What About Ramon Santiago?
By Garret Craig
The Tigers had six soon-to-be free agents under contract for 2011 in Magglio Ordonez, Carlos Guillen, Brad Penny, Wilson Betemit, Joel Zumaya, and Ramon Santiago. They made, in total, about $29.7 million for the year before performance bonuses. The first four guys I mentioned are aging veterans who are widely expected to either retire, in the case of Ordonez, or to look for money elsewhere when free agency officially opens Thursday–the Tigers seem ready to part ways with all of them. Zumaya is working towards a comeback in the Florida Instructional League and could potentially take a minor league deal to stay in the organization. In the end, Santiago is the only real loss Detroit could suffer in free agency.
The services Santiago has provided as a utility player have proven quite valuable over the last decade. He’s seen significant playing time over the last three seasons, appearing in 306 of a possible 487 regular season games. In his fairly substantial but still limited role, he’s had a consistently serviceable bat, posting an average between .260 and .267 each of the past three years, and played efficient defense at multiple positions. This year, he logged 434.2 innings at second base, more than platoon partner Ryan Raburn or any of the other four players the Tigers tried at the spot, and was the Tigers’ back-up shortstop, starting there in all 22 games Jhonny Peralta did not.
As valuable as he’s been to the Tigers, however, they’ve never been willing to make him an everyday player. In 2003, the one year he did play nearly every day, he hit just .225 with two home runs. Over the years, Jim Leyland and other members of Tigers management have repeated the notion that Santiago is best with limited playing time and that he would wear down significantly as a starter and suffer a consequent drop in production.
Santiago seems to disagree with this idea that he’s incapable of keeping up his performance in a starting role. In an interview with James Schmehl of MLive.com, he expressed his desire “to get an opportunity to play every day.” As Chris Hannum wrote after the previous quote was published, it seems Santiago will likely be looking for “about $5-$6 million minimum over two years and a promise of a starting job.”
Will he get all that from Mike Ilitch and Dave Dombrowski? The free agent class for second baseman is weak, but the Tigers will surely be looking for someone more reliable who can hit in the upper third of the order and get on base in front of Miguel Cabrera and Victor Martinez and trades are also a possibility to upgrade at the position. Here at Motor City Bengals, we’ve looked into Howie Kendrick, Jamey Carroll, Neil Walker, Kyle Seager, Todd Frazier, Maicer Izturis, and Chone Figgins among others. Kelly Johnson and Aaron Hill are also available on the free agent market.
If they really want to keep Santiago, Detroit could instead try to upgrade the top of their lineup by going after a third baseman, relegating Brandon Inge to a back-up role (or releasing him and paying him not to play), then making Santiago the strong side of a platoon with Raburn, who would also hypothetically get a number of starts in the corner outfield spots.
Even if Detroit does, during this off-season, bring in someone new to play second, Santiago would remain an asset to the Tigers if he returned. If he can’t get what he wants in free agency, he may come crawling back and decide that he’s willing to take the back seat in Detroit once again. That seems unlikely, however, as there already seems to be some interest in Santiago around the majors; the Minnesota Twins are looking for a starting shortstop and have been linked to him.
Do you think Santiago will end up back in Detroit next year, and if so, what will his role be? Leave a comment and let me know what you think.