His ERA has been soaring, but Ponson was never boring

July 24, 2005|By Peter Schmuck

I HAVE a confession to make.

I already miss Sidney Ponson.

I know, I know, he isn't really even gone yet, but he took the mound last night at Tropicana Field with the baseball trade winds blowing squarely in his direction. The Orioles reached a tentative agreement to send him to the San Diego Padres for veteran slugger Phil Nevin, and I'm just now coming to grips with what life might be like around here without him.

Say what you want, but the guy was always good for a few laughs ... or a few hours of community service.

He could have been one of those boring players who go home in the winter and you don't hear from them until they show up again at spring training. They travel. They do a few charity events. They play with their kids. They think that if they entertain us on the field, they've fulfilled their obligation to the public.

Not Sidney. He went home to Aruba last Christmas and allegedly punched out a judge, then spent 11 days in jail and was so determined to put his life in order that he came back to the States and got himself arrested a few weeks later on a charge of driving under the influence.

The snooty term for him is enfant terrible, but he's really just an overgrown kid who never developed an ounce of self-discipline. There were times when he was just a lovable oaf, and there were other times when he deserved the adult equivalent of a good spanking. And, there were a few times when his talent flashed so brightly that it made perfect sense to put up with all his nonsense.

Trouble is, when the Orioles signed him to a $22.5 million contract before the 2004 season after trading him to the San Francisco Giants during the 2003 season, they lost any ability to control him. He arrived in spring training out of shape and had a horrible first half, which essentially scuttled any chance the Orioles had of finishing above .500.

The situation deteriorated from there, which is what has brought us here. Ponson will be headed for San Diego if Nevin - who also has rubbed some people the wrong way in the Padres' organization - agrees to waive a clause in his contract that allows him to decline a trade to the Orioles.

More specifically, Nevin's contract allowed him to designate eight teams to which he cannot be dealt without his approval. He already used that clause to veto a 2002 deal that would have sent him to Cincinnati for Ken Griffey, and agent Barry Axelrod indicated yesterday that the Padres probably would have to make some accommodations to keep his client from vetoing this deal, too.

The environment, however, has changed. Nevin has to know that he is not the most popular guy in the Padres' organization right now and that the Orioles represent an opportunity to start anew without sacrificing a chance to reach the playoffs.

He would move into the Orioles' lineup at first base, which would free Rafael Palmeiro to DH and - theoretically - keep him fresh for the stretch run. The acquisition of Nevin and the pending return of catcher Javy Lopez from a hand injury would beef up the offense so dynamically that it just might offset the loss of depth in the starting rotation, though I'm not sure that is any loss at all.

Right now, getting rid of Ponson looks like addition by subtraction. He entered last night's game with the third-highest ERA of any regular starting pitcher in the major leagues, so it's not as if John Maine or another young pitcher can't replace what he has done so far. But the Orioles need to continue to burn up the phone lines to acquire a solid veteran if they are holding out any hope of going deep into the postseason.

The A.J. Burnett deal is dead, but there are other pitchers out there and unexpected things often develop as marginal teams get closer to the July 31 non-waiver trade deadline. The Orioles still are positioned well to make a deal with Hayden Penn, Larry Bigbie and Jorge Julio expendable.

Getting Nevin could also mean fewer at-bats for Sammy Sosa, depending on whether the Orioles move an outfielder in an ensuing deal to fill the pitching void, since the DH option will diminish for Jay Gibbons and B.J. Surhoff.

The deal - if Nevin decides to play ball - would produce a dynamic shift in the chemistry of the team, but it would come at a price.

Without Sidney, what are we going to do for laughs?

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