Pirates tab Santiago as Kendall’s successor

By Jim Callis

December 16, 2004

After trading all-star Jason Kendall to the Athletics last month, the Pirates found his successor on Thursday. They acquired Benito Santiago from the Royals for minor league righthander Leo Nunez. Kansas City also kicked in some cash toward Santiago’s $2.15 million salary for 2005.

Santiago, 39, signed a two-year, $4.3 million contract last offseason to become the Royals’ starting catcher, but his 2004 season was as disappointing as Kansas City’s. Santiago broke his left hand in June, ending his season after he batted .274/.312/.434 with six homers and 23 RBIs in 49 games. He rarely draws a walk (just eight last season), but he hits for a decent average and shows occasional power. A five-time all-star—most recently in 2002, when he also was the National League Championship Series MVP for the Giants—Santiago has eroded from a Gold Glove catcher to merely average behind the plate. He still runs well for a backstop but is too aggressive for his own good. In 1,972 big league games, he has hit .263/.307/.415 with 217 homers and 920 RBIs.

Nunez, 21, signed out of the Dominican Republic in 2000. He has been called “Little Pedro” because he’s a short, frail Dominican with a live arm. He has a 92-94 mph fastball that touches 97, and he has made strides with his slider and curveball. If he can’t pick up a changeup, his future will be in relief. Nunez finished fifth in the low Class A South Atlantic League in strikeouts (140 in 144 innings) and seventh in ERA (3.13) last season. He went 10-4 with one save in 27 games (20 starts), giving up 121 hits (including 16 homers) and 46 walks. His career record as a pro is 27-15, 3.38 in 84 games.

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