Today, it was announced that the San Diego Padres and free agent pitcher Mark Prior agreed on a one-year contract with a base salary of $1 million (worth a max of over $3 million with incentives).
Any discussion with the 26-year old righty is going to begin with his history of injuries so let’s just get that out of the way. I tried my best to piece everything together in the chart below (if I missed any, let me know) so we can get a clearer picture of what we’re talking about here:
The reasons for concern are self-evident. Over the span of five years, Prior has been on the disabled list eight times, and only once during this time was he able to become active at the end of the 15 days. What’s even more worrying is that seven out of the eight injuries were related to the his pitching elbow and pitching shoulder. Now I’m no sports physician (and I’ve never stayed at a Holiday Inn Express), but those sound like really important parts of any pitcher’s body. Even now, we’re not exactly sure if Prior’s going to be ready to step on the mound anytime soon.
Because this winter’s proving to be difficult for anyone to improve. Unless you have top-level prospects that you’re willing to part with, bolstering your lineup or rotation considerably is looking next to impossible. But this deal has about as much upside as anything else I’ve seen so far this off season. Sure, one can’t neglect the past injuries, but you can’t ignore these points either:
- Even if Prior’s rehab goes terribly awry, the Padres lose only $1 million.
- He has been a flyball pitcher throughout his career, which means Petco Park will feel like heaven compared to Wrigley.
- The surgery he underwent that killed his 2007 season was actually the first time (believe it or not) that Prior went under the knife. His previous injuries were”treated” in the “wait-and-see” school of medicine. According to James Andrews (are there other doctors out there aside from this guy?), Prior had a good amount of chips just floating around in his shoulder that were previously undiagnosed.
- He’s not pitching for Dusty Baker anymore and thus won’t be asked to throw 211 1/2 innings in 30 starts as a 22-year old who had never previously come even close to hitting that innings mark.
- He’s still Mark Prior and he’s only two years removed from a pretty good season despite the elbow injuries. And maybe it’s because the guy’s only two weeks older than I am that I’m saying this, but at 27, he’s still young enough to rebound.
To me, it looks like even the worst case scenario can’t be all that bad. He’s either hurt and can’t pitch (with the Pads out a million bucks) or he’s healthy enough to take the ball every five days and pitch what I suspect will be roughly league average numbers with a good amount of upside.
I don’t think that any team aside from San Diego really had a shot to grab him. Not only was he born in San Diego, he stayed in Southern California for college, attending USC. After the media attention he received in Chicago, a year of reestablishing his market value pitching in the pitcher’s park of pitcher’s parks that just happens to be in your old neck of the woods sounds mighty appealing, doesn’t it?
So I think that the Padres quite possibly have upgraded their rotation by a couple notches, replacing David Wells with Prior. I don’t know about you guys, but I’ll be pulling for Mark to make good in 2008. I loved seeing him pitch a few years ago, and I hope to see it again. Well, maybe the Cubs fans will disagree…