The #1 topic of conversation these last few days has been the possibility of trading Mark Prior. Speculation, thanks to Ken Rosenthal's column, has centered on Prior going to Baltimore in a trade that brings Migeul Tejada to the Cubs, though there has been talk of a trade to the Phillies, and there may be a West Coast team (like the A's?) involved as well. The Cubs are supposedly holding out for Erik Bedard in return, while the O's may want one of the Cubs' minor leaguers along with Prior.
Rob, Trans, John and I had a little discussion about this in email last night (and John even managed to drop a Dr. Who reference like the cheeky Brit he is), and since no matter what we post today the comments are going to be about this trade, we thought we'd just post our exchange here:
My basic take is that trading Prior would make me very sad. He's my favorite Cub, and he was even before I had the opportunity to meet him. I'd hate to see him go elsewhere, as I still believe he will put it together and be the ace that so many people think he can be. That said, a position player in the hand is worth two pitchers in the bush (or something), and adding Tejada to the lineup would be a huge plus. A great position player is more useful to a team that a great starting pitcher by virtue of the fact that he plays more than five times as much.
So I would be in favor of trading Prior if it meant getting Tejada. Would I do it straight up? Probably. Would I do it if it also meant getting Erik Bedard, even if it meant giving up Felix Pie? Probably.
I cannot properly articulate just how absolutely furious, thoroughly devastated, inconsolably upset and terribly disappointed I would be if Jim Hendry pulled the trigger on a Mark Prior deal for Miguel Tejada, not least because he'd only be doing so in a desperate attempt to compensate for the extremely poor job that he's done putting together an offence over these last two off-seasons in spite of our big-market draw and nine figure payroll. Two unproven though promising prospects in Matt Murton and Ronny Cedeno, two proven mediocrities in Juan Pierre and Jacque Jones, plus Neifi Perez and the pitcher's spot, or the pitcher's spot and Neifi Perez for they're somewhat interchangeable, and there you're looking at the most likely scenario for a whole two-thirds of next year's lineup as things stand. That's not to mention that on a good few days you'll be able to throw Henry Blanco into the mix too. Well done, Hendry, well done; you've made a right mess of things.
But none of that, not one tiny little bit of it, justifies even for a single second contemplating a deal that sees you give up the most valuable starting pitching commodity in baseball not named Felix Hernandez bar none full stop period end of discussion just shut up. Seriously, find me a single pitcher that's younger, that's more years away from free agency, that's cheaper, that's got better stuff, that's got better control, that's struck out more guys, that's got a lower ERA, that's got a higher winning percentage, that by any remotely reasonable measure is a better pitcher, and then maybe we can start talking about just how we might be able to replace Mark Prior if we dealt him. And, really, while you're at it, knock yourself out and try and argue that colliding with Marcus Giles and taking Brad Hawpe line drives to the elbow are chronic conditions.
If Tejada was 4 years younger, I'd do it, but otherwise enjoy watching Prior carve up the American League, while we wonder what could have been. Seeing Tejada in a Cubs uniform pretty much tops my Christmas list (besides World Peace, winning the lottery and something involving supermodels). But I don't want to lose Mark Prior to get him (or Big Z for that matter). I know some folks are down on Prior a bit, but this guy is going to be one of the best pitchers in baseball over the next 10-15 years, I have little doubt about it. I just can't imagine the voodoo hex that he's been plagued by the last 3 years will last.
Just for thought, his #'s before and after the fateful line drive off his elbow last year:
Pre-liner: 4-1, 2.93 ERA, 9.6 K/9, 3.44 K/BB, 1.39 HR/9
Post-liner: 7-6, 4.07 ERA, 10.5 K/9, 3.07 K/BB, 1.33 HR/9
He certainly seemed to labor through those starts after the break for whatever reason and maybe he was suffering through the same issues of trying to find the correct release point on his pitches that plagued him for a good portion of 2004. But a 25 year old pitcher with a line of 41-23, 3.24 ERA, 10.55 K/9, 3.69 K/BB is absolutely filthy in my opinion. And I understand that you have to give up something to get something, but that something we give up, should not be Mark Prior. He's just too special of a talent to part with in my opinion, along with a pretty good track record already, one that I fully expect to get a lot better.
Plus what the hell am I suppose to do with my #22 Prior jersey?
I think the question is asked from a faulty premise. There are three scenarios where it would be reasonable to trade Prior. First, if we weren't confident of his long term health. But if we had good reason to lack confidence in his long-term health, we wouldn't be able to spin Prior for someone of Tejada's quality in return, anyway. Second, if we had good evidence indicating Prior will not seriously entertain the Cubs' attempts at re-signing him when he becomes a free agent and management believes that we will be contending for a pennant between now and then. I see no evidence of this, yet. Third, if we could expect equal offensive value in exchange for a fully healthy and happy Prior. There are three, maybe four names that I think would be of equal value in that scenario: A-Rod (with the Yankees balancing out the salary difference), Pujols (who won't be traded) Cabrera (who won't be traded in the next couple years) and maybe Dunn (who won't be traded in the next couple years).
