Why Ramon Santiago

I don’t get it. It seems as if Ramon Santiago is a lock to make the roster but I can’t figure out a good reason why. Lynn Henning said that Santiago’s job is the safest of the bench candidates. Danny Knobler also has Santiago slotted into the bench as an automatic. But should it be a given? Shouldn’t Santiago’s spot be tenuous at best?

I don’t enjoy writing these types of posts. The posts where I spend a few hundred words talking about why a player shouldn’t be with the team. I’m the type who is usually rooting for people, and this is the opposite of my normal tone. But Santiago simply shouldn’t have a guaranteed job on a club of this caliber.

I’ve already looked at the roster crunch and when I drew up my bench it was pretty easy to leave Santiago in Toledo. The Tigers have a back up shortstop in Carlos Guillen, who would be perfectly fine there on a limited basis. They have a back-up second baseman in Ryan Raburn. They have a back up third baseman in Brandon Inge. Aside from designated sacrifice bunting duties I fail to see what Santiago brings to the table.

He is often referred to as a defensive whiz, and admittedly he does look silky smooth in the field with a plus arm. But looking at advanced defensive metrics like Ultimate Zone Rating, Santiago rates fairly poor. From 2003 to the All Star break last season Santiago was -23 runs per 150 games at second base and -28 runs per 150 games at shortstop. The data is far from conclusive because of Santiago’s limited playing time. Still, this is aggregated over several season so it can be dismissed either.

Offensively Santiago brings little other than the aforementioned bunting ability and some speed as a pinch runner. For his career Santiago is a 231/294/306 hitter which is good for an OPS+ of 63. For those unfamiliar with OPS+, 100 is an average player. Inge, who’s offensive struggles have been well documented is an 85 OPS+ for his career.

The role he would play on the team would be as a sub and defensive replacement. The are more capable subs already on the roster, and as a defensive replacement who would he be replacing. He wouldn’t go in for Polanco, and I don’t see him usurping Edgar Renteria in the late innings. And in the even rarer case where Miguel Cabrera is lifted in the late innings that spot has to go to Brandon Inge.

The biggest reason for keeping Santiago is that he is out of options. However, Santiago has passed through waivers on several occasions and I don’t see any reason why he wouldn’t make it through again. I’m generally in favor of hording talent and playing the options game when everything else is equal (see Zach Miner getting the short option straw), but everything else isn’t equal this time. Ryan Raburn is the far superior player. His arm matches Santiago’s, and while he can’t play shortstop he still offers Leyland flexibility. And while I don’t expect Raburn to repeat his 304/340/507 line from last year, I think league average production is a reasonable assumption.

I know that Jim Leyland likes Santiago, but that hasn’t assured him a spot on the roster in the past. Santiago didn’t break camp with the team last year when Leyland chose the beleaguered Neifi Perez and Omar Infante in the spring. Even when Perez was suspended, it was Raburn who was promoted and not Santiago. Santiago didn’t get his call until late August when Guillen’s knees just couldn’t take shortstop on a daily basis. Santiago was also sent to Toledo in 2006. While Leyland may like Santiago, I don’t know that he likes him enough to hand him a spot when there are such clear upgrades available.

A trade of Marcus Thames or Brandon Inge would certainly open up a roster spot, but I’d view both moves as unlikely. Vance Wilson not being ready could also clear a spot, at least initially. But it wouldn’t shock me to see the Tigers actually take a 13th pitcher in that case due to the roster crunch in the pen, an area that is much more tenuous for the team than middle infield.


  1. Eric Cioe

    February 12, 2008 at 10:27 pm

    Agreed wholeheartedly.

    I’m no huge Inge fan, but it seems like if you need a late inning defensive sub, he’d be a decent option for short. What do you call a third baseman with a great arm and a huge range? I call him a shortstop. I don’t know why someone who can back up second and who also has a strong arm can’t also back up shortstop.

    I think a bench of Inge, Raburn, Thames, and Wilson would be best. But what if Wilson isn’t ready, and Inge steps up and says he’ll be the primary backup catcher? What then?

  2. Vince in MN

    February 12, 2008 at 11:04 pm

    Perhaps Henning and Knobler are both premising their assumption (I don’t see how they can be so sure it is a ‘lock’) for Santiago being on the opening day roster based on the fact that he is out of options and Raburn is not. Or that Leyland loves his D so much. In any case, both are very weak arguments.

    As far as Santiago’s real value, I go with Billfer’s assessment 100%.

    While we are batting around the option issue, assuming both play up to their potential in ST, and, since Santiago is, IMHO, a ‘lock’ to pass through waivers (no wait, maybe the Yankees need a defensive replacement for Jeter in the late innings ;-)), wouldn’t it make more sense to start the season with Raburn, retaining his remaining option, just in case there is a need for roster changes later?

