Ponson gets three-year, $22.5M deal

BALTIMORE -- Sidney Ponson is returning to the Baltimore Orioles, who traded the right-hander last July in the midst of his finest major league season.

Ponson and the Orioles agreed on a $22.5 million, three-year
contract Wednesday. It's $1.5 million more than the offer from
Baltimore that he rejected shortly before the team dealt Ponson to
the San Francisco Giants.

The deal won't become official until Ponson passes a physical
next week, but the Orioles are already counting heavily on an
improved pitcher who won a total of 17 games in 2003 -- his first
winning season in the majors.

"Sidney has grown tremendously as a pitcher, and he began to
put it all together last year. He enjoys the game, but he's a
tenacious competitor who wants the ball and wants to win. That is
the kind of player we want with the Orioles," said Mike Flanagan,
Orioles vice president for baseball operations. "With the Giants
last year, he got a chance to experience postseason play, which we
expect will help us here in the near future."

Ponson, currently on a Caribbean cruise sponsored by the
Orioles, said in a conference call, "After I got traded, I told
Mike that I was willing to talk to the Orioles after the season.
I've always loved Baltimore, so I was open to coming back."

Ponson went 14-6 with a 3.77 ERA in 21 starts with Baltimore. He
was 3-6 with a 3.71 ERA with the Giants.

Ponson becomes the latest in a series of free agents signed this
offseason by the Orioles, who have upgraded their attack by adding
first baseman Rafael Palmeiro, shortstop Miguel Tejada and catcher
Javy Lopez.

"Sidney is very happy to be returning to Baltimore, especially
given the direction the Orioles are heading," said Barry Praver,
Ponson's agent.

That, and Ponson's familiarity with Baltimore, were significant
factors in the pitcher's return.

"We had offers from other teams," Ponson said, "but I told
Barry I wanted to come back to Baltimore."

Ponson broke into the majors with the Orioles in 1998. He never
had a winning season until last year, when he led Baltimore in wins
despite being traded with two months left in the season.

Ponson's success last year can be attributed in part to his
ability to avoid giving up the home-run ball -- he yielded only 16
compared to 26 in 2002, 21 in 2001 and 30 in 1999.

Flanagan said the Orioles will be counting on Ponson for
innings, wins and guidance in the clubhouse.

"When he first come out, he was the new kid on the block. He
was 20 years old," Flanagan said. "Now we're asking him to assume
more of a leadership role."

Ponson, 27, turned down a three-year, $21 million offer from the
Orioles before they sent him to the Giants at the July 31
non-waiver trade deadline for pitchers Kurt Ainsworth, Damian Moss
and Ryan Hannaman.

Ainsworth is among several young pitchers expected to compete
this spring for a spot in Baltimore's starting rotation.