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.