Ponson gets three-year, $22.5M deal

Updated: January 14, 2004, 5:06 PM ET
Associated Press

BALTIMORE -- Sidney Ponson is returning to the Baltimore Orioles, who traded the right-hander last July in the midst of his finest major league season.

Orioles' projected 2004 lineup
Brian Roberts/Jerry Hairston, 2B
Melvin Mora, 3B
Miguel Tejada, SS
Rafael Palmeiro, 1B
Javy Lopez, C
Jay Gibbons, RF
B.J. Surhoff, DH
Luis Matos, CF
Larry Bigbie, LF

Sidney Ponson, RHP
Rodrigo Lopez, RHP
Kurt Ainsworth, RHP
Eric DuBose, LHP
Matt Riley, LHP/Omar Daal, LHP

Ponson and the Orioles agreed on a $22.5 million, three-year contract Wednesday. It's $1.5 million more than the offer from Baltimore that he rejected shortly before the team dealt Ponson to the San Francisco Giants.

The deal won't become official until Ponson passes a physical next week, but the Orioles are already counting heavily on an improved pitcher who won a total of 17 games in 2003 -- his first winning season in the majors.

"Sidney has grown tremendously as a pitcher, and he began to put it all together last year. He enjoys the game, but he's a tenacious competitor who wants the ball and wants to win. That is the kind of player we want with the Orioles," said Mike Flanagan, Orioles vice president for baseball operations. "With the Giants last year, he got a chance to experience postseason play, which we expect will help us here in the near future."

Ponson, currently on a Caribbean cruise sponsored by the Orioles, said in a conference call, "After I got traded, I told Mike that I was willing to talk to the Orioles after the season. I've always loved Baltimore, so I was open to coming back."

Ponson went 14-6 with a 3.77 ERA in 21 starts with Baltimore. He was 3-6 with a 3.71 ERA with the Giants.

Ponson becomes the latest in a series of free agents signed this offseason by the Orioles, who have upgraded their attack by adding first baseman Rafael Palmeiro, shortstop Miguel Tejada and catcher Javy Lopez.

"Sidney is very happy to be returning to Baltimore, especially given the direction the Orioles are heading," said Barry Praver, Ponson's agent.

That, and Ponson's familiarity with Baltimore, were significant factors in the pitcher's return.

"We had offers from other teams," Ponson said, "but I told Barry I wanted to come back to Baltimore."

Ponson broke into the majors with the Orioles in 1998. He never had a winning season until last year, when he led Baltimore in wins despite being traded with two months left in the season.

Ponson's success last year can be attributed in part to his ability to avoid giving up the home-run ball -- he yielded only 16 compared to 26 in 2002, 21 in 2001 and 30 in 1999.

Flanagan said the Orioles will be counting on Ponson for innings, wins and guidance in the clubhouse.

"When he first come out, he was the new kid on the block. He was 20 years old," Flanagan said. "Now we're asking him to assume more of a leadership role."

Ponson, 27, turned down a three-year, $21 million offer from the Orioles before they sent him to the Giants at the July 31 non-waiver trade deadline for pitchers Kurt Ainsworth, Damian Moss and Ryan Hannaman.

Ainsworth is among several young pitchers expected to compete this spring for a spot in Baltimore's starting rotation.

Copyright 2004 by The Associated Press