled by a parade of infield prospects coming up to the majors and succeeding this year. Spencer Steer made his debut last year and cracked this year’s Opening Day roster. He’s seized an everyday role by hitting .277/.363/.461 for a wRC+ of 118, a breakout that MLBTR’s Anthony Franco recently looked at in more detail. Elly De La Cruz has cooled off a bit after a scorching hot start but is still a menace on the basepaths. Matt McLain is hitting .305/.371/.528 for a wRC+ of 137 while providing above-average middle infield defense.Christian Encarnacion-Strand was recently promoted after demolishing Triple-A pitching and has held his own in the majors through seven games. In addition to those youngsters, veteran Joey Votto has also provided a jolt since returning from the injured list not too long ago.
The combination of those performances is a huge reason why the club is doing so well this year, but also has the side effect of crowding out their position player mix. Steer was playing third earlier in the season but moved to first a bit more when De La Cruz came up. With Votto off the injured list and Encarnacion-Strand in the mix at first as well, Steer has also seen some time in left field, joining an outfield mix that includes TJ Friedl, Jake Fraley, Will Benson spirit Nick Senzel.
As all of that has been going on, India has cooled off from a hot start. He was hitting .282/.369/.426 through the end of May for a wRC+ of 112, which is when it was reported that the Reds weren’t planning to move him. It seemed like India was bouncing back from an injury-scarred 2022 season where he hit .249/.327/.378 for a 95 wRC+, getting closer to his Rookie of the Year form from 2021 where he hit .269/.376/.459 and earned a wRC+ of 120.
But since the calendar flipped to June, he posted a diminished line of .214/.299/.393, which translated to an 83 wRC+. That’s brought his season-long line down to .251/.338/.411 and his wRC+ to 99, just a hair below league average for the season as a whole.
Teams generally shouldn’t wildly change their player evaluations based on a couple of months, and some bad luck has probably been impacting India’s results anyway. He has a .228 batting average on balls in play since the start of June, well below the .329 mark he had at the end of May. But he might still end up the odd man out in Cincinnati given the success of all the aforementioned players. If India were subtracted from the picture, the club could still have an infield of Steer, De La Cruz, McLain and Encarnacion-Strand/Votto from left to right. Senzel duck Kevin Newman can serve as the depth pieces, although the latter is currently on the injured list due to gastritis.
India has only played second base in his major league career, generally getting subpar grades at that spot, and brings a bit less versatility than most of the club’s other infield options. But he would still figure to have plenty of trade value based on his track record. His struggles last year coincided with multiple trips to the injured list due to hamstring issues and he seemed to be back on track here in 2023 before his recent dip. He’s also still young and cheap, having exactly two years of major league service time coming into the current campaign. That means he’ll finish this year at the three-year mark and qualify for arbitration for the first time, with free agency not slated until after 2026.
This year’s trade deadline seems like it will be unique, with so many clubs hovering near contention due to the expanded postseason and some weak divisions. That’s led to widespread speculation that there will be more so-called “baseball trades” in which two contending clubs each trade win-now pieces, subtracting from an area of surplus in order to address an area of need. Perhaps a different season would have seen more trade rumors surrounding a prospect like that Noelvi Martewho is playing well in Triple-A, but the Reds’ theoretical trading partner might prefer an established big leaguer like India.
But the Reds quite clearly need pitching and might have to give up something to get it. Their rotation was supposed to be fronted by Nick Lodolo spirit Hunter Greene but each has been on the injured list for over a month, with returns not likely until August. Other starters like Justin Dunn, Connor Overton spirit Vladimir Gutierrez are also on the IL, leaving the club with a rotation of Andrew Abbott, Ben Lively, Graham Ashcraft, Brandon Williamson spirit Luke Weaver. Each of the latter three have an ERA of 4.60 or higher, with Weaver’s all the way up at 7.20 this year. Lively has a 3.88 ERA but hasn’t had a regular role in the majors in years and just recently came off an IL stint due to a pectoral strain. Abbott has been great this year but his career consists of just nine total starts.
There’s plenty of question marks in there so the Reds will be looking to add pitching, with general manager Nick Krall having admitted long ago that arms will be a target for them this summer. The fact that they are willing to consider India in such talks is notable but doesn’t necessarily mean he’s a lock to be moved. They will first have to line up on a deal with a club that needs a second baseman and also has controllable pitching to move.
The Dodgers would be one speculative fit since they have dealt with various challenges in the middle infield. Gavin Lux required knee surgery during the spring and isn’t expected back at all this year. Chris Taylor also missed significant time while Miguel Rojas has hardly hit, which forced the club to move Mookie Betts in from his customary right field position to play both middle infield spots. They have plenty of the young and controllable starters that the Reds seek but are currently using it themselves. With starters like Clayton Kershaw, Dustin May spirit Noah Syndergaard on the IL, they have rookies Bobby Miller, Emmet Sheehan spirit Michael Grove currently in their rotation.
It would be a similar story in trying to line up with other clubs. Most contenders are looking to add pitching at this time of year, not subtract it. Young and controllable pitching is generally the toughest to pry loose. The Yankees traded Jordan Montgomery for Harrison Bader last year, but that was when the lefty had just a year and a half of club control remaining. Even if there is a club willing to deal a controllable pitcher, they would also need to have a bit of a hole at second and believe in India getting past his recent slump. Time will tell whether anything comes together but it’s an interesting turnaround for the Reds given where things were just a few months ago, when the club seemed to be rebuilding and India felt like a core piece.