Sidney Ponson Finds His Level And Other Notes

Tom DubberkeCorrespondent IMarch 16, 2010

Sidney Ponson is on my short list, along with Milton Bradley, of major league ballplayers you don’t want on your team no matter what.

Ponson was an immense young talent, who drank and ate his way out of major league shape.  He’s got a couple of DUIs on his record, and he once punched out a judge one winter back in his native Aruba in a dispute over Ponson’s operation of a motor boat.

Ponson hasn’t had any major brushes with the law since 2005, and he pitched well for the Netherlands in last year’s World Baseball Classic.  However, he also earned himself a two-year suspension from international competition when he tested positive for a banned drug called Phentermine (wikipedia describes it as an “appetite suppressant of the amphetamine and phenethylamine class” — in other words, it’s a stimulant).

More importantly, at least as far as U.S. professional teams go (he’s not banned from playing professionally in the U.S., just in international competition), he hasn’t been particularly effective for any of the many major teams he’s pitched for the past four seasons.

Anyway, it was announced today that Ponson’s professional career rides again, this time with the Long Island Ducks of the independent-A Atlantic League.

The Ducks are the Yankees of the Atlantic League.  They consistently draw more than 400,000 fans a season, which is a huge number for an independent-A team.  That’s in part due to the Atlantic League’s long 140 game schedule (seventy home dates), but it’s still tremendous attendance for this level of professional baseball.

As a result, the Ducks can readily pay former major leaguers like Ponson more than the $3,000 a month (for a five or five and half month season) that is generally the top salary an Atlantic League player can expect to make.  I doubt Ponson is making a whole lot more than that, but he could be making as much as $4,000 to $6,000 a month to play for the Ducks.

Of course, Ponson’s real hope is that he’ll dominate the Atlantic League and get a call from a major league franchise.

If Ponson can keep his boozing under control and doesn’t inflame too many tempers in the Ducks’ locker room or front office, he could help the Ducks in 2010.  This is right about the level where Ponson can still be expected to be a star.

In other news, the Giants and A’s have now both offered back their Rule 5 draft picks of the past off-season.  The Giants had selected pitcher Steve Johnson from the Orioles’ system, and the A’s had selected Bobby Cassevah from the Angels’ system.

Johnson allowed five hits and six walks in 4.2 innings pitched this Spring, and the Orioles quickly paid $25,000 from the $50,000 purchase price paid by the Giants to get him back.  Cassevah actually pitched better, allowing two hits and a hit batsman in two innings pitched.  Johnson’s ERA was 5.79; Cassevah’s was 4.50.

Word has it that the A’s might be thinking their chances in 2010 are better than anyone else thinks, given the many moves they made this off-season.  However, looking at his minor league stats, I never quite understood why the A’s selected Cassevah in the first place.  He just hasn’t pitched that well in the minors.

They reportedly liked his 92-94 mph heavy sinker, which is a great pitch, but as I had anticipated, he doesn’t have major league command with it yet.

I liked Steve Johnson better, but he appeared to be a ways away from the majors, and with the Giants expecting (strongly hoping?) to make the post-season this year, they really don’t have roster space for a n0t-quite-ready Rule 5 pick.

In other news involving the Twins, the Yankees are reported to have made several attempts to acquire Denard Span from the Twins since last July.  After being rebuffed several times, the Yankees moved on to Curtis Granderson, as I’m sure you all know.

The Yankees usually have a pretty good idea who the best players out there are, so its another small piece of evidence to suggest the Twins were wise to lock Span into a multi-year deal now while he’s still relatively cheap.

Also, John Smoltz has been announced to have signed an agreement to broadcast for TBS this year, which, I assume, means Smoltz will be providing color on Braves’ games.  No word if this means that Smoltz won’t be playing under any circumstances in 2010, but it sure suggests Smoltz is moving on to the next stage of his professional life.

There’s also been some talk of the Twins trying Francisco Liriano as their closer this year.  I don’t see that being successful.  Liriano had a lot of trouble with his control in 2009, and you would hope your closer is able to throw strikes, particularly if they are following in Joe Nathan’s foot steps.

It makes more sense to me to continue trying to find out if Liriano can come back as a top-flight starter, at least in 2010.