The Twins may have taken a big step forward in shoring up their starting rotation -- if right-hander Sidney Ponson doesn't take two steps back.
"I think it's certainly within both parties' interest to bring him in," Twins general manager Terry Ryan said after the team and Ponson agreed to a minor league deal that pays him $1 million for making the 40-man roster out of camp -- and up to $3 million with performance bonuses.
"He's capable of throwing 200 innings. He's had some things off the field that haven't been conducive to pitching and some things the last few years that haven't been to anybody's liking. I think he's at the point in his career where he realizes this could be a very big year for him."
For the Twins, Ponson offers a low-risk opportunity to firm up a rotation that lost 2006 rookie sensation Francisco Liriano to elbow surgery and longtime anchor Brad Radke to retirement. Only Cy Young winner Johan Santana, 2006 disappointment Carlos Silva and 2006 rookie Boof Bonser have been slotted into the 2007 rotation.
For Ponson, the Twins offer a chance to put a once-promising career back on track. Baltimore's 2004 Opening Day starter has an 80-96 career record and 4.89 ERA after spending parts of last season with St. Louis and the New York Yankees (4-5, 6.25).
He's had a history of weight and alcohol problems, but he's only 30, once won 17 games (with Baltimore and San Francisco in 2003) and has thrown more than 200 innings in four of his seven full big-league seasons.
"Hopefully maturity has set in, and urgency has set in, and this opportunity for him to get on track will be a good mix for him and us," Ryan said.
NOTES, QUOTES:The Twins' biggest anticipated business dealings of the off-season -- multiyear contracts for 1B Justin Morneau, C Joe Mauer and, to a lesser degree, RF Michael Cuddyer -- look as if they'll remain largely idle until arbitration figures with all three players are exchanged later this month.With the signing of RHP Sidney Ponson, the Twins' rotation entering spring training looks like this: LHP Johan Santana, RHP Carlos Silva, RHP Boof Bonser and a battle for the final two spots among Ponson, RHP Scott Baker and rookies RHP Matt Garza, LHP Glen Perkins and RHP J.D. Durbin.RHP Sidney Ponson, who signed a minor league deal with the Twins for the 2007 season, had bone-spur surgery in his pitching elbow in November but is said to be 100 percent healthy and throwing again.Minor league pitcher to watch: Class A RHP Yohan Pino, 23, went 6-0 with a 1.67 ERA in the just concluded Venezuelan Winter League. He went almost three weeks without allowing a run until giving up an unearned run Dec. 27, in the final week of play. He went 14-2 with a 1.91 ERA at Class A Beloit last season -- mostly in relief -- and should open this season in advanced Class A Fort Myers or Double-A New Britain.The Twins' front office squirmed at San Francisco's signing of LHP Barry Zito, the 2002 Cy Young winner, for the richest contract for a pitcher in history (seven years, $126 million) -- a deal that might have assured the free agent departure after the 2008 season of LHP Johan Santana. The two-time Cy Young winner is playing under a four-year, $40 million deal.
BY THE NUMBERS: 11.3-- Millions of dollars at stake in the still pending grievance filed by RHP Sidney Ponson after the Orioles terminated the final year plus part of the middle year of a three-year, $22.5 million contract following his second drunken-driving arrest in 2005.
QUOTE TO NOTE: "He's a thick guy, but so are Carlos Silva, Boof Bonser and Kent Hrbek." -- GM Terry Ryan on newly signed Twins RHP Sidney Ponson.