The Detroit Tigers shuffled through a handful of utility infielders this season. For nearly a decade, that position was taken by one man: Ramon Santiago.
The Detroit Tigers have had quite a few utility infielders over the years. More than any other position, utility infielders frequently turn over in the big leagues. Teams rarely have a utility infielder who lasts more than a few years, as these players either wash out of the league or sign contracts with other teams, as they are deemed easily replaceable by most major league front offices.
However, the Tigers had a utility infielder who played ten years in the Motor City, a rare feat for any player in today’s free agent focused league.
While Ramon Santiago’s tenure in Detroit wasn’t quite consecutive, his brief departure and return is actually a huge part of his legacy.
The Legacy of Ramon Santiago
Santiago debuted with the Detroit Tigers in 2002. He played in 65 games, hitting .243 and playing exclusively shortstop. 2003 saw Santiago play 85 games at shortstop and 53 at second base, as he was forced into a starting role for one of the worst teams in history.
At this point Santiago had played two seasons with the Tigers. He had a .231 average, a 67 OPS+ and a 0.4 bWAR. His reign in Detroit appeared to be over, as he was sent to the Seattle Mariners along with career minor leaguer Juan Gonzalez in exchange for another subpar shortstop, Carlos Guillen.
This turned out to be one of the best trades in Tigers history, as Guillen went on to make three All-Star games and become one of the best shortstops in team history. Santiago only played in 27 games for the Mariners, playing 19 in 2004 and eight in 2005. He hit a combined .170, and was released after the 2005 season.
A few months later, the Tigers re-signed Santiago. He remained with the team from 2006 to 2013, playing in 612 games and slashing .250/.318/.343 with a 78 OPS+ and a 7.0 bWAR. He played mostly at second base and shortstop, although he spent a fair amount of time at third base as well.
In true utility infielder fashion, Santiago is among Detroit’s top 50 in three categories: defensive WAR (his 5.5 dWAR ranks 18th) hit by pitches (48 HBP, ranking 11th) and sac hits (74, 25th). If you want an example of how to keep your job in the major leagues, Santiago is a great person to emulate. He could play multiple positions well, and he did the dirty work to get on base and help the team win. What more could you ask for from your 25th man?
The Detroit Tigers decided to keep Santiago within the organization, giving him the first base coaching job. He also works with the infielders, a fine position for a player with his experience and expertise.