Ponson, 29, has spent nearly his entire major league career as a member of the Baltimore Orioles, aside from a half-season stint with the San Francisco Giants in 2003 when he combined to go 17-12 with the two clubs.
The 6-1 right-hander went 7-11 in 23 starts for the Orioles last season before being released on September 1 this year. Ponson began the season by winning five of his first six decisions and worked six or more innings in 12 of his first 16 starts before encountering a disastrous second-half slide.
His trouble with alcohol and run ins with the law have been well documented by the media. Ponson the Opening Day starter for the Orioles in 2004, has been arrested twice in the last year for driving under the influence and served a five-day jail sentence last week.
St. Louis might be the place for the right-hander to rehabilitate his career. The Cardinals decided after meeting with him in person in Florida, that Ponson is sincere about his desire, to turn his life and career around and is worth the risk of signing to a one year incentive laced contract
"Sidney has made it very clear to us that he is committed to turning both his life and his career around," said Cardinals Senior Vice President/General Manager Walt Jocketty.
"He's a tremendous talent who has made mistakes, but he's been making huge strides in trying to return himself to a much better quality of life. There were several teams interested in him, and we feel that our organization can provide him a solid basis for a fresh start if he is serious about turning his career around."
After having a career year in 2003, Ponson was perhaps, the most sought out pitcher, on the free agent market.
In 2003, Ponson posted a 17-12 won loss record with a 3.75 ERA for the Baltimore Orioles. During the winter, in the heat of the Hot Stove League action, there was some talk, at least among a lot of fans, about bringing the free agent Ponson, to St. Louis.
The Orioles won, or loss, depending on how you look at it, the Ponson sweepstakes and signed him to a three-year, $22.5 million contract.
After his career year in 03, Ponson's performance in 2004, the first year in his new big contract with the Orioles, was his worst season ever. His ERA of 5.30 was an all time high, at that point and he also allowed a career high 265 hits in just 215.2 innings pitched.
In 2005 his struggles continued, as he finished last season with a 7-11 record with a 6.21 ERA in 23 starts. On top of those scary numbers, it gets worse, as he allowed 177 hits in just 130 innings pitched, plus, Ponson saw his WHIP (walks + hits, innings pitch) soar to 1.726. Throw in 10 wild pitches and it was just an all around bad year for Sidney on and off the field.
The Cardinals are hoping that Ponson can work his way back into shape and compete for a chance to be part of the club's starting rotation next season.
When Ponson is pitching well, which hasn't been often recently. He has a fastball that can reach 92-94 MPH, but over the past two seasons it hovers more around the 90-92 MPH range. One reason for the drop in velocity is the lack of conditioning that effects his stamina.
The Cardinals have made it clear they expect Ponson to participate in the necessary conditioning programs and be ready to when spring training begins in Florida.
In 2003, Ponson was still able to use a forkball pitch that helped him set up his other pitches. He has since abandoned using that pitch because of elbow and shoulder problems. I'm not familiar with the details concerning these reported arm problems, but it could also effect the velocity of his pitches.
It should be safe to expect Ponson to come to spring training with a four seam fastball in the 89-92 MPH range, at least initially. He also has a slider that in the past has been a very effective pitch for him. If he can regain his command and control of this pitch, it will go a long way in setting up his fastball, curve and change up.
His other pitches the curve and change up are considered average by major league standards at best. But if he can get his velocity back up and bring back an effective slider, it makes all his pitches better.
The key to his success and for that matter almost everyone's success, is keeping the ball down. Ponson has the ability to induce a lot of grounders and double plays. Giving up the number of hits and walks over the past couple of seasons, Ponson needs those double plays to stay in the game.
It will be to his advantage if Hector Luna is able to handle the every day job at second base, or if the Cardinals sign another good defensive second baseman to take the place of the departing, free agent, Mark Grudzielanek, who signed with the Kansas City Royals.
At 6'1 and 260+ pounds, Ponson is a big man. He is slow getting off the mound, if he can get to the ball he will field it cleanly and not make a lot of mistakes throwing the ball to any base. He is considered average at best in getting over to first to cover the base on a ball that will be hit to the first baseman.
Anyone expecting to come out and thinking Ponson is going to revert to his 2003 right away, might be a little too optimistic.
I'm confident you won't see the same Ponson that Baltimore saw in 2004 and 2005.
If he stays out of trouble and commits himself to the Cardinals' conditioning program, under Cardinals' pitching coach Dave Duncan, in my opinion Ponson could possibly win 10-12 games for St. Louis next season, with an ERA around the range from 4.25 - 4.44.
Those numbers won't garner you another three year $22.5 million dollar contract, but it would be a very positive step in the right direction for the big right-hander.
Ponson, a native of Noord, Aruba, owns a career mark of 76-91 with a 4.81 ERA in 233 games. His 28 complete games since 1999 rank fourth among all active pitchers in that seven-year span. He is ranked among the Orioles top-10 in innings pitched (1375.1) and strikeouts (836) and he stands 12th in wins (73).
Ponson has worked over 200 innings in a single season on four occasions (1999-2000, 2003-2004) and he posted double-digit victory totals in 1999 (12 wins), 2003 (17) and 2004 (11).
At this point, I would say Ponson is still a long shot to even make the 25 man roster, out of spring training, but where there is hope, there is a way.
If he can make the team, it gives the Cardinals some flexibility in dealing with some other roster issues and concerns.
If you believe in Christmas wishes, you might make one for Sidney Ponson.