Rival executives say Cubs willing to deal Prior

Four years ago, Mark Prior had the kind of stature that
Johan Santana has now, as the pitcher that everybody would love to have. But now the Chicago Cubs have made it known that they are willing to trade the former All-Star pitcher, rival executives say.

Prior, 27, had shoulder surgery last April and has received a very encouraging prognosis from Dr. James Andrews, and he is expected to pitch in 2008.

But since he went 18-6 with a 2.43 ERA in 2003, Prior has had repeated physical problems, and has pitched in just 57 games over the last four seasons -- and none in 2007.

Officials with other teams say that the Cubs have made it known in recent weeks that they are willing to trade Prior, which could be an alternative to working through a difficult contract decision.

The Cubs have to tender a 2008 contract to Prior by Dec. 12, and their preference has been to sign the right-hander to a one-year deal with an option for 2009, rather than go through arbitration with him this winter. But Prior, who made $3.65 million, may prefer to sign a contract of longer terms.

So the Cubs, who already have multiyear deals with Carlos Zambrano, Ted Lilly and Jason Marquis, could choose to deal Prior rather than settling on a new deal.

Prior was the second player taken in the 2001 draft, and paid off almost immediately for the Cubs, going 6-6 with a 3.32 ERA in 2002 before his standout season of 2003 (18-6, 2.43 ERA), when the Cubs came close to advancing to the World Series. But since then, he 18-17.

Buster Olney is a senior writer for ESPN The Magazine.