Team, Ponson avoid arbitration, reach 1-year, $4.25M deal


The Orioles can cross another name off their arbitration list.

The club has reached agreement with pitcher Sidney Ponson on a one-year deal worth $4.25 million. It became official during the afternoon once Ponson's agent, Barry Praver, finished working on some language in the contract.

Ponson's hearing was scheduled for Tuesday in St. Petersburg, Fla., and he represented the biggest challenge to the Orioles because of the gap in exchanged salary figures. Ponson sought $4.75 million while the team countered at $3.9. He earned $2.65 million last season.

"This hasn't been on my mind at all," he said. "That's why I have an agent. He did a good job. He's been relaying messages to me, but I told him I gave him all the opportunities to do whatever he could do. He stuck with it, and we got a deal done."

The Orioles are down to one potential hearing, with Melvin Mora's case scheduled for Wednesday. They're close to reaching an agreement, and an announcement could be made today. Mora is seeking $2 million, while the Orioles countered at $1.425 million. He earned $350,000 last season.

Ponson can become a free agent after the season, and the Orioles have been reluctant to negotiate a long-term deal. He's never posted a winning record in the majors, but he received the fourth-lowest run support in the American League last season while going 7-9 with a 4.09 ERA. The Orioles were 17-11 in his 28 starts.

Asked about any concerns over the lack of a multi-year contract, Ponson said: "I just want to go and play ball. That's the only thing I'm worried about. I have to prepare myself to pitch for the Baltimore Orioles. I want to go out there and have a good season."

The winter began with five Orioles eligible for arbitration, but Ponson, outfielder Gary Matthews, reliever B.J. Ryan and second baseman Jerry Hairston have signed for 2003.

Job insecurity for Fordyce

Negotiations this winter with free-agent catcher Ivan Rodriguez drew particular interest from Brook Fordyce, who will make $3.2 million in the final year of his contract.

Fordyce lost his starting job last season to rookie Geronimo Gil and went 1-for-31 in his first 13 games. He finished with a .231 batting average, one home run and eight RBIs, which didn't exactly make him a bargain at his salary.

In need of a run producer for their lineup, the Orioles made a strong push for Rodriguez before losing him to the Florida Marlins, leaving Gil and Fordyce in their same roles as camp opened.

"If that had happened, it would have had a major impact on me," he said. "If you sign Pudge, I'm probably gone."

Fordyce isn't convinced that he'll remain with the team. After Rodriguez signed with the Marlins, vice president Mike Flanagan said the Orioles would "upgrade" the position if possible.

"I've always liked it here and I'll go out and bust my butt and see what happens," Fordyce said, "but they could still trade me or release me."

B. Roberts to try outfield

Manager Mike Hargrove wants to audition Brian Roberts in center field this spring to improve his chances of making the club as a utility player.

Roberts, who is trying to unseat Hairston at second base, has some experience at shortstop but none in the outfield since the Orioles drafted him in 1999.

"I think he could play it well," Hargrove said, "but we won't know until we put him out there."

Excused absences

Gil remained in Mexico yesterday because his mother is ill. He's expected to report today.

Minor-league pitchers Daniel Cabrera and Fernando Rijo also were absent. Cabrera, who led rookie-league Bluefield with 69 strikeouts last year, is having visa problems in the Dominican Republic, and Rijo missed his flight out of there.

Takes nothing for granted

Though he won eight games as a rookie and made 19 starts among his 29 appearances, Travis Driskill still comes into camp feeling as though he's competing for a spot on the pitching staff. Nothing will be given to him, which draws no complaints.

He's just grateful for the chance to make the Opening Day roster.

This is a new experience for Driskill, 31, who never believed he would accompany the team north last year after it broke camp in Fort Lauderdale. He was given a long look, but then was assigned to Triple-A Rochester.

It wasn't until April 25 that Driskill finally reached the majors in his 10th pro season. He became the fourth Orioles' rookie to win his first five decisions, but finished up in the bullpen, where he'll compete for a job in long relief this spring.

"What role they have me in, I have no idea, but I'm not worried. I just want to pitch well and see how things go," he said. "I'm excited. This is the first year I've had an opportunity to make a team. Hopefully, I can take advantage of it."

Rather than play winter ball, as he usually does, Driskill didn't resume throwing until after the Fiesta Bowl on Jan. 3. "It should be good for my arm," he said. "I just stayed home and helped raise the kids. It was a peaceful winter."

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