After the Tigers used Edgar Renteria last season as the regular shortstop with disappointing results, they signed Everett as a free agent to pair with utility man Santiago. The signing was all about defense, improving the range of an infield that struggled to support its pitchers on ground balls. That improvement has been obvious, but the offensive contribution has been better than expected.
Entering Thursday's series finale against the Twins, Everett and Santiago had combined for a .252 batting average, .649 OPS, seven home runs and 70 RBIs at shortstop, almost entirely from the bottom of the order. By contrast, last year's combination of Renteria and Santiago produced a .269 average, .719 OPS, 14 homers and 67 RBIs.
Manager Jim Leyland said that if someone had said his shortstops would have those numbers this year, "I'd have told you you were smoking something."
The stats are somewhat simplistic, and they don't take into account the hitters around Everett and Santiago over the past couple of seasons. Still, given Detroit's offensive struggles this year, it's somewhat surprising. For the salary difference between Renteria ($9 million) and the Everett/Santiago tandem ($1.85 million, not including bonuses to Everett), it's one instance this year in which the Tigers have gotten more from less.
"They've done a good job," Leyland said after Santiago's two-hit game on Wednesday improved him to 11-for-25 over his past seven games. "It's been a nice combination."
The fact that it hasn't been a contentious combination has played a big role in that. It's a credit to both players that they see a larger goal beyond their playing time.
"We're pulling for each other, because we're a team," Santiago said.
They also know that it isn't a competition. Though the balance has shifted over the course of the season from an even split early on to more time for Everett, then closer to even in recent weeks, there's an understanding that neither player is going to sit for long because of a hot or cold streak.
"Since Day 1 after [Leyland's] decision, I've faced more righties, and [Everett] faces the lefties most of the time," said Santiago. "And it's been like that all year. I don't mind. When I get a chance to play, I try to do my job and try to do the best that I can to help the team win. That's all I care about."
Part of it, too, stems from the fact that both players have relatively laid-back personalities.
"I think it's a testament to the skipper and what he saw in both of us, and not only that, the relationship we have," Everett said. "Santi could go seven days without playing, or play five days in a row, and he's the same guy. He's just that type of guy who just loves to play the game."
It's one situation, Leyland believes, in which the two of them are genuinely better as a tandem than they would be individually.
Of Santiago, Leyland said, "I think he's got a good awareness that he would probably wear down if he played every day. I think he's honest with himself about it. I think it's helped him. And he's very good at second and short."
Jason Beck is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.