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INDIANS SIGN SIERRA TO MINOR-LEAGUE PACT

Ruben Sierra, who hasn't played in the major leagues since May 1998, agreed Thursday to a minor-league contract with the Cleveland Indians and was invited to spring training.

That means he may be assigned to the Buffalo Bisons.

Sierra, 34, has played with seven teams in the past 14 years. His best season was in 1989 with the Texas Rangers, when he hit .306 with 26 home runs and 119 RBIs.

He was released by the Chicago White Sox on May 30, 1998, then signed a minor league contract with the Mets that June 20 and spent the rest of the season in their minor league system.

Sierra hit .294 with 28 homers and 82 RBIs in 112 games this year for Atlantic City in the independent Atlantic League.

Cleveland also agreed to a minor-league contract with infielder Bill Selby, 29. He hit .295 with 20 homers and 85 RBIs for the Bisons last season.

In other news involving the Tribe, shortstop Omar Vizquel is setting up a fund to help his native Venezuela survive its worst natural disaster.

Torrential rains that began Dec. 15 caused an avalanche of mud, water and boulders to crash down a mountain near Vizquel's hometown of Caracas. Mudslides have killed between 5,000 and 30,000 people and devastated many of the city's poorest areas.

Aaron hammers Rocker

ATLANTA -- John Rocker faced a fresh round of criticism, led by Hall of Famer Hank Aaron, despite the outspoken reliever's apology for insensitive remarks against gays and minorities.

Aaron said Thursday he was "very sick and disgusted about the whole situation" and questioned how Rocker could continue in baseball.

"I have no place in my heart for people who feel that way," the former slugger and current Atlanta Braves senior vice president said.

About 15 activists protested outside Turner Field, urging the Braves to fire Rocker for the comments, which were published in this week's Sports Illustrated.

Braves starting pitcher Tom Glavine says the one thing in Rocker's favor is that it's the offseason. If the team was playing, "there probably would have been 25 guys ready to kill him," Glavine said.

Lefty hopes for revival

BOSTON -- Jeff Fassero needed a new start. The Boston Red Sox needed a new left-handed starter.

Fassero is headed to Fenway Park after agreeing to a $2 million, one-year contract and he hopes he can help the Red Sox overtake the New York Yankees, who beat them in this year's AL Championship Series.

"Fenway's got a lot of history," Fassero said. "I want to get into a baseball city where it is talked about a lot."

After posting the third best cumulative ERA of any left-hander from 1991-98, Fassero sank to 5-14 with a 7.20 ERA last season with Seattle and Texas. Then he became a free agent.

Boston, which started righties in 157 of its 162 games last season (Kent Mercker started the other five), also made another move, agreeing to a $3.35 million, two-year contract with lefty reliever Sang Lee, a South Korean who played in Japan last season. Lee, 28, was 20-5 as a starter in 1995, had 37 saves in 1997 and, after leaving Korea for Japan, was 6-5 with a 2.83 ERA last season with the Chunichi Dragons.

While Red Sox general manager Dan Duquette wouldn't guarantee Fassero, 36, would start, the only pitchers with spots in Boston's rotation are Pedro and Ramon Martinez. Bret Saberhagen started 22 games last season but is expected to miss the first half of next season after undergoing shoulder surgery.

Giants re-sign GM Sabean

SAN FRANCISCO -- Now that general manager Brian Sabean has been signed to a two-year contract extension, the San Francisco Giants' focus turns to re-signing manager Dusty Baker.

Sabean said his first priority is to re-sign Baker, a two-time NL Manager of the Year who is 558-512 in seven seasons with the Giants. His contract runs through the end of the next season.

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