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Coming Soon: Fantasy Spin-Doctor

Are you new to Fantasy Sports? Maybe I should ask if you know what Fantasy IS. Take it from a Fantasy Junkie, it will change the way you approach sports. In the next few weeks I will be unfolding this mysterious underworld of sports, including a "Fantasy for Dummies" how-to. Don't worry, it won't be a tell all like that "Secrets of the Magic" show.

In any case, my columns are intended for every sports fan but I certainly give it the Fantasy Spin. Thus, I am the Fantasy Spin-Doctor. Since the realities of sports and Fantasy (or simply referred as "Fan") have somewhat different objectives, there are also different connotations to every bit of news. For instance, Juan Gonzales signing with the Cleveland Indians. Sure, that is news to most baseball followers, but in the grand scheme of baseball, does it really get the Tribe closer to winning a World Series? Maybe or maybe not. To the "Fan" baseball folks, that signing is HUGE to Gonzales' Fan value. We could care less about the Tribe getting to the World Series, but Gonzales will almost certainly get better stats hitting in the Indians lineup than in the Tigers lineup. Therefore, it can be said that this move has more Fan value than reality value. Look for "Fan Spin" alerts throughout my articles as a clue that the information following the alert has particular insight for the Fantasy audience. 

Say it isn't so

Art Modell's football team is finally going to the Super Bowl. I know that true fans are outraged and disgusted by this senseless assault on loyalty and decency. Trust me, I'm a native Clevelander! No one reviles Modell more than Clevelanders. And all of this after last year's "Gypsy Bowl" where BOTH Super Bowl teams had uprooted to

new cities.

Unfortunately, we must take a step back to reality. We can't always think with our hearts. Regardless of what we think of "Artie," the Ravens are a good football team with arguably one of the best defenses of all time. The Ravens defense shattered the NFL record this season by allowing just 165 points in 16 games, 20 points fewer than the 1985 Chicago Bears or even Pittsburgh's famed "Steel Curtain." How can you deny a team that held Oakland's #1 rated rushing offense to just 24 yards on 17 carries, averaging just 1.4 yards per carry?

On the other side, Jim Fassel's gutsy guarantee that the Giants would make the playoffs started it all. Since the fateful guarantee, the "G-Men" have been on a 6-game winning streak. Then comes the 41-0 win versus the Minnesota Vikings in the biggest rout in NFC championship history to get to the Super Bowl.

Let's just hope that Fassel's Giants can out-fairytale the Ravens for the sake of decency.

Hot Stove 

Juan Gonzales 

Free Agent Signings

Free agent season is pretty much over. There are probably only two or three remaining free agents that have any real Fan value. Relievers John Wetteland and Rick Aguilera are the biggest, with SS Kevin Stocker and inconsistent OF Henry Rodriguez pulling up the rear.

Fan Spin: Since most of the free agent moves are finished, now is the time to get reacquainted with what free agents have settled into new teams. Find an AP free agent signing list or visit Sports Illustrated's list at their website.

Starter David Cone, and his five World Series rings, will not be in Yankee pinstripes in '01. Instead, Cone will compete for a fifth spot in the Red Sox rotation with Tomo Okha, Paxton Crawford, Tim Wakefield, Pete Schourek and Sun-Woo Kim. Boston's first four starters are Pedro Martinez, Frank Castillo, Rolando Arrojo, and Hideo Nomo.

Fan Spin: If the Yankees didn't make an offer to Cone, neither should you. Cone has a 184-116 record and a 3.40 ERA over a 15-year career but struggled last season, going 4-14 with a 6.91 ERA in 155 innings. He did not start in the Yankees post season, making just two relief appearances. We all hate the Yankees, but no one argues that they are best at judging talent. When was the last time the Yanks made a mistake on a player? I can't think of any recently.

The Yankees did, however, sign reliever Ramiro Mendoza to a one-year, $1.6 million deal. The 28-year-old right-hander was 7-4 with a 4.25 ERA in 9 starts last season. Mendoza was headed for arbitration prior to the signing (see "Playing Chicken" below). In a similar move, the Astros signed breakout OF Richard Hidalgo to a four-year, $32 million deal. The 25-year-old center fielder set career highs last year, hitting .314 with 44 homers and 122 RBIs. Fan Spin: Keep an eye on this kid--he'll go early in the draft.

In the "show-me-some-love" category, slugger Sammy Sosa and the Cubs are said to be having "constructive" meetings. Both sides agreed to keep negotiations private but there is no timetable for getting a deal done. The Cubs need to sign Sammy and build around him or deal him to someone before he turns into a pumpkin in that cruddy lineup. With Mark Grace gone to the Diamondbacks, Sammy has no one hitting in front of him. Fan Spin: Sosa's value continues to fall thanks to the Cubbies front office paralysis.

A tip of the hat to Tribe GM John Hart for his coup to get OF Juan Gonzales for $10 million, which is $7 million per year, less than the offer Gonzales turned down in Detroit. Pundits are calling "Juan Gon" the second best free agent signing this off-season-- ahead of Boston's signing of OF Manny Ramirez. 

Playing Chicken

There are 103 major leaguers eligible to file for arbitration. Three days after the filing deadline, players and teams exchange proposed salaries with hearings scheduled for the first three weeks of February. The players can only sign with their current team. During this month of waiting, teams usually come to their senses and sign the players for a negotiated salary prior to arbitration hearings. Of the players eligible for arbitration, Yankees SS Derek Jeter is highest profile. Expect to see the Yankees ink him for a long-term contract before it comes to a hearing.

Locker Room is written by Michael Skordeles

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