    Besides, I ain’t sure I put all that much stock in what Knobler or Henning says – they have been wrong before.

  3. David G.

    February 12, 2008 at 11:08 pm

    Eh, if it comes down to the 2 I would not mind seeing Raburn start in Toledo, stay hungry, and get some more comfortable ABs. Agree with the premise of Bilfer’s analysis and that it should not be taken for granted who makes the team, but in reality who makes the team out of ST does not make that much difference, does it? Maybe ride a month or two of Santiago and see how things shake out, but I would like to see Raburn up sooner than later this year.

  4. billfer

    February 13, 2008 at 5:14 am

    I’m not trying to knock Henning or Knobler, they are just the most prominent people to link to. Everybody, talk radio, message boards, everybody thinks Santiago is a given. I just don’t get why.

  5. Barry

    February 13, 2008 at 9:21 am

    That would be great if Inge or Raburn can play ss and maybe they could experiment in SP with Inge or Raburn, but if they cannot then it leaves Santiago. Guillen ss days are over and beside if you use him in the late innings, then who on the team can play 1B well defensively.

  6. rings

    February 13, 2008 at 9:32 am

    Bilfer, I totally agree with your reasoning, but as discussed previously, I think Leyland likes Ramon, thinks there’s “value” in his defense and that’s the biggest thing he has going for him. He’s his “Neifi” of ’08 (who shouldn’t have been on the team last year either).
    Inge hasn’t played SS since college and he’s not going to re-start in the major leagues, unless its an emergency…and there’s a lot of other options available long before its an emergency.

  7. Kyle J

    February 13, 2008 at 9:46 am

    I think we just have to accept Leyland is always going to want a defense-only middle infielder on his bench. We can at least be thankful that player is no longer Neifi.

    I could also live with Raburn getting regular at bats at Toledo to start the season. I still think he could be the left-fielder of the future.

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  9. Kurt

    February 13, 2008 at 10:12 am

    Not that I disagree with your reasoning, Bilfer, but I’m working under the assumption Santiago is pretty close to a lock as well — based on what we’ve learned about Jim Leyland in two seasons mainly. I think he’s close to a lock based on that.

    I think the argument that the Tigers lack a backup shortstop without Santiago has some water, too. Yes, Gullen technically can still sub there if needed, but I also think Leyland is going to keep him to just first base this year. And I’m sure Inge could play it as well, but with so much being put on his plate, I don’t think the Tigers would want to do that either. (Further, if Vance can’t come back at the start of spring training, I think they’ll view Inge as backup catcher and Santiago as utility infielder).

    If it’s a choice between Santiago and Raburn, I like Raburn. If it’s a choice being Santiago or losing Cruceta (if he does pitch as well as advertised), I take Cruceta. But will Leyland?

  10. Chuck

    February 13, 2008 at 11:50 am

    Why Ramon Santiago? Because people always prefer The Devil They Know over The Devil They Don’t Know.

    You know as well as anyone that Jim Leyland is not looking at advanced defensive metrics. Santiago has MLB experience and he is *perceived* to be a plus defender. Good enough for The Smoker.

    I will say this: if what you say comes to pass and the Tigers take 13 PITCHERS north — especially in April with all the off days and expected weather postponements — I will give birth to a full-grown cow.

  11. Joey the K in Portland OR

    February 13, 2008 at 5:08 pm

    Leyland liked Neifi and that got him on the team, we all know how well that worked out.

  12. Ryan

    February 14, 2008 at 11:35 am

    Seems to me that the assumption that Santiago would easily make it through waivers may be a little flawed at the moment. With the complete and utter lack of shortstop FAs available this year, I think there’s a really good chance that some team that has realized it’s a little thin in the middle infield would be willing to take a chance on Santiago due simply to the paucity of Major League ready shortstops available any other way. I think he may make the opening day roster and then be sent down within a couple weeks as other teams get more comfortable with their bench SS options.

    If there are 13 pitchers on the roster, I will midwife Chuck’s cow-birth.

  13. Eddie

    February 14, 2008 at 7:33 pm

    90% of all players put through waivers last Spring Training cleared with no problem. Worrying about losing a player as insignificant as Ramon Santiago is pointless, because it’s not a big loss and it’s not likely to happen.

    The job of a bench should be to ensure that all positions can be covered capably and to ensure that there aren’t black holes at positions on off days. Assuming Brandon Inge can take to shortstop, I see no reason for Santiago being on the team, especially with Guillen around in an emergency.