O's aim to avoid hearings with four

Deals with Mora, Hairston, Ponson and Ryan sought before going to arbitration

January 18, 2003|By Roch Kubatko | Roch Kubatko,SUN STAFF

Unable to sign their four arbitration-eligible players to 2003 contracts yesterday, the Orioles went through the process of exchanging salary figures while also hoping to avoid next month's hearings.

Barry Praver, the agent for pitcher Sidney Ponson, submitted an offer of $4.75 million, while the Orioles countered at $3.9 million. Ponson went 7-9 with a 4.09 ERA in 28 starts.

Second baseman Jerry Hairston, who earned $300,000 last season, is seeking $1.8 million after batting .268. The Orioles are offering $1.15 million. Peter Greenberg, who represents outfielder Melvin Mora, submitted a $2 million offer, while the Orioles countered at $1.425 million. Mora, who earned $350,000, established career highs with 19 homers and 16 stolen bases last season.

Reliever B.J. Ryan, who went 2-1 with a 4.68 ERA and one save while making $300,000, is seeking $825,000. The Orioles offered $700,000.

Both sides will attempt to reach agreements before going to arbitration, with hearing dates to be determined. The Orioles crossed outfielder Gary Matthews off their negotiating list Thursday when he agreed to a one-year, $900,000 contract.

"We feel like we can hopefully continue to talk with them and reach some kind of agreement," special assistant Ed Kenney said. "There was nothing real unusual about any of the filing numbers. They kind of go along with the discussions we've already had with the players and we'll continue to have discussions."

Ponson avoided a Feb. 20 hearing in Tampa, Fla., last year after agreeing to a $2.65 million contract. Praver sought $2.9 million, while the Orioles countered at $2.5 million.

The deal included $225,000 in performance incentives that Ponson couldn't reach. He failed to pitch 210 innings or make 31 starts, and wasn't named Comeback Player of the Year. Ponson fell 34 innings and three starts short of his bonuses after going on the disabled list Aug. 9 with inflammation in his right shoulder caused by a small labrum tear.

Should the two sides go to arbitration, Praver most likely will build his case around the Orioles' 17-11 record in Ponson's starts, and how the right-hander received the fourth-lowest run support in the American League at 4.09 per nine innings.

Ponson was winless in six June starts despite posting a 2.41 ERA and allowing three runs or fewer in each appearance. His three complete games tied Scott Erickson for the team lead, but he lost each decision.

The Orioles have been reluctant to negotiate a long-term deal with Ponson, who can leave as a free agent after the season. He's 41-53 with a 4.74 ERA in five seasons.

Hairston apparently will receive another chance in spring training to become the regular leadoff hitter. No other projected starter would fit comfortably in the role, though Hairston still must prove he's capable of toning down his aggressive approach.

He showed signs of doing it late last season after the experiment failed in April and Mora replaced him atop the order. Hairston led the club in average (.291), on-base percentage (.355) and stolen bases (12) after the break, and the Orioles didn't recall infielder Brian Roberts when rosters expanded in September.

Asked earlier this month about Roberts' omission, Kenney said, "The way Jerry finished, he was going to play second base."

Spring training also could determine whether Mora ends up in a utility role. He led the Orioles with 114 starts from the leadoff spot last season but batted there only twice in his last 16 starts. In one stretch beginning on May 2, he made 10 starts in a row without appearing at the same position in consecutive games.

For the season, Mora appeared in 149 games at five positions while injuries to other players kept him in the lineup. He fell into a 16-for-111 slump over his last 34 games to finish at .233.

Ryan joins Buddy Groom to fortify the left side of the bullpen, which also could include Bill Pulsipher or Eric Dubose. His 67 appearances were a career high, and opponents scored in only seven of his last 34 outings after June 30. During that time, Ryan posted a 2.48 ERA.

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