Yankees set to sign Ponson

Yankees set to sign Ponson

NEW YORK -- The Yankees are on the verge of signing Sidney Ponson for the remainder of the season, hoping that the veteran right-hander can fill the fifth spot in the team's starting rotation.

Ponson, 29, was designated for assignment last week by the Cardinals, then released on Thursday. Yankees general manager Brian Cashman said on Thursday that he expected to have Ponson signed and in uniform when the Yanks resume their schedule on Friday, though Ponson won't start for New York until Tuesday against the Mariners.

"We'll take a look," Cashman said. "He's got a good arm. We had two looks at him this year with scouts in the park and obviously a lot of video that we compiled in our library from this year. We assessed this was a shot worth taking."

For the Yankees, the signing of Ponson is a low-risk move, as they will pay him a prorated portion of the Major League minimum salary. St. Louis, which signed him before the season, will be on the hook for the remainder of his $1 million salary.

"[The Ponson signing] doesn't come at a player cost at all from our organization, and in terms of dollars and cents, it doesn't cost much," Cashman said. "Our scouting reports indicate this is a shot worth taking for Sidney as the fifth starter here. This is something that made sense compared to everything else that's been available so far."

The Yankees pulled Shawn Chacon from the starting rotation before the All-Star break, giving Kris Wilson a shot at winning the job. Wilson lasted just 3 1/3 innings in his only start for the Yankees, prompting Cashman to make the move for Ponson.

Ponson went 4-4 with a 5.24 ERA in 14 appearances for the Cardinals this season, though his ERA was 4.52 in 13 starts. He allowed six runs in his one inning out of the bullpen, bloating his ERA.

The right-hander is no stranger to the American League, having pitched for the Orioles from 1998-2003, and again from 2004-05. Ponson has experienced several off-field problems involving alcohol during his career, one of which led to his release by the Orioles last fall. Cashman said that Ponson has not had a drink since August, when he was arrested for a third drunk driving incident. The GM believes that the pitcher has put those problems behind him.

"He's made adjustments in his life thus far; we asked a lot of questions of a lot of people involved in St. Louis as well," Cashman said. "Obviously, you look at his abilities compared to what we had out there, so we weighed them both and our conclusion was this was a risk worth taking."

Chacon helped the Yankees capture the American League East title last year by going 7-3 with a 2.85 ERA over the final two months of the regular season. But after going 4-3 with a 6.71 ERA in 13 games this year, he was yanked from the rotation and relegated to long-relief duties by manager Joe Torre.

"He's a guy that can pitch in New York," Cashman said of Chacon. "He had an impact on us last year [and] he won a playoff game, but right now I want to see where we go with Sidney Ponson in the fifth spot."

The acquisition of Ponson does not mean that the Yankees are done remodeling their pitching staff, as there are still more than two weeks until the July 31 trade deadline. Cashman remains firm in his desire to keep some of the club's top prospects, essentially taking names such as Philip Hughes and Jose Tabata off the trade tables.

"I'm really looking to improve the club any way I can," Cashman said. "At the same time, I'm looking to win in the short term and continue what we started last year as we transition and protect certain players in our system and allow our system to grow back to where it needs to be."

In addition, the market for pitching appears to be fairly slim, as hurlers like Florida's Dontrelle Willis and Oakland's Barry Zito, who were initially expected to be moved, now appear unlikely to be dealt. While Cashman continues to monitor the trade market, he's hoping that the signing of Ponson can help the team in the immediate future.

"We obviously haven't made a trade, but there's reason for it; at this point I don't feel there's something worth me pulling the trigger on," Cashman said. "We've certainly had opportunities, but not ones that I think are in our best interests to pursue. If anything falls more in line with what makes sense for our short- and long-term goals, then we'll be more aggressive towards those efforts. Just stay tuned, we'll see where this thing takes us over the next few weeks."

Injury updates: Cashman said that Johnny Damon's strained abdominal muscle didn't appear to be anything major after the center fielder was able to play off the bench during last weekend's series against Tampa Bay.

"The four-day break was needed not just for him, but many of our guys," Cashman said. "Hopefully, that is behind us when the season picks up [Friday]."

While Damon is expected to play on Friday, Robinson Cano (hamstring) will not be with the Yankees. Cano said during the All-Star break that he would likely miss another 10-14 days, putting him on track to return sometime during next week's road trip.

Cano returned to Tampa to continue his rehab, running the bases and taking part in infield agility drills on Thursday. Cashman said he didn't anticipate Cano playing in Minor League rehab games until next week.

Right-handed reliever Octavio Dotel could be back in rehab games by the weekend after throwing a bullpen session on Wednesday. Dotel is hoping to pitch in two or three Minor League games before joining the Yankees' bullpen in the next seven to 10 days.

Mark Feinsand is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.