On Jonathan India and chemistry

On Jonathan India and chemistry

When we woke up this morning, nothing was going to take our minds off of the pivotal series against the Brewers that starts tonight. We were locked in. Then, a trade rumor landed that grabbed our attention.

The report came from veteran journalist Mark Feinsand, an executive reporter from MLB.com and a network insider.

This isn’t the first time a possible trade involving India has circulated in the media. In early June, a report was published that the Reds were receiving offers for their second baseman, but the club was reluctant to move him. Around that time, India appeared on the Chris Rose podcast and said: “Hopefully that’s not gonna happen. They tell me it’s not. But it’s just part of the business. We’ll see.”

Merits

A trade as described by Feinsand — India for a young, controllable starting pitcher — makes ample sense from the Reds standpoint. With promotions of Matt McLain, Elly De La Cruz and now Christian Encarnacion-Strand, the infield is crowded. Every day, Manager David Bell is sitting a regular player to accommodate it. As Feinsand indicates, other infield prospects are working through the Reds minor league system. While India played third base in college, he describes himself now as a second baseman only and the organization seems to agree. It’s where he played when he won N.L. Rookie of the Year in 2021.

This season, India has been up and down at the plate. But overall, he’s hitting right around his career average, on pace to belt 20 homers and swipe 20 bases. India’s contact quality (.339) has been well above league average (.315). Early in the year, he excelled in the leadoff role, posting a 112 wRC+. He walked 11.5% of his plate appearances batting first but just half that rate otherwise. India’s defense at second base continues to be below average.

As for the trade return, every team is looking for young, controllable starting pitching. Controllable in this context means multiple years of team reserve remaining before the player reaches free agency. Not a so-called rental.

Get in line? Sure.

But how many teams have this to offer: a 26-year-old, former Rookie of the Year, with three years of service time left, who can hit at the top of the order and go 20/20.

A trade like this would have two rationales. In the short term, the Reds would address their most pressing need. Some say the rotation is fine. Hunter Greene and Nick Lodolo will return in top form and pitch into the postseason. But the odds of both of them coming back healthy and effective are long. We’re at the end of July and the Reds haven’t discussed a timeline for either pitcher. Graham Ashcraft has been inconsistent. Andrew Abbott and Brandon Williamson are raw rookies.

None has thrown a pitch in the postseason. The Reds need at least one more arm for the 2023 rotation to compete for the division title and make a meaningful postseason run. Trading from relative surplus to acquire relative scarcity also makes sense in the long term.

Trade details would depend on the pitcher (and his contract), but you wouldn’t expect it to be one-for-one. The Reds would likely need to add a player or two (a second-tier prospect) with India to make it work. Because India has three more years of team control and the presumed prospect more than that, the trade wouldn’t have to be with another contender, broadening the number of possible partners.

The bottom line remains: Even with India on the block, it won’t be an easy trade for Nick Krall to accomplish.

Chemistry

The argument most often made against trading India is it would hurt the team’s chemistry. India’s leadership role was easy to spot in February and March. Even though both are just 26, India and Tyler Stephenson were thrust into leadership by virtue of being the last men standing after the 2022 trades.

“It was super weird. It was only my third year in the big leagues and guys were asking me questions,” said India. “I’m still learning and growing in this game. I’m not a big vocal leader. I lead by example. By how hard I play. Off the field, I do a lot of things with the guys.”

The combination of an absence of leadership and a discouraged team that lacks unity can produce a load of losing. We witnessed it a year ago when the Reds shipped off “heart and soul” cornerstones Eugenio Suarez, Jesse Winker and Sonny Gray in the space of 24 hours. The surviving players and David Bell have spoken to the devastated locker room. The Reds went 3-22 before the shock wore off.

But, does chemistry produce winning or does winning (based on talent) produce chemistry? For pro sports teams, it’s the latter. Talent leads to success which generates fun and cohesion.

For the past 50 games, the 2023 Reds have been exciting, enthusiastic and seem to love being around each other. You never know for sure as an outsider, but you sense enough close, positive relationships and a strong collective culture that the team’s chemistry could withstand trading Jonathan India. Particularly for another good Major League player who will help the team on day one.

Joey Votto would still be around. He’s a true leader. Votto is vocal and proactive about helping other players. Bally broadcasts have shown Votto sitting with Elly De La Cruz on the dugout bench going over video just after an at bat. India himself said: “I’ve always leaned on Joey.”

But it wouldn’t just be the former MVP and future Hall of Famer. It’s all of them. You think this is going to stop?

Now, is it possible Jonathan India is the indispensable heartbeat of the Reds? That the team’s morale will collapse if he’s traded?

I suppose. But when you look at a team’s outcome, its talent plays the dominant role.

After all, Jonathan India was every bit the Reds leader when the club went 21-29 in its first 50 games. Then McLain, De La Cruz, Good Will Benson and Abbott arrived.

The Reds went 33-17 the next 50.

Photos: Reds Facebook

Steve Mancuso

Steve Mancuso is a lifelong Reds fan who grew up during the Big Red Machine era. He’s been writing about the Reds for more than ten years. Steve’s fondest memories about the Reds include attending a couple 1975 World Series games, being at Homer Bailey’s second no-hitter and going nuts for Jay Bruce at Clinchmas. Steve was also at all three games of the 2012 NLDS, but it’s too soon to talk about that.

1 Response

  1. Pinson343 says:

    Skepticism is expressed (for different reasons) about Greene, Lodolo and Ashcraft. Justifiably so, It’s not even a sure thing that Lodolo or Greene will ever stay healthy for a full season. “Abbott and Williamson are raw rookies.” But what “young, controllable pitcher” would be any more of a sure thing than them ?

    Maybe there’s a young high-ceiling, reliable pitcher out there. If there is, his team won’t trade him.