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Unheralded free agents could deliver value

Unheralded free agents could deliver value

Unheralded free agents could deliver value
Albert Pujols, Prince Fielder, C.J. Wilson and Jose Reyes will dominate much of the speculation during the free agency period, but general managers will also be tasked with decisions that go beyond the top one percent.

Who will be the next Casey Kotchman -- a player who steps into a new clubhouse and helps a team reach the postseason? Or the next Freddy Garcia -- a veteran who pitches like a young buck when called upon in a time of need?

Beyond the cream of the crop, who are some underrated or unheralded potential free-agent signings who are poised to make a splash in 2012?

Here's a look:

Clint Barmes, IF: Barmes, who mostly played second base in Colorado from 2008-10 and shortstop in Houston this year, is a superb defensive player. If he can replicate his 2009 season with the Rockies (23 homers, 76 RBIs), he could be a valuable addition.

Ramon Santiago, IF: As one of manager Jim Leyland's favorite players, it'd be a surprise if the Tigers don't find a way to bring back the utility man. Santiago is an infielder who does everything that's asked of him -- from dropping down a bunt to playing a variety of positions -- and could be an exceptional glue guy, a la Omar Infante with the Braves in 2010.

Wily Mo Peña, OF: The burly outfielder, listed as being 6-foot-3 and 260 pounds, comes from the Adam Dunn/Mark Reynolds school of hitting, which features the propensity for tape-measure home runs but also a plethora of strikeouts.

Jorge Posada, C/DH: It is difficult to imagine Posada in anything other than Yankees pinstripes. He was relieved of his longtime catching duties in New York in 2011, playing all but six innings as a designated hitter, but his postseason success (6-for-14 with four runs) indicates he has some life left in his bat.

Hiroki Kuroda, SP: The 37-year-old set a number of career highs with the Dodgers this season but was overshadowed by the club's mediocrity and off-field distractions. The right-hander posted a 3.07 ERA with 13 wins and struck out 161 in 202 innings. He has the stuff to be a front-end starter for an opportunistic club.

Joel Zumaya, RP: If healthy -- and that's a big if -- Zumaya can be one of the most electric relievers in the game. He has a fastball that is routinely clocked near or at triple digits, with a knuckle-curve that keeps hitters off-balance. But the right-hander hasn't pitched since late June 2010. He could be a fit for a team looking for late-inning help, or one in desperate need of a closer and is willing to take a chance.

Joe Nathan, RP: Lest we forget, Nathan helped keep the Twins at or near the top of the American League Central by saving 36-plus games for six consecutive years. This past season was a forgettable one for Nathan, who posted a career-high 4.84 ERA and saved only 14 games in 48 appearances. Lock-down closers aren't easy to find, though, and that is what a team might get if it gambles on the veteran. Nathan will turn 37 this month, so a late-career resurgence is far from certain.

Brad Hawpe, OF: The outfielder hasn't been able to regain his 2009 All-Star mojo since being released in 2010 by Colorado, where he hit .320 with 14 homers and 59 RBIs before the break the year before. Hawpe struggled in San Diego -- as many hitters do -- batting just .231 with four home runs and 19 RBIs in 62 games. He is a .276 career hitter, and perhaps a change of scenery would re-energize his bat.

Corey Patterson, OF: At 32, Patterson is not the weapon he once was, but he provides a veteran presence that can offer some value to an outfield. Patterson endured mixed results in 133 games split between the Blue Jays and Cardinals in 2011 (.239, six homers, 36 RBIs, 13 stolen bases), but he has experience hitting in all parts of the lineup (he has 100 or more career at-bats in every spot of the order except third, fourth and fifth) and could be an asset if he regains his legs and consistency at the plate.

Joey Nowak is a reporter for MLB.com. Follow him on Twitter at @joeynowak. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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