Cue Cyndi Lauper’s “Goonies” theme song. Ramon Santiago is one of those guys that hangs around and does some good things but never really seems to be able to get any manager or any organization to take him seriously. Since Placido Polanco left for that big Philly payday, the Tigers have tried a number of different regular second basemen out of the gate and seen each flop in order. Will Rhymes – failed. Scott Sizemore – failed. Carlos Guillen – failed. Brandon Inge – failed. Ryan Raburn and Danny Worth – currently failing. And every season they’ve wound up settling – for at least the majority of playing time – on Ramon Santiago.
There were a lot of people who figured, based on how Santiago had hit (and especially defended) over the past four years that he would have found an offer somewhere for a starting job – since by WAR he has actually been an above average second baseman all around. I was one of those – and chances are Santiago himself was another. But… it never materialized and Santiago wound up settling for another deal with the Tigers to come off the bench. Now, surprise, surprise, Santiago seems to be – for all intents and purposes – the Tigers starting second baseman once again, or at the very least the strong side of a platoon.
With the Tigers returning to contention and interest in deadline deals increasing we’re already hearing a lot of chatter about the things that the Tigers might be able to do with regard to their second base void – like trading the whole darn farm for Jose Altuve. But… is this position really a weakness at all? Ramon Santiago has filled in pretty capably in the past (after the Tigers exhausted all other options) and that’s exactly what he’s doing this year. I’m sure the Tigers could get more out of (for example) Altuve, but probably not out of Marco Scutaro, Darwin Barney or any of the other names that pop up. Great second baseman are hard to find, but there’s no need to trade for an average one if we’ve got an average one already.
Ramon Santiago did start awfully slow – so his overall numbers don’t look all that great. For one, I would chalk part of that up to the psychological blow Santiago took this offseason from dashed hopes. With dreams of a big payday and (finally) regular playing time, it might have taken Ramon some time to settle down and start to feel like doing what he’d been doing before was OK. I think the playing time is what he was after more than anything else – and he’s finally getting that playing time here. In April and May, 19 of Santiago’s 38 appearances came off the bench (often as a defensive replacement). In June 10 of his 13 have been starts. Things have definitely turned around for him at the plate as well: since the Tigers offensive turning point (as I have defined it, when Cabrera figured out what was wrong with his swing) on May 10 in Oakland Santiago has put up a .278/.381/.389 line in 84 PAs. His offensive contribution by WPA has been positive (i.e. above average, and not just for a middle infielder). Santiago hasn’t been getting a lot of extra base hits – but he has been doing some things we don’t see enough of from the Tigers lineup: taking walks and avoiding strikeouts. His defense hasn’t been as stellar by the numbers thus far, but it too is trending upward. He certainly made some great plays to help the Tigers top St. Louis yesterday.