No doubt the Giants and the Rangers reached the World Series on the backs of their stars. But both also got big help from players who barely caused a ripple when they were acquired last winter. First baseman Aubrey Huff took a one-year, $3 million deal from San Francisco last January after receiving no other offers; he led the team in home runs (26) and OPS (.891). Similarly, Darren Oliver hooked on with Texas for one year at $3.5 million last December. He had a 2.48 ERA as a setup man and, at age 39, a career-best strikeout-to-walk ratio of 4.33. With the free-agent signing period having started on Sunday, here are three players who just might be a Huff or Oliver for 2011.
Free agent (left) The hard-throwing righthander's time in Texas is probably over: He lost his closer's job to Neftali Feliz in April, then missed the postseason with a back injury. But in between, as Feliz's setup man, Francisco, 31, had his third straight season of at least 10 strikeouts per nine innings and at least a 3-to-1 strikeout-walk ratio. He could be a steal for a team needing back-of-the-bullpen experience.
Cubs Like many Japanese imports, the outfielder left his power at customs. Still, he's improved in each of his three big league seasons; in 2010 he had career highs in homers (13) and slugging (.439) and a .371 OBP in 87 starts. A team willing to pay Fukudome, 34, could get a nice OBP-and-defense rightfielder without giving up much talent in return.
Free agent The Reds held a $12.75 million option on Harang for 2011, but their depth allowed them to decline it. That makes the righthander, 33 next season, available. He gave the Reds one good year and three poor ones. (He was 6--7 with a 5.32 ERA this year.) But, when healthy, Harang is a league-average strike-throwing innings sponge, and he could be a bargain in a weak pitching market.