Monday, February 12, 2007

Still No Deal for Z; Prior Tougher Than You Think

I just spent the past week in Florida. Man, it was nice being in 75 degree temps while everyone back home was suffering with temps of 25-35 degrees below zero.

I really thought that the Cubs and Carlos Zambrano would reach a long-term deal while I was gone, but it doesn’t look like they’ve made any progress. I still expect the two sides to avoid arbitration, even if they just agree to a one-year deal and continue to talk about a long-term contract. Going to arbitration with the sensitive and emotional Zambrano could backfire on the Cubs.

I also had an idea during my vacation about writing an article about why Mark Prior has gotten such a bad rap over the years. My thesis is that although Prior has been on the DL eight times in the past three years, it is wrong to call into question his commitment, toughness, and even his manhood. I had this great article in mind, but then I couldn’t find anywhere on the Internet where a player’s trips to the DL are chronicled.

Here’s what I do know: Of the eight times Prior has been on the DL, three of those trips occurred in 2006. Prior had a shoulder injury and an oblique strain that kept him on the DL during the season. At the end of the year he was sent to the DL for what was described as congenital looseness in his shoulder. In other words, Prior has a congenital condition in his shoulder that makes it looser and more “sloppy” than most people’s shoulders.

On two other occasions, Prior was placed on the DL after being hurt during a game. I remember one time he injured himself when he ran into Marcus Giles. Another time I think he was injured when a ball was hit back at him. In both of these cases, it’s hardly a case of a guy whose not tough just being a baby and refusing to play because of a hangnail.

My whole point is that Prior has had a tough three years (2004-2006), but it’s not a lack of toughness that has landed him on the DL. He’s had legitimate injuries, some that occurred while playing aggressively, and he’s struggled with a congenital problem with his shoulder. If I could have only found all of the facts on Prior’s injuries, this would have been such a good article.

I understand people being tired of hearing about Prior’s potential and his perfect mechanics, only to see him placed on the DL time and time again. But I suspect that there is no one more sick of it than Prior himself.

The truth is, injuries have hampered what was once viewed as a “can’t miss” career for Prior. But he is still young (just 26) and he still shows a tremendous amount of potential. At the moment both Prior and the Cubs are reporting that he is healthy and is ready for Spring Training. If he can stay healthy, Prior should have a breakout year and the Cubs should have one of the best and deepest rotations in the NL.

Of course, Prior staying healthy all year is a big “if.” But if he ends up on the DL yet again, it won’t be because he lacks commitment or toughness. It will simply be because he has suffered yet another legitimate injury.

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