O's give Johnson two-year contract

Team-high 10 wins earn him up to $5.3M

January 19, 2002|By Roch Kubatko | Roch Kubatko,SUN STAFF

Rather than exchange salary figures and brace for a possible arbitration hearing, the Orioles signed pitcher Jason Johnson to a two-year contract yesterday as reward for a season that made him the team leader in wins and considerably richer.

Johnson's new deal will pay him $1.8 million next season and $2.9 million in 2003, with appearance incentives that could push the total package toward $5.3 million. He earned $350,000 last season while going 10-12 with a 4.09 ERA.

Another member of the rotation, Sidney Ponson, could have his salary determined by an arbitrator unless the two sides reach agreement. His agent, Barry Praver, is seeking $2.9 million. The Orioles have countered with a $2.5 million offer.

Johnson was 1-10 with a 7.02 ERA during the 2000 season, which also included demotions to the bullpen and Triple-A Rochester. Better focused after sessions with an eye concentration specialist and his diabetes more manageable because of an insulin pump, he made a team-leading 32 starts last year and posted a 10-6 record through Aug. 6 before going winless in his last nine appearances.

"Jason's very excited. He wanted to stay there. He'd like to stay there forever," said Johnson's agent, Tommy Tanzer.

"He felt like, even though the results weren't great last year, the chemistry of the team was very, very good. He's real happy to be staying. And they stepped up to the plate for him. This isn't earth-shattering but it's a very fair deal for both sides and it's what Jason wanted. That's the most important thing."

The Orioles acquired Johnson, 28, from the Tampa Bay Devil Rays three years ago for minor-league outfielder Danny Clyburn. He was arbitration-eligible for the first time this winter, but contract discussions heated up over the past week.

"This young man has made tremendous progress," said Syd Thrift, the club's vice president for baseball operations. "He's a great competitor and has done a fine job. He's working hard to be better this year, so we're very pleased."

Ponson, who can become a free agent after the 2003 season, went 5-10 with a 4.94 ERA in 23 starts. His last victory came on June 28, a two-hit shutout in Toronto. The subject of trade rumors this winter, Ponson was winless in his last 10 starts during a season spoiled as much by injuries as defeats.

Coming off a 9-13 season and a hefty pay raise, Ponson lost his first three decisions before going on the disabled list with elbow tendinitis, and missed the last five weeks with recurring pain in his forearm. A magnetic resonance imaging test confirmed extensor tendinitis, affecting the muscle that runs from the elbow to the forearm, but he's healthy again and in better condition.

Praver sought $2.65 million from the Orioles last winter, while the team countered with a $1.9 million offer. Praver settled for $2.1 million, a nice bump for a pitcher who earned $400,000 the previous season.

Only $400,000 separates the two sides this time but Praver said, "Gaps can be deceiving. The appearance of a small gap can actually be quite large if one or both of the parties remain entrenched in the position.

"Sidney has instructed me to maintain a dialogue with Orioles management in hopes of settling his case."

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