February 4, 2010

Great Pirates In History: Benito Santiago

December 2004. Having already traded the erstwhile catcher/leadoff man Jason Kendall to Oakland, Pirates GM Dave Littlefield now started to think about whether he had any catchers who could start the following season.

Kendall had always caught ridiculous numbers of innings (one of the reasons it was actually smart to trade him at that point), which meant nobody else in the Pirates organization had any experience. Backups Humberto Cota and J.R. House had totalled just 79 plate appearances for the '04 Bucs. So Littlefield, in his ongoing epic quest for veteran experience, decided he needed a catcher who "could start 80 to 90 games."

Rather than add a catcher via free agency, why not get one at the cost of a promising prospect? Enter the Royals' Benito Santiago, 40 years old at the time, coming off both an injury that ended his 2003 season in June and a subpoena in the Congressional steroid inquiry. Completing the Littlefield trifecta he had a contract for over $2 million in 2005. Kansas City agreed to pay $1 million of his salary. In exchange, the Pirates sent Leo Nunez, a 21-year-old relief prospect who had gone 10-4, 3.12 in A ball and already possessed a fastball in the mid 90s.

Another way to put that would be to say that instead of releasing Benito Santiago, Royals GM Dayton Moore - hardly a master dealer - got the Pirates to give up a good prospect and pay $1.125 million of Santiago's salary.

Santiago arrived in training camp, and Mike Gonzalez and others predicted they would have lower ERAs thanks to the veteran backstop. The Post-Gazette speculated on his chances of moving up the career games caught list (he was seventh at the time).

Though management claimed excitement about their new catcher, the first sign of dissatisfaction with the Santiago deal came just before the season when Littlefield bought Dave Ross from the Dodgers. The L.A. backup had hit .170 in 2004, making him a great candidate for a job in Pittsburgh.

Benito started on Opening Day and tripled off Ben Sheets in his first Pirates at-bat. He would bat only seven more times at PNC Park.

A week into the season, Santiago came down with a virus and was placed on the disabled list. Humberto Cota was recalled to split time with Ross. On April 30th the Pirates tried to send Benito on a rehab assignment, but he refused and proclaimed himself ready to play. Although Cota still had options remaining and could have been sent to AAA, the Pirates decided to release Santiago on May 8, feeling that Humberto Cota - batting .200 at the time - had won the starting job.

Santiago never played again in MLB.

So it was that after spending $1.125 million, trading the future closer Nunez, and buying the contract of another veteran, the Pirates were left a month into the season with Humberto Cota - a Pirate since 2001 - as the starter.

Benito Santiago's Pirates Career:
6 games (team record 1-5)
23 at-bats
1 run
6 hits
0 home runs
0 walks
0 stolen bases
.263 average


  1. Sadly to say, I was behind this signing, and thought he would really help our young pitching staff. Maybe he would have if he played more than a week.

  2. Do a blog on Mike Benjamin