The movement to keep Sidney Ponson in Baltimore keeps gaining steam.
Yesterday, Orioles executive vice president Jim Beattie said the club is considering a three-year contract offer for Ponson, a 26-year-old pitcher who is eligible for free agency at season's end.
But Beattie added, "If he wants $10 million a year for three years, it's probably not going to happen."
Ponson is 10-5 with a 3.96 ERA this season. The Orioles chose not to negotiate a long-term contract with him last offseason. They avoided arbitration early in spring training by agreeing to a one-year, $4.25 million deal.
There were no discussions for months, as the Orioles contemplated moving Ponson before the July 31 non-waiver trade deadline or letting him walk as a free agent at season's end.
Entering this season, Ponson's career record was 41-53, but with nine wins in his past 12 starts, he has suddenly established himself as an All-Star candidate.
Two weeks ago, the Orioles started having exploratory talks with Ponson's agent, Barry Praver, about a contract extension. Praver said Ponson was open to such a deal.
"We're also trying to be realistic here," Beattie said. "Sidney hasn't been a perennial 15-game winner. I don't care if it's a bad team or not. It's like we said in the offseason. We'll do something if the dollars make sense, and we're not paying Sidney like a No. 1 ace starter in the big leagues."
Asked if Ponson would be open to signing a three-year deal, Praver said, "We have no intention of negotiating through the press."
Ponson has some leverage now. He could be the youngest front-line starting pitcher in a free-agent class that may also include Bartolo Colon, Kevin Millwood, Cory Lidle and Greg Maddux.
After the 2001 season, free-agent pitcher Chan Ho Park signed a five-year, $65 million deal with the Texas Rangers. Park's record at the time was 80-54, and he was 28. But last offseason, the Orioles saw the market change.
"A three-year contract is what we're taking a look at," Beattie said. "I don't want it to be a distraction for him, and I don't think it is because his agent's handling it all. We have a little window here, and if it's not done, we probably won't address it until after the season. We'll have a good idea hopefully before the [All-Star] break whether it's going to happen."
If the Orioles decide they can't sign Ponson, they will continue exploring trade offers. The Chicago White Sox are one of several teams said to have serious interest.
There's also the possibility that the Orioles will keep Ponson and try signing him after the season. For now, they will probably try to entice him with an incentive-laden deal.
"We're trying to approach it pretty much the same way that we did in the offseason with respect to [Ivan] Rodriguez and [Cliff] Floyd, with what each player would give us, along with the risk involved," Beattie said. "But if he's realistic, I think we'll be realistic, and we'll try to build something in where if he develops into that great pitcher that we all hope he can be, then he'll make some good money.
"Then, by the end of the contract, he'll be 29. He can go in and do it again."