This offseason, Fish Stripes is counting down the Top 100 Florida / Miami Marlins, from the first pitch in 1993 through now. The list is ordered by ascending Wins Above Replacement (WAR) level. 523 players have played for the Marlins since they started, and just over 100 of them earned a WAR of 2.0 or better. Benito Santiago earned five all-star nods, four Silver Slugger Awards, three Gold Gloves, the 1987 Rookie of the Year Award, and a career WAR of 27.2. He earned 2.1 of that with the Marlins, which makes him 95th on our list.
Benito Santiago was a 6’1”, 180 lb. right-handed hitting catcher from Ponce, Puerto Rico. Born on March 9th, 1965, he was signed as a 17-year-old in 1982 by the San Diego Padres. His first assignment was with none other than the Miami Marlins, in the Florida State League in 1993. He slashed .247/.276/.354/.630 in 122 contests, with five homers and a team-leading 56 RBI while racking up a .963 fielding percentage as the catcher.
In 1984, Santiago joined the Reno Padres in the California League, also a Padres’ single-A affiliate. He appeared in 114 games for the junior Padres that season, improving his slash-line to .279/.338/.471/.809 with a club-best 16 round-trippers and 83 RBI. Santiago improved his fielding metrics by a slight margin that season as well, to .969 in 813 chances.
The double-A Beaumont Golden Gators welcomed Santiago to the Texas League in 1985, where he appeared in 101 games and hit .298/.328/.414/.742. In 401 plate appearances, he only collected 16 walks. Patience was not a strong point for young Santiago at the plate. He also hit five home runs with a team-leading six triples, 52 RBI and a dozen stolen bases. For the second season in a row, he raised his fielding percentage by six points, to .975 by making only 15 errors in 608 chances.
1986 would see Santiago join the Las Vegas Stars, San Diego’s triple-A Pacific Coast League affiliate for 117 contests. He smacked 17 taters for 71 RBI, stealing 19 bases and hitting .286/.312/.476/.788. He fielded at a .968 clip on 655 chances. He earned his first callup to the bigs on September 14th, and played in 17 games down the stretch for the Padres, hitting three homers for six RBI with a .290/.308/.468/.775 slash.
Over seven seasons with the Padres in total, Santiago earned four of his all-star selections, all four of his Silver Slugger awards, and all three of his Gold Gloves, slashing .264/.298/.406/.705 over 789 games played. He also developed a reputation as a gunner from behind the plate, throwing out 262 baserunners against 447 successful steals for a 37% throw-out rate, including an NL-best 45% in 1988. He also racked up an NL rookie-record 34 game-winning streak in 1987.
On December 16th, 1992, Santiago signed a contract with the Marlins through free agency, for $7.2 million over two years. The Marlins would post a 58-81 record in games in which he appeared, and 6-17 when he sat. Of his 25 multi-hit games, three of them were of the three-hit variety. On April 17th, he led off the seventh with a lead-taking solo shot then added a two out, two-run double later in the inning of a 9-4 Marlins win against the Houston Astros. On June 11th, he hit an RBI-single in the first inning, a single in the third, and a two-run triple in the eighth as the Fish set down the Pittsburgh Pirates, 11-3. 11 days later, he hit a leadoff homer in the second and a two-run triple in the third of an eventual 7-5 win against the St. Louis Cardinals.
Santiago also hit the first home run in Marlins’ history:
In total, Santiago hit .230 for the season over 139 games, which would forever stand as the worst batting average of his career. He added 19 doubles, a team-leading six triples, a team-second 13 homers, a team-third 50 RBI, and a team-fourth 10 stolen bases. Behind the plate, he fielded at a .987 clip, making 11 errors out of 815 chances and throwing out 39-of-129 baserunners. He totaled a 0.7 WAR for the season, which did not rank him in the top 12 Marlins.
1994 would be a better season for Santiago, and would see him double his WAR to 1.4 in 38 fewer games. In 101 contests, he slashed .273/.322/.424/.746, with 14 doubles, a team-third 11 home runs, and 41 RBI. From behind the plate, he posted a then-career-best .991 fielding percentage and threw out a staggering 47% of would-be basestealers, picking off 40-of-85 runners.
The Marlins were a 42-59 ballclub with Santiago playing catcher, and a 9-5 team when he did not play. He had 24 multi-hit games, including five games with three or more. On April 14th, he hit a three-run double in the first inning, then helped the Marlins hold on for an 8-2 win against the Astros. In a 9-6 loss to the Atlanta Braves on April 26th, Santiago went four-for-four from the plate, with four non-run-scoring singles. On August 3rd, he hit a single and two doubles, with one RBI in a 9-8 win over the Chicago Cubs.
After the 1994 season, Santiago was granted free agency, so he signed a contract with the Cincinnati Reds. Over the next 11 seasons, he played with Cincinnati (170 games, .274/.332/.448/.779, 19 home runs, 89 RBI), the Philadelphia Phillies (136 games, .264/.332/.503/.835, 30 home runs, 85 RBI), the Toronto Blue Jays (112 games, .249/.284/.395/.678, 13 home runs, 46 RBI), the Chicago Cubs (109 games, .249/.313/.377/.691, seven home runs, 36 RBI), the San Francisco Giants (367 games, .273/.313/.414/.726, 33 home runs, 175 RBI), the Kansas City Royals (49 games, .274/.312/.434/.746, six home runs, 23 RBI) and the Pittsburgh Pirates (six games, .261/.261/.391/.652).
Check back here tomorrow as we continue to count down the Top 100 all-time Marlins with another historic Marlins’ catcher.