Detroit Tigers News

Santiago’s Strong Start Making Everett Expendable

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Going back to the end of the dismal 2008 season, fans of the Detroit Tigers have been wondering aloud why Ramon Santiago isn’t just given the starting job at shortstop. Santiago has been a dependable reserve over the years, ably manning both short and second whenever the regular needed a day off.

He has hit a little and played generally solid defense (to the eye at least), and he is said to have some of the softest hands in the league when it comes to fielding grounders.

But Tigers manager Jim Leyland has been hesitant at best when it comes to giving Santiago the playing time many feel he deserves. Leyland has frequently gone with Adam Everett, also a sure-handed veteran, as the shortstop, giving him the lion’s share of the platoon.

The prevailing thought from Tigers camp is that Santiago is too fragile to handle the rigors of everyday duty in the big leagues. He’s small, listed at just 5’11” and 175 lbs. I’d venture a guess that he’s actually considerably smaller than that. But Santiago has not missed significant time due to injury in recent memory. Sure, it could be that the reason he has been able to stay on the active roster is that he is used infrequently, or it could be that Santiago is more durable than we think he is.

Unlike Santiago, Everett has suffered his fair share of injuries over his career. He missed nearly the entire 2008 season while dealing with a shoulder problem and has missed the past several games this year with a strained hamstring. But neither Everett’s hammy nor his shoulder has done as much damage to his Tigers career as his bat.

Entering play today, Everett has hit a paltry .236 in his two seasons with Detroit. If you think that’s an anomaly, you’re wrong. Everett has been consistently bad at the plate throughout his career and hasn’t posted an OPS over .650 since 2005. At age 33, he’s not going to suddenly get better, folks.

Santiago, on the other hand, has blossomed over the same two seasons. As his playing time has increased, so has his hitting abilities. Santiago got into 93 games last season and his bat carried that of his platoon mate. Santiago posted career highs in home runs and RBI last year, while hitting a respectable .267 with an OPS of .703. By contrast, Everett posted an OPS of only .613 last year. This season so far, Santiago has been even better, batting at a .310 clip with an OPS of .729.

But defense is where Santiago has made the biggest strides this season.

Coming into the year, Santiago had a career UZR/150 of -0.7 as a shortstop. Last season, Fangraphs had him at -4.5. If you’re wondering, Everett was near the top of the league in UZR last season, posting a 7.9.

This year, Santiago seems to be getting to more balls than he did a year ago, in an admittedly small sample size. Santiago has played 15 games at short in 2010, Everett has played 13 thanks to his hamstring. Now defensive metrics are extremely volatile, often swinging significantly from one season to the next, but Everett has shown a decline this year while Santiago has enjoyed much greater success. Fangraphs has calculated Santiago at 33.8 in UZR/150 this season, as opposed to the -12.5 Everett has put up.

Do I actually thisnk Santiago is this much better than his career numbers? No, I don’t. And I don’t think Everett’s defense has declined as much as the early season stats indicate, either. But Santiago has significantly outperformed Everett both offensively and defensively this season, and has not wilted under the stress of playing everyday, which he has done for the past week.

No, a week does not a season make, and we can be sure that Santiago will need a day or two off once in a while, should he become the everyday guy.

But to me, this isn’t a question of whether or not Santiago and Everett should flip-flop their current roles, once Everett returns. It’s a question of whether or not Everett should have a role on this team at all.

As I mentioned above, Everett’s bat is a liability, and that’s being nice. In a lineup that already features two rookies and a catching duo that isn’t hitting, the Tigers can ill-afford to have yet another black hole, even in the ninth spot.

Everett’s glove hasn’t helped the Tigers avoid leading the league in errors, and with a healthy Brandon Inge covering a ton of ground at third, Detroit could sacrifice the small bit of range that is the difference between Everett and Santiago at short, anyway.

If they so choose, the Tigers could give Santiago the at bats he deserves and make their bench a little better at the same time. Unfortunately for Everett, he is not part of this plan.

Part of what has made Santiago so valuable is his ability to also play second base, serving as a defacto backup at both middle infield spots. Obviously, using him everyday at short means that Ryan Raburn would see more time at second, or they would have to bring up another utility man to take that role.

Enter Brent Dlugach.

Dlugach has followed a very strong Spring Training with a phenomenal start to his campaign in Toledo. Dlugach is a sound defender and can play third and second as well as short. The bigger draw here would be his bat. Dlugach could step into the big leagues right now and be a respectable hitter. He has some pop in his bat and has shown the ability to hit for average as well while in the minors.

The question for me isn’t whether he could do the job, it if Leyland would have the stones to have two rookies manning the middle infield. A problem that wouldn’t exist on most days, when Santiago would be playing short anyway.

I know we sit less than 1/7th of the way into the season, but in my opinion, there’s no reason to wait. Everett’s injury has opened the door for Santiago and he has stepped through it. Unfortunately, Everett does not provide much help to the bench, apart from being used as a pinch-runner. Dlugach would be the better option for a reserve as his bat could come in handy as a pinch hitter, perhaps.

It’s possible there could be a trade market for Everett. He’s cheap, he’s a professional, and he’s a good glove man. He might help a team in need a of shortstop somewhere. If not, the Tigers shouldn’t worry about eating his contract, he’s making just $1.5MM this year.

The season is yet young, but the Twins have already put 3.5 games between themselves and the Tigers. Detroit needs to make moves to improve this club in anyway they can. Sure, you can afford to wait on big bats to come around, as they did with Magglio Ordonez a year ago, but Everett’s bat isn’t coming. A move can be made to strengthen the team. The Tigers need to drop Everett and give Santiago the starting job at short.

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