- The Washington Times - Friday, February 8, 2002

Sidney Ponson, the Baltimore Orioles' young pitcher with so much potential and so few results, signed a one-year, $2.65million contract yesterday, avoiding salary arbitration but failing to secure long-term security with a franchise that is constantly asked about the right-hander's trade availability.

Ponson, coming off the least productive season of his four-year major league career, and the Orioles had appeared headed for arbitration, with Ponson asking for $2.9million and the team offering $2.5million.

But as they did with fellow starting pitcher Jason Johnson last month, the Orioles kept the matter away from the three-man panel and came to terms with Ponson, 25, who made $2.1million last year and will report to spring training headquarters in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., on Thursday with the rest of Baltimore's pitchers and catchers.

Johnson, though, received a two-year deal worth $4.7million after making progress with a 10-12 record and 4.09 ERA in 2001. Ponson, who struggled with a 5-10 mark and 4.94 ERA and was plagued by arm injuries, signed a one-year contract with incentives worth as much as $125,000 should he make 31 starts or pitch 210 innings.

Whether Ponson finally develops into the top-of-the-rotation pitcher the Orioles have been longing for this season remains to be seen.

"I think Sidney can be a very good, dominant starter in the American League," manager Mike Hargrove said. "He's probably got better stuff than anybody [else on Baltimores staff]. He's got his weight down and he's in shape and working hard. We'll see where he's at."

A native of Aruba, Ponson spent the majority of this offseason in Baltimore working with Orioles strength and conditioning coach Tim Bishop in hopes of slimming his 6-foot-1, 225-pound frame.

"Sidney has spent most of the winter in Baltimore and has been working out very diligently," vice president of baseball operations Syd Thrift said. "We look forward to him having an excellent year for us in 2002."

Last season was anything but excellent for Ponson. He spent four weeks on the disabled list early on with an inflamed right elbow, came back to go 5-2 with a 3.32 ERA in May and June, then failed to win in his next 10 starts before ending the year back on the DL with tendinitis in his right forearm.

Despite his 34-44 record and 4.90 ERA over four full seasons, Ponson continues to be Baltimore's most coveted player when it comes to trade talk. He figured prominently at the winter meetings in a proposed mega-deal with the Philadelphia Phillies that would have sent star third baseman Scott Rolen and others to Baltimore for five players, and his name has come up in nearly every significant trade offer made to Thrift.

The Orioles, however, continue to see the upside to a pitcher who has fallen short of potential thus far but still has time to turn things around. Thus Ponson figures to be Baltimore's No. 2 or 3 starter once again this season, behind Johnson and veteran Scott Erickson.

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