Charles Ray Fuller went to his local bank in Texas last week and wanted to cash a check. On the surface, there's nothing unusual about that. But there was something that bothered the teller about Fuller's request. Maybe it was just instinct, or perhaps the veteran bank employee noted the nervousness of the man standing at her window. But more than likely, it was the fact that the check Fuller was trying to cash was made out for $360 billion.
Apparently, Fuller had stolen a check from his girlfriend's mother and forged her signature. When the bank employees contacted the woman to inquire whether she had indeed written the check, she said she had not, so the authorities were sent for. Fuller was arrested on forgery charges and, needless to say, did not get his money.
Two thoughts immediately came to mind when I read this: First, the teller should be commended for actually making sure the transaction she was being asked to accept was kosher before completing it, and second, if the woman's account did in fact have at least $360 billion in it, how crazy must this guy have been to give up the chance to marry into such wealth?
The moral of this story is, when someone comes to you with a deal, it's up to you to investigate before you agree to anything. That doesn't mean it's cool for an owner to outright lie when proposing a trade, but a certain amount of "spin" is to be expected. If you don't do your research, that's your fault, not the guy who is making the proposal.
In one of my recent chats, I was asked about my feelings on a deal for Seattle closer J.J. Putz that Kevin from Los Angeles was putting together. He wrote, "Is Thome too much to offer for Putz? I need a closer and have a lot of bats in a 10-team league." I suggested that perhaps Kevin should spin things a little bit, in order to try to get a bargain. Putz was just coming off a stint on the disabled list, and I had read that the team was planning to use him in non-save situations initially, just to get him some work. As it turned out, the Mariners threw Putz right back into the closer role, so the point is moot. However, had they actually followed through on this plan, I would have had no problem with Kevin planting the seed of doubt to Putz's owner that such a move might indicate J.J.'s grasp on the closer job isn't as "Dyn-O-Mite" as it was pre-injury.
Several people suggested I was advocating "lying" as an acceptable thing for a fantasy owner to do, but that's not lying. It's spin, and it happens all the time. In fact, most deals probably wouldn't get done at all without a little stretching of the truth. However, there are different degrees of spin, and at some point, the line from creative accounting to outright fraud gets crossed. Where is that line? Let's examine the "Five Levels of Spin:"
Level 1 -- Sheer speculation: "I think something is wrong with Ryan Howard, and that he might not hit more than 20 home runs this season. But since I have Adam LaRoche as my current first baseman, I'm willing to take that chance, and I'm willing to part with Cliff Lee, who is an obvious Cy Young contender, for Howard. Deal?"
This speculation is just offering an opinion on a player's future performance, which nobody can know anyway. Maybe you totally buy what you're saying, or maybe you're full of Oscar Mayer's finest, but so what if you don't truly believe it? The fact is, it's plausible, and there's nothing wrong with trying to get your potential trade partner to see things from a point of view that might encourage him to make the deal you want.
Level 2 -- Using stats to paint your picture: "Sure Nate McLouth has had a hot start, but he's hitting only .200 in his past seven games. He wasn't supposed to be that good anyway. You're probably lucky to get a guy with the potential of Austin Kearns for him. He has hit .318 in his past seven. The only reason I'm offering Kearns for McLouth is because I have two other Nationals on my roster. What do you say? I might change my mind if Nate continues to struggle."
Now you're quoting stats, so there's some accountability here. You can't say someone is hitting .400 when they're not. You can't say a guy has an ERA of 3.20 when it's actually 6.75. But there's absolutely nothing wrong with using splits to pump up the bum you're trying to unload, or to make someone else's prize possession suddenly seem shaky.
Level 3 -- Misrepresentation of stats: "Nick Swisher is third on his team in steals and is certainly going to help your batting average more than Robinson Cano. Would you be willing to give me George Sherrill for Swisher? After all, Sherrill is among the league leaders in blown saves. I just don't have any closer at all, and I'm desperate."
Here's where the gray area seeps in. There's nothing that's factually untrue in the above statement, but we're certainly stretching the bounds of credibility. As of this weekend, Swisher was third on his team, or tied for third anyway, with a grand total of one stolen base. That batting average? A whopping .200, compared with Cano's .182 mark. As for Sherrill, he has blown two saves this season, tied with about 25 other pitchers for eighth place in that category. Yeah, he's among the top 10 in blown saves, but would that argument hold any water if you used it for a guy like Jonathan Papelbon, who also has two blown saves? I highly doubt it. Again, it's up to your opponent not to be fooled here, but once he finds out you're trying to pull the wool over his eyes, you're a marked man. I say it's not worth it.
Level 4 -- Deliberately hiding the truth: "I need some help in steals, and you're pretty set in that category, but I see you could use some help in your bullpen. How about you send me Carlos Gomez for Pat Neshek, and I'll even throw in Jim Edmonds to put in your outfield slot. Who knows? Neshek might even get a few saves for you, and Edmonds has a track record and could bounce back from his bad start."
This is where the line clearly gets crossed. If you know a player has been outright released by his team (Edmonds) or has suffered what is likely a season-ending injury (Neshek), you shouldn't try to pull a quick trade before a fellow owner has time to catch up. This example is pretty cut and dry: Emulating a weasel in this fashion is likely to get you booted from your league. Good riddance, I'd say.
Level 5 -- Complete fiction: "Did you see the news that just came across the wire on ESPN? Oh, my goodness! David Ortiz just broke his leg in three places in a car crash on the way to Fenway, and the Red Sox signed Barry Bonds to take his place! Ya know, I've had Bonds stashed away on my bench just in case he signed somewhere, but I really could use a shortstop ever since Troy Tulowitzki got hurt. Why don't I give you Bonds straight up for Yunel Escobar? We've got to move fast, though, because lineups lock in ten minutes. What do you say?"
If you want to be the next Stephen King, be my guest. Just don't write your latest novel on your league's message board. Even if you later say you were only joking, there's absolutely no way a trade like this would hold up, even if you had convinced another owner that you were completely sincere. Then again, I didn't think Erik was going to give up his immunity idol on "Survivor," so I guess anything is possible ... even a league of owners who would take such joy in someone being hoodwinked like this, that they'd allow such a deal to stand. In fact, if you are in one of these leagues, I know a guy who's willing to donate a check for $360 billion to your league champion, no questions asked.
AJ Mass is a fantasy football, baseball and college basketball analyst for ESPN.com. You can e-mail him here.