Of all the uncertainties awaiting the Orioles as they begin reporting to spring training next week, arbitration no longer will be included among them.
Pitcher Sidney Ponson avoided the process by agreeing to a $2.65 million contract for this season. A deal was reached Wednesday, assuring that the two sides wouldn't convene in Tampa, Fla., on Feb. 20 for a scheduled hearing.
Eligible for free agency after the 2003 season, Ponson likely will settle behind Scott Erickson in the Orioles' rotation unless circumstances bump him up.
Erickson, coming off ligament-transplant surgery that kept him out last year, is projected as the Opening Day starter. Ponson and Jason Johnson, who also avoided arbitration last month by signing a two-year deal, will compete for the second spot.
Barry Praver, who represents Ponson, had sought $2.9 million when salary figures were exchanged in January. The Orioles countered with a $2.5 million offer, and the small gap apparently kept discussions amicable and moving forward.
"Any time you can avoid arbitration, it's good for both the club and the player," said Ed Kenney, a special assistant to Syd Thrift, the Orioles' vice president for baseball operations. "I think in this case, it was an ability between both sides to talk it out and come to an agreement. We talked through the whole process and came to something that both sides felt they could live with."
Said Praver: "The purpose of salary arbitration in baseball is to encourage the parties to settle. The stakes can be high not only in economic terms, but also to potentially damaging the relationship between the player and the team. In this particular case, both parties recognized the implications and found common ground. It does not always work out that way.
"Sidney is not only in the best shape of his career, but is determined to produce commensurate results. He arrived at spring training 10 days earlier than the designated reporting date [Wednesday]. This settlement will allow him to stay focused without the obvious distraction that accompanies arbitration."
Ponson can earn another $125,000 in performance incentives if he reaches 210 innings or 31 starts, and $100,000 if he's named Comeback Player of the Year.
"We preferred to accept a base salary slightly less than the middle in exchange for an opportunity to be compensated in an amount above the middle," Praver said. "If Sidney achieves in 2002 what he did in either 1999 or 2000 in terms of games started or innings pitched, he will maximize his contract."
Ponson earned $2.1 million last season, when he went 5-10 with a 4.94 ERA in 23 games. He didn't post a victory after June 28, a two-hit shutout in Toronto, with the dry spell covering his last 10 starts.
The season tested him at many turns. Ponson, 25, lost his first three decisions before going on the disabled list with elbow tendinitis, and didn't pitch after Aug. 28 against the Oakland Athletics because of recurring pain in his forearm. A magnetic resonance imaging test confirmed extensor tendinitis, affecting the muscle that runs from the elbow to the forearm.