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01/04/06 6:30 PM ET

Santiago signs with Tigers in Minors

Infielder returns to Detroit with invitation to Spring Training

DETROIT -- Ramon Santiago is back in the Tigers organization.

Three years after he served as an everyday infielder on the 2003 Detroit club that lost 119 games, the Tigers have signed Santiago to a Minor League contract with an invitation to Spring Training. He'll be a non-roster invitee in big league camp.

The last time Santiago was in Lakeland was 2003, when he teamed with Omar Infante for a young middle-infield tandem that was seen as the future of the Tigers organization. He became the everyday starter at shortstop a year earlier, but shifted over to second base to make room for Infante in the starting lineup. He later shifted back to shortstop once Warren Morris was called up.

Santiago played in 141 games that year, hitting .225 with two home runs and 29 RBIs in 444 at-bats. He's played in 27 big league games since. All of those came with the Mariners, who acquired him before the 2004 season in the Carlos Guillen trade and shuttled him between Seattle and Triple-A Tacoma for the better part of two years.

While continuing to flash his defensive skills, Santiago's hitting has been up and down. He hit .193 at Tacoma and .179 for Seattle in 2004. Though he went 1-for-8 with the Mariners last year, he showed marked improvement at Tacoma, where he batted .252 with 22 doubles, a career-high 10 homers, 50 RBIs and 18 stolen bases in 129 games. He won team MVP honors for the Rainiers.

More likely than not, with Infante holding the utility infield role in Detroit, Santiago will be counted on to provide similar offense at Triple-A Toledo in the Mud Hens' effort to defend their International League championship. Much like Jason Smith the last couple of years, the Tigers want Santiago to provide infield depth in case of injuries.

"He's been a guy that's been up and down in Seattle," president/general manager Dave Dombrowski said. "We know him. He's a quality guy. We need more [depth]."

That said, don't be surprised if Santiago sees a fair amount of playing time in Spring Training. With shortstop Carlos Guillen likely to miss at least some Tigers games in March to represent Venezuela in the World Baseball Classic, infield depth will be needed. Spring Training performance is a strength for Santiago, who hit .294 last spring for the Mariners and .377 a year earlier.

Santiago joins a handful of Tigers Minor League signings who will take part in bigleague camp, including left-handers Bobby Seay and Hector Mercado, right-hander Tim Crabtree and outfielder Ryan Ludwick. Returning Mud Hens Alexis Gomez, Mike Hessman and Kevin Hooper were also re-signed with invites.

Jason Beck is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.