After many trips through the rumor mill, Mark Prior accepted the Chicago Cubs' offer on January 27 to a one-year, $3.65 million contract. That is $900,000 more than the salary he would have earned under the contract he voided in November. Since Prior's definitive season in 2003 (18-6), he has cooled off somewhat, and has only managed to go 17-11 over the past two seasons. The Cubs were within five outs of reaching the World Series in 2003, due, in part, to Prior's performance. A sore elbow put him on the disabled list early last season, and when he entered the normal rotation again, he was hit on the same elbow by a scorching line drive.
He finished the 2005 season going 11-7 with a 3.67 ERA over 27 games. The Chicago Cubs' pitcher, whose name has been mentioned as possible trade bait this off-season, said that he was not too upset at the rumors because he figured they were just that -- rumors.
Rumor had it that he was going to the Philadelphia Phillies in exchange for outfielder Bobby Abreu, but that wasn't to be. During the holidays, he was supposed to be traded to Baltimore for shortstop Miguel Tejada. That also did not happen. "It's part of the game," Prior said.
"Obviously, when somebody requests a trade, a team has to look into it. I don't really validate the rumors a whole lot unless I hear that '[general manager] Jim Hendry' says or '[team president] Andy MacPhail says' or '[manager] Dusty [Baker] says' -- otherwise, they're just rumors. It seems like there are a lot of MLB sources this year. Unless somebody calls me up and says, 'Hey, we're serious about doing this,' there's not a whole lot for me to think about because I don't have a whole lot to say." If the fans had any say in it, Prior would never wear another uniform besides his Cubs No. 22 jersey.
When the right-hander was introduced to the crowd jammed inside the Grand Ballroom at the Hilton Chicago during opening ceremonies for the 21st Cubs Convention, he was greeted with the chant, "No trade, no trade." Most Cubs fans remember that Prior's 10 strikeouts in his very first start was the most by any Cubs pitcher in over 30 years. "I've never been ticked or anything," Prior said. "I felt if anything was going to be done, somebody would've called me and said something. Otherwise, it was business as usual. I was obviously going to pitch for somebody this season, and I had to get ready.
" There was also a rumor that Prior decided to void the last year of his contract because he was angry at the Cubs. That also was not true. "That was something that was written in the contract," he said of his ability to be eligible for arbitration. "That was in the negotiations five years ago.
We felt it was fair at the time. It was basically the last two years [of the contract] - if I'm eligible for arbitration, I have the privilege to go to arbitration." Prior will make more money in 2006 thanks to this foresight. "I've been spending this off season trying to iron out some things and correct some habits that I fell into because of what happened with my elbow," Prior said.
"One thing I did learn, and after I've been reflecting, is how fortunate and valuable the time is when you're healthy. At any moment, anything can happen. "The other day I was home watching [NFL quarterback] Drew Brees get hurt, and I see Carson Palmer go down two plays into the game. It's a very fragile existence from that standpoint." He's well aware of the business side of baseball, too.
"As far as everything I've heard, they weren't dangling me out there and trying to get rid of me," Prior said. He'd like to stay with the Cubs. "I love playing here.
I have no desire to leave," he said. "I love playing in the city of Chicago; I love this town. I don't think I could've been as fortunate as I was to fall here out of college.
Not too many people get the luxury of coming to a city like Chicago. It's a great city, a great town and I love being here. It's a great town to play baseball in.
" Prior had become arbitration eligible when he used his option to void the final year of his original contract signed in 2001. Under the original terms, he was to make $2.75 million this year.
Prior had asked for $4 million, while the Cubs countered with an offer of $3.3 million. Arbitration arrived at the $3.65 million figure.
"We're certainly glad to have it done," said Cubs' general manager Jim Hendry. "Our stance is always to try to work with the representative, John Boggs, to a conclusion of fairness to avoid the process if we can. This was something we wanted to do, and hopefully Mark will have a great 2006." Other current Cubs arbitration-eligible players include infielder Jerry Hairston, outfielder Juan Pierre, and pitchers Will Ohman and Carlos Zambrano.
Cubs' general manager Jim Hendry and team president Andy MacPhail have never gone to arbitration with a player. Hendry said he is continuing to negotiate with the players' representatives in hopes of reaching an agreement. Players with at least three years seniority in the Major Leagues, plus the longest active 17 percent of those with between two and three years service, are eligible for salary arbitration. Mark Prior, for example, now has three years, 131 days of Major League service time. How does arbitration work? Players and teams exchange figures, and if no agreement is reached between the two, the case is referred to an arbitrator.
Pierre, 28, whom the Cubs acquired from the Florida Marlins for three Minor League pitchers, made $3.7 million in 2005. He is coming off a season in which he hit .276 with two homers, 47 RBIs and 57 stolen bases in 162 games. The center fielder asked for $6.
5 million, while the Cubs offered $5 million. Cubs' pitcher Zambrano earned $3.76 million last season and led the Cubs in wins with 14.
He established career highs in starts (33), innings pitched (223 1/3) and strikeouts (202). Zambrano asked for $7.2 million, while the Cubs countered with an offer of $6 million. In his first season with the Cubs, Hairston, 29, made $1.8 million last season. He batted .
261, hit four homers, 25 doubles and had 30 RBI. Hairston requested $2.6 million in 2006, while the Cubs offered $1.
95 million. Ohman, 28, is seeking $775,000, while the Cubs offered $500,000. Ohman, who has three years, 40 days of Major League service time, made $320,000 in 2005 in his return to the big leagues.
The left-hander, who has spent much time on the disabled list because of three elbow surgeries, was 2-2 with a 2.91 ERA in 69 games. .
By: F.R. Penn