Chicago Cubs General Manager Jim Hendry continued his free spending ways when the Cubs and Mark Prior were able to avoid arbitration and come to agreement on a one year deal. Since taking over as General Manager in 2002, Hendry has been able to avoid going to arbitration with any eligible player; always managing to get a deal in place before the often lengthy and sometimes adversarial arbitration process could begin.
Prior’s one year deal is reportedly worth $3.575 million. This is $300,000 less than what Prior was asking for. The Cubs had originally offered $3.4 million. Coming off yet another injury plagued season that saw Prior make only 9 starts compiling 1-6 record to go with a 7.21ERA, the fifth year pitcher was in no real position to try and ask for an increase.
Prior who pitched for USC, was drafted with the second overall pick by the Cubs in 2001. He made his Major League debut in 2002, and when the Chicago faithful first saw him pitch, hopes of a World Series began floating around the Friendly Confines of Wrigley Field once again. Those dreams almost came true when in his first full year in the Big Leagues, Prior helped lead the Cubs to within five outs of their first World Series appearance since 1945.
In his fiver years in the Majors, Mark Prior has put together a respectable 42-29 win loss record and an equally impressive 3.51 ERA in 106 career starts. These numbers have continued to wet the appetite of the Championship hungry Cubs fans. Prior has not played a full season since 2003 and even then he spent time on the disabled list. With his nagging injuries piling up, trade rumors began swirling during the 2005 off season when reports came out that a possible Mark Prior for Miguel Tejada deal with the Baltimore Orioles was in the works.
If Prior can somehow recapture the magic of 2003 and return to form this season it will go along way towards laying to rest the demons of a “what might have been” career. With an all new line up and depth in the starting rotation with the additions of Ted Lilly and Jason Marquis along with the rise of Rich Hill, Prior could quickly find himself outside looking in. The patience of Chicago Cubs fans and the organization itself must be wearing thin by now, and this one year deal could signify that this is Prior’s last chance to prove himself.
All reports coming out of the Cubs organization early on say Prior will be ready for Spring Training. With an off season spent utilizing new strength techniques in hopes of fighting off the injury bug, Mark Prior has his eyes set on the 2007 season. With pitchers and catchers reporting on February 14th, Cubs’ fans will not have long to wait to see if their fallen hero can return to his All Star form.
With Mark Prior signed, Jim Hendry will now have to turn his full attention to Carlos Zambrano and a new long term contract. Zambrano who has been the Cubs ace the last two seasons is also arbitration eligible and a free agent after this year. The 16 game winner from a season ago would command a huge salary on the open market. Can Hendry keep his record of not going to arbitration intact and sign Zambrano to a long term contract? Will Prior return to his winning ways? With a newly revamped team can the Cubs contend? Its looks like this could be another wait and see season for Chicago Cubs fans.