Ponson news no day at beach as O's winter grows colder


THERE'S only one thing worse than another trade-less, free- agent-pitcher-less winter weekend for the Orioles.

That would be a trade-less, free-agent-pitcher-less winter weekend in which Sidney Ponson gets detained in Aruba for offenses that allegedly have to do with a personal watercraft, a judge, a black eye and a punch.

The Orioles de facto "ace" was not, apparently, playing beach-blanket bingo.

Sidney, Sidney, Sidney.

And we thought Ponson's spring training regimen of 40 light beers at TGIF's was going to highlight Ponson's career as the Orioles' resident free-wheeling goofball. Who knew that his ill-advised jaunt to a Metallica concert with "training partner" Scott Erickson was merely a warm-up act for bigger and better stage antics?

Ponson's love affair with fun has always made for reliably entertaining broadsheet fodder. Now this: An Aruban knight detained in Aruba for allegedly assaulting a judge, with either his fist or a jet ski.

Question: Can an Aruban knight even be taken into custody on an Aruban beach?

And what if there's only one judge in Aruba?

One has to imagine that Ponson's chances for a suspended sentence are now awfully slim - or at least slimmer than the Aruban knight himself.

Maybe, when the time comes, Ponson will celebrate his release from jail with a monster burrito - just like the ones he washed down in Fort Lauderdale last March with those 40 light beers.

Ah, the endless jokes that will flow from this typically Ponson-esque situation. As if losing almost every start he had before the 2004 All-Star break weren't enough to fuel Ponson's reputation of all arm, too little common sense. Now this bit of comic relief, substantial-enough news to actually make the ticker at the bottom of CNN Headline News Sunday night.

Wonder if Peter Angelos, Mike Flanagan or Jim Beattie saw it there first.

There's a point at which the story of the Ponson incident in Aruba on Christmas Day dovetails with the Orioles' lackluster performance - so far - in the free-agent/trade market.

Unfortunately, the dovetailing stories of Ponson's detainment for alleged assault in Aruba and the Orioles' surprisingly lackluster winter shopping - so far - is a story of irony.

Last year, the lone free-agent pitcher that the Orioles paid market value to was Ponson. He might be a knucklehead, incapable of living up to his talent, but at least he was the Orioles' knucklehead, an outsider from a non-baseball Caribbean outpost whose talent and personality made Ponson a reasonable risk.

But is he a Tim Hudson, a Brad Radke, a Pedro Martinez, an Eric Milton or, let us suggest, a Javier Vazquez, whom the Orioles could right now be attempting to trade for at the severe price of allowing Randy Johnson to go to the Yankees?

If the news about Ponson does anything, it's to stir the imagination. If the Dodgers reneged on a deal that would have sent Vazquez to L.A. while Shawn Green went to Arizona and the Big Unit went to the Yankees, then the Orioles have to be thinking they have as much or more to offer the Diamondbacks.

"We liked him," Orioles general manager Mike Flanagan said about Vazquez, who was traded to the Yankees last year in George Steinbrenner's annual Collect All Available Pitchers Game of Chance.

Would the Orioles make a deal to better their rotation if indeed it improved the Yankees?

"It depends on what we'd get in return," Flanagan said.

This winter, decent offers aren't enough to lure free agents to Camden Yards, nor can reasonable trade offers turn the Orioles into wheeler-dealers.

Imagine if 18-game winner Carl Pavano had forsaken his parents' status as Yankees fans and, instead, accepted the Orioles' very respectable offer to pitch for the underdogs of the American League East?

Pavano passed, then the Orioles weren't gung-ho about Matt Clement, Kevin Millwood, Martinez or Milton, who rubbed salt in the wintry wounds of Orioles Nation by agreeing to a $25.5 million deal with the Reds yesterday.

The Reds have made moves. So have the Red Sox, Mets, Mariners, Diamondbacks, Angels and Cubs. The Orioles, who this winter singled out a No. 1 starter as their No. 1 priority, have had to suffer the slings and arrows of outrageous contracts, all while clinging to their belief that stockpiling prospects is the proper way to regenerate the Orioles.

Indeed, Pavano was hellbent on being a Yankee. Hudson was traded from the A's to the Braves, even after the Orioles agreed to give Oakland every player Billy Beane asked for - in exchange for a window to negotiate a contract extension with Hudson. No dice.

"We got into the Hudson talks. He's a clear No. 1," Flanagan said last night.

"He was a guy we went after. Otherwise, [this market] had not been worth it. There's been no clear No. 1, front-of-the-rotation kind of guy," Flanagan said.

For now, there is no Hudson. There is only a philosophy that leans away from overpaying for free agents, regardless of what the Red Sox, Yankees, Diamondbacks, Mets and Angels are doing. The Orioles are collecting pieces, building a farm system, stockpiling young arms.

Sanguine and patient, that's one way to look at the Orioles' philosophy on free-agent acquisitions.

Or: They're willing to be the butt of jokes, thanks now to Ponson, the knight who can now tell a good story about Aruban confinement.

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