Like I said in a message board post, there are four things to evaluate before deciding to trade Prior for Tejada. We need to evaluate:
1. His future injury risk
2. The degree to which his recent struggles were injury related
3. The risk that he simply will not re-sign with the Cubs at any price
4. The talent received in return (Tejada)
I am relatively bullish on points 1-3. Prior's reached the age of 25, which if I remember my Will Carroll generally marks the exit point from the age cohort where pitchers are most vulnerable to catastrophic injuries. Two of his most significant injuries to date have been fluke collisions - one with a ball, one with a diminutive second-baseman. His before/after splits, as Rob points out, suggest that his 2005 struggles were in fact injury related. On my third point, I have no idea what Prior's thinking, but since he hasn't floated any trial balloons expressing his unhappiness or desire to go somewhere else (has he?), I have no reason to assume he's uninterested in listening to the Cubs' best offer. I'm sure we can afford him if we have the will, and if we make terrible sacrifices like not paying top-dollar for middle-relievers, backup shortstops and prickly managers. We could just add more garish sign-boards inside Wrigley. Or get Neifi to sell plasma every other day.
One other thing about the pitcher-for-hitter issue: I don't buy that a hitter is intrinsically more valuable than a pitcher by virtue of playing every day. A shortstop may appear in five times as many games as a starting pitcher, but the shortstop's influence over each individual game is far less than the starting pitcher's influence over the games in which he appears.
And all that said, I won't shed a tear if we make the trade. I love Tejada, and he's so much more of a sure-thing, which we desperately need on a team full of uncertainties.
Miguel Tejada is a very good shortstop, one of the best in the game right now. But that says far more for the weakness of the position as it does for Tejada, for Tejada considered as a hitter as opposed to a shortstop is not that big a bat, his .291/.346/.498 line over the last six years (or even his .308/.355/.525 line over the last two) good but far from great. He certainly wouldn't absolve this team of its on-base deficiencies, let's get that straight, not least because he turns 30 years old next May and has likely already seen his best days. Factor in the fact that he has $54m coming to him over the next four years, but would also have the right to demand a trade next winter were he not happy in Chicago, allowed to walk out on us as a free agent on March 15th 2007 if that demand went unsatisfied, factor in too that Ronny Cedeno has a chance of being a bearable shortstop and that the value of pitching has of late gone through the roof (Jarrod Washburn's $37m/4yr deal the latest illustration of that point), and Miguel Tejada is just not worth Mark Prior. Not even close. With Erik Bedard, who I do really like, maybe, but I probably still wouldn't do it, and that's not on the table anyway, because the O's reportedly want Pie in that case too. Quelle surprise. I want Daniel Cabrera too then. And throw in Nick Markakis as
well. And Adam Loewen. And whoever else it takes until Mr Flanagan gets my drift. My drift being "Mark Prior is not available for trade, capiche?"
Jim. You've seen that movie Phonebooth? Well this is the exact opposite. Just hang up the phone, it's for the best. There's not a deal here that the Orioles are ever going to offer that you should agree to if you have any appreciation of what's best for the Chicago Cubs. Speaking of phonebooths, you've seen Doctor Who as well, right? Well use the phonebooth as a time machine, go back to the beginning of the off-season, and this time get your priorities straight. Not speed, athleticism and catching the ball. But the biggest bats you can possibly get in right and centre field, plus Todd Walker at second base. And Mark Prior in our rotation. Please.
Would you rather give up Prior or Zambrano to get Tejada in return? Personally, I'd be better with losing Zambrano. Both of them have the chance to develop into an ace, but Zambrano's usage pattern scares me more. Prior has thrown 683 professional innings, while Zambrano, who is 9 months younger, has thrown 1,232. If I feel the two of them have the same upside (which I do), and I can only keep one, I keep the one with less mileage on him.
Which one would I rather give up? Neither. But of the two, send them Prior. Zambrano's more fun to watch, and when projecting future injury risk I think the first thing to look at is previous injury history. Z's clean.
Clean? Didn't we see him go through some forearm trouble, described as "cramps" and attributed to too much time on the Internet by the Cubs' Ministry of Health Information? And as far as Prior's injury history, he's had two freak injuries (the collision and the line drive) that had nothing to do with mechanics.
If you put a gun to my head, and that's exactly what you'd have to do, definitely Prior. Z's "cramps" made him miss all of one start I think and I believe Will Carroll said the injury was consistent with swinging a bat too much, which was the original diagnosis "tennis elbow". Then came the Internet story and honestly, I actually believe it, cause we didn't hear a peep the rest of the year and it's hardly like Z's performance suffered much last year.
And Prior missed half a season in 2004 due to ankle/arm woes and then had some issues in spring training of 2005, although he only missed a start, on top of the collision and line drive. Z's a warrior, theoretically a year younger, and one of the most fun pitchers to watch in the game. But choosing which one you'd trade is like picking which of your kids to save from a burning building and you only had time to save one.