Ramon Santiago gave an interview to James Schmehl at MLive.com about his impending free agency and the signals he’s sending don’t seem to bode well.
According to Santiago/Schmehl what he’s looking for in contract negotiations is a significant increase in pay and a significant increase in playing time. In other words, Santiago wants to be – at the least – the strong side of a platoon (with about 2/3 of the starts) at second and he wants to be paid accordingly. Santiago had seemed to be the ideal utility infielder – a switch-hitter (so you don’t have to worry about matchups) that has a good glove at multiple positions, accepted the role and came with an affordable price tag. That looks to be about to change and the question is: is this something Tigers management and Tigers fans can accept?
Over the past five years as a reserve in Detroit Ramon Santiago has been good enough to start. His career numbers look worse, but that’s mainly because of some really terrible years in his first 5 (especially an awful 2003, his only full season as a starter). From 2002 to 2006 Santiago had a .573 OPS and a statistically below average glove. Since 2007 Santiago has a .699 OPS with much-improved defense at second and short. If that doesn’t sound all that impressive, remember that the major league average OPS for a second baseman was only .708 last year and only .695 for a shortstop. If Santiago’s bat is only ever-so-slightly below average, his glove is enough to make him an average second baseman overall or better. A few issues stick out, though: first, Leyland has long been convinced that Santiago isn’t physically able to play every day without getting hurt. What if he’s right? Second, Santiago is 32 and about to exit the typical ‘peak’ for a major league career. Defense is often the first thing to decline with age (that and durability) and for a player who relies on his glove. For reference – Carlos Guillen turned 32 right after the 2007 season and the last real contribution he was able to make was in 2008. The last year he was able to play decent D was actually 2006. I would argue that the Santiago we’ve seen is good enough to be the Tigers starting second baseman, but I’m not so sure that we’ll be able to say the same thing about future Santiago.
Santiago may simply be trying to get leverage, but I have the feeling that it’s largely a matter of Ramon getting his hopes up – after all he did finish strong just before becoming a free agent, for possibly the last significant contract negotiation of his career. I doubt he’s going to be asking for the moon, but he’s probably looking for about $5-$6 million minimum over two years and a promise of a starting job. I’m not sure he’ll get that despite a soft market, especially if the Tigers aren’t the ones to offer it. Nonetheless, I have to doubt that he’d be willing to back down to a repeat of his 2009 contract and a strict reserve role from Detroit should the Tigers acquire a true starter elsewhere at second base through free agency or trade. A sad day could come for Tigers fans this fall, like that time your parents came back from the vet and told you that your dog had asked for too much money and too many years and was going to live on a farm upstate. But I suppose we’d move on.