Less than two weeks after trading for Edgar Renteria, the Tigers retained Santiago by agreeing to terms on a one-year Major League contract. The deal calls for a $575,000 salary if he sticks in the big leagues, which would likely be as a utility infielder.
Santiago essentially ended last season splitting time with Carlos Guillen as Detroit's starting shortstop, manning the position on days when Guillen started at first base. His strong defense filled a void the Tigers wanted to fill for the stretch run when they purchased his contract from Triple-A Toledo on Aug. 17.
The 28-year-old switch-hitter batted .284 (19-for-67) with five doubles, a triple, seven RBIs and 10 runs scored in 32 games, including 17 starts at short. He committed two errors in 93 total chances for a .978 fielding percentage. He batted .263 in 91 games for the Mud Hens with 19 doubles, three homers and 30 RBIs.
His performance in Detroit was enough to earn close to regular playing time at short down the stretch, but when the Tigers decided to move Guillen to first full-time next year, the question of how Santiago would hold up over a full season prompted the team to look outside the organization at short. His new deal gives him a chance to shore up a reserve role next spring.
"The Tigers again showed their commitment to Ramon Santiago," Santiago's agent, Bill Rego, said Sunday. "I think it puts Ramon in a really, really favorable position for '09."
Santiago has seen time with the Tigers the last two seasons after rejoining the organization as a Minor League free agent in 2006. He was one of several arbitration-eligible Tigers this winter, but it's debatable whether Detroit would've gone to arbitration with him or non-tendered him in December, putting him in a cluttered free agent market of infielders.
The new deal guarantees Santiago a $250,000 salary if he ends up back in the Minors. If he reaches 250 plate appearances in the Majors, he'll earn a $25,000 bonus on top of whatever he earns in salary.
Santiago's role could depend in no small part on Detroit's potential offseason moves. The Tigers also have Omar Infante and Ryan Raburn in their utility infield ranks, but Infante -- also eligible for arbitration -- could be shopped to help fill other needs. Even if Infante remains, manager Jim Leyland said last year he sees Santiago as his best defensive option at short.
Raburn plays at second and third base, but not shortstop, and he could share time in left field. It's uncertain whether the Tigers want Guillen to make spot starts at shortstop or dedicate himself full-time to first base.
Jason Beck is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.