Ah, second base. It's like a mosquito that the Detroit Tigers just can't kill. Every time you think you've swatted it, ten more take its place.
Will Rhymes, Scott Sizemore, Ryan Raburn, Carlos Guillen all have tried. None have had much success. Ryan "Second Half" Raburn can hit, but his glove leaves something to be desired when he trots onto the Tigers' infield. And when I say "something" I mean everything. The man is an error time bomb that no one knows when it will explode. Seriously, who else on the Tigers would you expect to have a fly ball bounce off his arm for a home run?
Rhymes and Sizemore were the best defenders at the position, but they left a gaping hole in the lineup when they came to the plate. Guillen filled that gap nicely when he first came back from the disabled list; he hit .280 in July but that fell off the cliff to .207 right before his latest injury.
Then there's that -- the injuries. Guillen can't stay healthy for long periods of time and can't be counted on down the stretch. His aging body just isn't what it was when the Tigers first acquired him.
And that leads us to Ramon Santiago. Jeff Kent at the plate he is not. However, Jeff Kent isn't what the Tigers need in the batter's box, not at that position. Detroit has plenty of guys that drive the ball; to name a few, Miguel Cabrera, Victor Martinez, Jhonny Peralta, Alex Avila and Delmon Young. They don't need someone to drive in runs every time up. They just need a sufficient bat that can deliver timely hits now and then.
In the time since Guillen went down, Santiago has done just that. From Aug. 13 to Aug. 25 he played in 11 games --starting eight, all at second base -- and hit .276 with six RBI and two home runs. He also had a .333 on-base percentage and a .552 slugging percentage.
MVP-caliber? No. Adequate? Absolutely, especially considering Santiago is usually utilized as the team's No. 9 hitter. If your No. 9 guy can put up those numbers, you're in good shape.
The big knock on Santiago throughout his career is that he's not an everyday player, which is probably the reason that Jim Leyland has been hesitant to use him in that role. Leyland likes to have Santiago on his bench because he can play three of the infield positions -- second, shortstop and third (probably first too if they needed him to). He's like the Don Kelly of the infield (except he can't pitch).
Still, it's a bit puzzling the Tigers keep shifting through all these second basemen and constantly overlook the one guy who's been there the whole time. The Tigers have struggled to find the happy medium of a second baseman who can both hit and field, and it's time to give Santiago his shot at the everyday job. Raburn, as mentioned earlier, can bring a big bat to the table (at least in the second half of the year), but he's an outfielder by trade. He's not suited to the infield, as evidenced by his nine errors in 44 games at second.
Santiago on the other hand is the sure-handed defender that you want as part of the double play combo. Santiago hasn't made an error all year at second; he's only committed two this season, both at shortstop. Raburn has a tendency to try and make plays that simply aren't there, and most of the time those turn into errors. Santiago makes the right play pretty much every time.
Raburn, Cabrera and third baseman Wilson Betemit doesn't exactly give the Tigers a very mobile infield. With Santiago anchoring second base, the defense becomes instantly better.
There's little doubt that Santiago can be reliable on the infield if he plays every day, but the concern as always is his bat. The consensus seems to be that he can't keep hitting like he has for a full season -- after all, we are talking about a career .242 hitter here. To be fair, no one has ever really given him a chance to do so; his 141 games played in 2003 was the most he's ever played in a single year and he hasn't come close to that since.
But I don't believe that Santiago is the rag doll that everyone makes him out to be. Last season he played 112 games for Detroit, albeit in the "10th man" role he's played most of his career. Still, he got 320 at-bats in and hit .263; by comparison, Austin Jackson hit .293 playing in 151 games with 618 at-bats. True, he's never been able to sustain a big batting average, but that's not his role anyway, especially in the bottom half of the order.
Santiago isn't the power hitters that Cabrera or Martinez are, and no one expects him to be. All we're looking for here is adequacy at the plate and solid defense in the field, both of which Santiago provides.
And the reality is he doesn't have to play every single day to be effective at second base. Santiago is at his most valuable when contact pitchers like Rick Porcello, Doug Fister and, to a lesser extent, Brad Penny are on the mound. None are necessarily strikeout pitchers and need a solid defense behind them to be successful.
When Justin Verlander and Max Scherzer pitch, Santiago isn't needed as much because both generate a high number of strikeouts and don't rely as much on their infield defense. However, if Santiago can prove he can keep hitting without wearing down, he might be out there when those two pitch, too.
It will definitely bring up an interesting conundrum when and if Guillen is able to get healthy again. If Leyland insists on playing Raburn at second it essentially leaves the Tigers with three second basemen. Raburn will get his bats in the outfield with Brennan Boesch ailing in the meantime, but what happens when he's healthy again? There are only so many spots in the lineup.
And what if Guillen's bat doesn't pick up again? He might have to face the music and take his spot on the bench -- right next to Magglio Ordonez.
I don't envy Jim Leyland when it comes to this matter. Someone's playing time is going to get cut. However, looking at his recent performance, it's pretty clear Santiago should at least get first crack at the gig.