Prior done with Cubs?

Prior done with Cubs?

Prior done with Cubs?
April 26, 2007
BY GORDON WITTENMYER

Mark Prior's season-ending shoulder surgery probably means the end of his Cubs career.

Even if Prior returns to the mound next season, as the team expects, his contract status makes it unlikely he would do so for the Cubs -- the team that selected him No. 2 overall in the 2001 draft.

General manager Jim Hendry expressed optimism that Tuesday's arthroscopic procedure would not keep Prior from pitching again next spring and said it was premature to speculate on his future with the team. So we'll do it for him.

Prior -- who hasn't spent a full season on the active roster in his professional career -- is making $3.575 million this season with two winters of arbitration eligibility remaining. (He'll get no service time for this season because he was optioned to Class AAA Iowa before going on the disabled list.)

That salary is as low as it is only because Prior settled after asking for a raise in arbitration following a DL-shortened 2006 season in which he went 1-6 with a 7.21 ERA. Because baseball's collective bargaining agreement prohibits cutting a player's salary more than 20 percent from one year to the next, the Cubs must pay Prior at least $2.86 million next year -- even if the enigmatic right-hander was to accept a steep cut -- if they choose to retain him.

That's a big price to pay for a player coming off even minor shoulder surgery -- a questionable proposition in the best of cases. Just ask Kerry Wood (DL) and former power pitcher Wade Miller (mid-80s fastball; lost fifth-starter job), neither of whom has regained full strength after arthroscopic procedures on their shoulders in 2005.

That leaves the obvious, if odd-sounding, solution of non-tendering a former All-Star pitcher who turns 27 in September.

''You have to let the rehab process take place,'' Hendry said Wednesday. ''We think a lot of Mark, what he did a few years ago, and we were hopeful that this year he was going to come back and help us.

''You do everything in the best interest of the club. We'll see how the rehab goes and make the decisions we have to make down the road.''

The Cubs are calling the first surgery of Prior's career ''successful,'' though there's no way to tell yet whether a laundry list of ''touch-ups'' -- as Hendry termed them -- will return him to anything close to the form that allowed him to go 18-6 in 2003 and pitch the Cubs within one victory of the World Series.

The ''cleaning-out'' procedure, performed Tuesday in Birmingham, Ala., by famed surgeon James Andrews, was similar to the surgery done on Wood in 2005. Andrews also repaired injuries discovered in Prior's labrum and rotator cuff.

''It's certainly not career-ending,'' Hendry said, basing that on conversations with Cubs trainer Mark O'Neal and Prior's agent, John Boggs.

''[Andrews] felt optimistic that he would be able to pitch next year. He's not going to give a time frame a couple hours after surgery. But he didn't think there was anything significant that would stop him from pursuing his career, and at his age, he should not have a problem responding and coming back from probably a strenuous rehab.''

Prior, who insisted throughout spring training that his shoulder was healthy and he felt no pain, has been on the DL nine times in his six-year pro career. None of the previous injuries required surgery.

THE MANY INJURIES OF MARK PRIOR

The Cubs pitcher has made nine appearances on the disabled list in six seasons:

2002
Strained left hamstring
On DL: Sept. 2-17

2003
Right shoulder contusion
DL: July 12-Aug. 4

2004
Right Achilles tendinitis
DL: March 26-June 4

2005
Right elbow inflammation
DL: March 25-April 12

2005
Right elbow fracture
DL: May 28-June 26

2006
Right subscapularis (shoulder) muscle
DL: March 27-June 18

2006
Strained left oblique
DL: July 5-21

2006
Strained left oblique
DL: Aug. 11-Oct. 2

2007
Right shoulder and rotator cuff
DL: April 5-

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