Orioles nearing deal with Ponson

VP Flanagan still talking with agent

Palmeiro set to be re-introduced today

January 13, 2004|By Joe Christensen | Joe Christensen,SUN STAFF

The Orioles continued to inch closer to a deal to re-sign free-agent starting pitcher Sidney Ponson last night, with team officials saying the sides were near an agreement but not quite there yet.

Orioles vice president Mike Flanagan has been handling the negotiations with Ponson's agent, Barry Praver, and the two were expected to keep talking late into last night.

Praver declined to comment, but the Orioles are trying to sign Ponson to a three-year deal for about $21 million, which is the same offer he turned down before they traded him to the San Francisco Giants at the July 31 waiver deadline.

That day, Ponson made it clear he had no plans to come back.

"I don't think so," he said. "I think I've burned a lot of bridges with [Orioles executive vice president Jim] Beattie already."

But those bridges have apparently been repaired. From all accounts, both sides have been eager to finish the contract. Ponson still has a losing career record, 58-65, but last year he started to blossom into the pitcher the Orioles always hoped he could be.

In 31 starts combined for the Orioles and Giants, he went 17-12 with a 3.75 ERA.

Ponson, 27, still keeps an apartment in Baltimore, and he left on Saturday for his annual guest appearance on the Orioles Cruise, along with longtime bench coach Elrod Hendricks and outfielder Marty Cordova.

The ship returns to port in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., on Saturday, but the sides can still come to an agreement this week and wait to make it official until Ponson passes a physical exam.

Today, the Orioles will have free-agent first baseman Rafael Palmeiro in for his physical, and then, assuming he passes, he will be re-introduced at an afternoon news conference.

Palmeiro, 39, hit 182 home runs as an Oriole from 1994 to 1998 and then signed a five-year, $45 million deal with the Texas Rangers. On Saturday, he agreed to come back on a one-year, $4 million deal with an option for 2005.

In Ponson's case, the Orioles are trying to have their cake and eat it, too - trading Ponson to the Giants for three pitchers and then getting him to come back.

That's what happened with Mike Bordick in 2000. The Orioles sent him to the New York Mets at the trading deadline in a deal that brought them Melvin Mora, and Bordick wound up re-signing with the Orioles as a free agent.

The Orioles still have high hopes for two of the three pitchers they got back from the Giants, even though they opted not to tender a contract to Damian Moss, cutting him loose as a free agent. The left-hander struggled mightily after the trade, going 1-5 with a 6.22 ERA.

Kurt Ainsworth, 25, was recovering from a broken shoulder blade and was able to make only three appearances in relief at the end of the season, but the Orioles are counting on the right-hander to be one of their top starting pitchers this season.

Ryan Hannaman, 22, went 1-3 with a 3.79 ERA at Single-A Frederick, and is now considered one of the Orioles' top left-handed pitching prospects.

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