Ponson, Hairston contracts renewed


Johnson, Garcia signed to year deals

Despite numbers, Pickering done in by crowd at first

March 08, 2000|By Joe Strauss and Roch Kubatko | Joe Strauss and Roch Kubatko,SUN STAFF

FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. -- The Orioles completed their signing season yesterday by renewing the contracts of starting pitcher Sidney Ponson and second baseman Jerry Hairston and agreeing to one-year contracts with pitcher Jason Johnson and infielder Jesse Garcia.

Ponson, who has won 20 games in two seasons, was assigned a contract of $400,000 while Hairston receives $205,000, only $5,000 above the major-league minimum.

Ponson's agent, Barry Praver, said his 23-year-old client was "disappointed" by the Orioles' move; however, Praver and vice president of baseball operations Syd Thrift also confirmed that the two sides may seek to avoid arbitration after this season via a multi-year deal.

"The possibility has been broached," Thrift said. "The idea has been placed on the table."

Said Praver: "Right now the most important thing for Sidney is he goes out and has a good season. I think Sidney will choose to direct his attention in that direction."

Virtually all players with less than three years' major-league service may have their salaries assigned by a club if the sides can't agree on a figure. The Orioles have devised a grid in which they cross-reference a player's service time with his performance to determine a salary. Hairston received the maximum given a player with fewer than 100 days major-league service.

Thrift cited the Atlanta Braves' assigning Kevin Millwood a $420,000 salary as further justification for Ponson's figure. "It's part of the system," said Thrift.

Hairston, ostensibly in competition to become the team's starting second baseman, had little to say about the team's decision. The two sides were separated by less than $25,000, according to a source familiar with the aborted negotiations.

Pickering on deck

Calvin Pickering said he's ready. If the chance to play in the majors presents itself, he'll be up to the challenge.

More likely, he'll be down in Rochester.

Pickering had two stints with the Orioles last season, but his next one isn't expected to come in April. He was 3-for-6 with a home run after last night's 5-4 exhibition loss to the New York Mets, but those are the only numbers favoring him. There's a crowd at first base, led by Will Clark, and a concession from manager Mike Hargrove that his likely destination is Triple-A.

Asked last week about Pickering and third baseman Ryan Minor, Hargrove said: "They'd need to show real well. It depends on the injury status of the club. Realistically, a number of things would have to hit just right for them to make the ballclub."

To his credit, Pickering isn't letting the long odds shorten his production or distract from the work he needs to do in camp.

"I'm just coming out to do my best," he said. "If I make it, I make it. If I don't, I'll just play ball. I can't worry about it. Wherever I'm at, I have to play ball. No matter if I'm in the big leagues or not. I don't make that decision. If I'm in Triple-A, I just have to go back and play there."

And try to stay healthy. Pickering strained a muscle in his right shoulder during the second game last season and never recovered until after playing in the Arizona Fall League. He batted .285 with 16 homers and 63 RBIs with in Rochester, and .125 with one homer and five RBIs in 23 games with the Orioles.

"I tried to come back and swing with it before I was healthy," he said. "It was frustrating because I couldn't swing the bat the way I normally swing it. Right now, it's 100 percent and I feel pretty good."

His time in Arizona proved beneficial despite the lingering discomfort in his shoulder. Defensively challenged at best, he received special instruction from future Hall of Fame first baseman Eddie Murray, who was managing the Scottsdale Scorpions.

Murray suggested that Pickering needs to devote more time to his defense. More effort before games could yield better results during them.

"We all want to see some type of fire in him, for him to go somewhere and put in that extra 20 minutes of fielding ground balls," said Murray, who is serving as the Orioles' first base coach this season. "He'll come out and hit extra, but you can't always work on your strengths."

"I learned a lot under him," said Pickering, 23, a 35th-round selection in the 1995 draft. "I learned how to work in the field, how to be aggressive, taking my time and making the plays. I feel I can play the field well. I just have to keep working on it."

The best way to do that is by playing, but he won't get extensive time on the field during games. He'll have to settle for a few innings here and there while Clark makes the majority of the starts.

"It's not frustrating because I can't worry about it," Pickering said. "I just have to let it go and play my game. When the time is right, I'll play."

Perhaps next season, after Clark's contract runs out. Or perhaps with another organization.

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