Pulling for a Mark Prior comeback

Mark Prior, 30, hasn't pitched in the bigs since late 2006. (AP Photo/Charlie Neibergall)

I know exactly where I was the last time I saw Mark Prior pitch a Major League game and paid close attention to it. It was 2003, still two seasons before injuries would shelve him for the better part of five, and it was October. I had a week off for fall break, and I was visiting my grandparents in Florida. Earlier in the day, the Yanks had won Game 5 of their ALCS match-up against Boston to take a 3-2 lead in the series, and the evening action shifted to Chicago.

For many in the Windy City, October 14, 2003 is a day that still lives in infamy. The Cubs, thanks to Prior, were oh-so-close to the World Series. The 23-year-old right-hander, making his 33rd appearance of the season and with nearly 230 innings under his belt, carried a three-hitter into the 8th, and the Cubs had a 3-0 lead. Then, all hell broke loose.

Prior got Mike Mordecai to fly out before Juan Pierre doubled. Luis Castillo lofted a foul ball that Moises Alou seemed to track before Steve Bartman, oblivious to the game with his headphones broadcasting the radio feed, leaned over to interfere with play. While Alou later said he wouldn’t have made the catch, the Marlins had life. Castillo walked, and Ivan Rodriguez singled in a run. Miguel Cabrera reached on an Alex Gonzalez error, and after the 119th pitch of the 233rd inning of Prior’s season, Derrick Lee hit a game-tying double. Dusty Baker brought in Kyle Farnsworth, and the rest, as they say, is history.

As a Yankee fan watching the NLCS unfold, I was happy to see the Cubs go down but sad to see Chicago so victimized. The city and the team truly seemed cursed, but selfishly, I didn’t want to see the Yanks face Kerry Wood and Mark Prior three or four times in a potential seven-game World Series. Back in 2003, I kept having nightmares of a Schilling/Unit tandem but in Cubs’ uniforms. Be careful what you wish for when it comes to baseball, I learned.

After that game, the Cubs and Prior faded into and out of my baseball conscious. Over the next two years, he put together some mighty fine peripherals with a K/9 of 10.3 and a K/BB rate of 3.06. But he couldn’t stay healthy. He threw just 285.1 innings over two seasons and lasted just 43.2 disastrous innings into the 2006 season. He hasn’t made a Major League appearance since August 10, 2006, and has tried rehab and comebacks with various organizations and independent league teams.

This year, as we know, Prior is with the Yanks on a minor league deal. He’s 30 now and is hoping that he can restore himself to some semblance of use. He’s being considered strictly a reliever, and anything the Yanks get out of him at any professional level is a bonus. Still, I’m pulling for him. Of all the Yanks’ spring training invites, he’s the guy I most want to see succeed. He’s finally with the organization that drafted him in the late 1990s, and he’s basically pitching for the only career he’s ever known.

Over at LoHud tonight, Chad Jennings takes us inside Mark Prior’s arm. The one-time ace has pitching with a torn shoulder capsule a few years ago. Surgery can’t fix it, and he’s hoping it will hold up. “They’re trying to compare what I am today to maybe what I was in 2005 when I was last throwing the way everybody probably remembers me throwing,” he said to Jennings. “I can’t do it. I can’t compare it. I’m not the same person.”

Yet for all of his trials and tribulations, Prior seems to have a good attitude about him. He’s working to find his stuff, locate his fastball and stay healthy. So far, he’s emerged unscathed through one bullpen session, which might be more than anyone expected this early in the spring.

The Yanks, for their part, have a feint glimmer of hope in him. “I definitely think the stuff is capable, and I definitely think it’s there,” Larry Rothschild, Prior’s former Cubs pitching coach and current Yankee boss, said. “Is it what it used to be? Probably not. It’s kind of like apples and oranges, but I definitely think it’s good enough to get guys out, absolutely.”

So I’ll cheer for Prior and hope he can give something, anything, to the Yanks this year. Even a handful of appearances would be more than what he’s done in the past. It would be a great comeback story indeed.

Yankees sign Yadil Mujica

Via Matt Eddy, the Yankees have signed Cuban-born shortstop Yadil Mujica. Mujica defected in 2009 after hitting .358/.432/.440 with the National Team, and he’s somewhere around 25 years old,  perhaps as old as 27. I’m sure the Yankees know for certain. I can’t find anything else about the guy, but if he was some hotshot prospect, the info would be out there. Consider a minor league depth move until further notice.

Open Thread: February 23rd Camp Notes

Picture day! (AP Photo/Charlie Neibergall)

The latest from Spring Training

  • Mariano Rivera threw his first bullpen session of the year, about 25 pitches. Pretty much all he did was work on his location. (Bryan Hoch)
  • Phil Hughes, Joba Chamberlain, Andrew Brackman, and David Phelps threw live batting practice this morning. Dellin Betances did as well, and was impressive with Derek Jeter in the box. Brian Cashman, Mark Newman, and Gene Michael were among those that watched Manny Banuelos during his session. (Yankees PR Dept., Ben Shpigel, Erik Boland & Boland)
  • Curtis Granderson, Greg Golson, Kevin Russo, and Ramiro Pena did extra bunting drills, something Brett Gardner did yesterday and has been doing for a while. Joe Girardi said  Gardner should make bunting more a part of his game, and although I have no trouble with him working on it, I don’t want a guy that had a .380+ OBP last year sac bunting. You know Girardi will do it during the season, it’s inevitable. (Chad Jennings & Marc Carig)
  • Russell Martin‘s knee is about 90%, so he’s unlikely to catch in Saturday’s Grapefruit League opener. “It’s just a matter of a conservative approach,” said Girardi. His hip is a non-issue. Both Eduardo Nunez and Austin Romine were both sent home sick. (Sweeny Murti, Carig, Carig, Carig & Carig)
  • Jorge Posada might not catch in a game all spring according to Girardi, but he will catch bullpens. The team knows he can play behind the plate during the regular season after a career this long. Not sure if I buy that logic, but whatever. (Murti & Carig)
  • Girardi said the biggest revelation of the spring was seeing “just how good some of our young pitchers are. We have guys that can help us this year.” Brandon Laird is slated for Triple-A, but could push Ronnie Belliard and Eric Chavez for the final bench spot. (Jack Curry & Carig)
  • Mike Mussina has an open invitation to be a guest instructor in Spring Training, but he told the Yankees he wants to spend one more year at home. It’s possible Bernie Williams may show up to camp and instruct at some point this year. (Joel Sherman)

Here’s the nightly open thread. Carmelo Anthony is making his Knicks debut tonight (I think), when they face the Bucks at the Garden at 7:30 ET. That one will be on MSG. Chat about whatever, go bananas.

Cubs using the Yanks to sell tickets

If you’re driving down a highway in the Chicago area, I’m guessing you wouldn’t expect to see Derek Jeter on a billboard. Yet, there he is. A reader of Tremendous Upside Potential caught this, and I’m guessing most fans — Yanks fans, at least — find this more than a bit odd. Sure, the Yanks do play in Chicago this summer, but is Jeter really going to help them sell tickets to the other 78 home games? Apparently this isn’t too uncommon, but it does seem especially odd coming from Chicago and the Cubs. But hey, if it works it works, right?

Via Big League Stew.

Crawford denies contact with the Yankees

About 24 hours before he signed a contract with the Red Sox, Carl Crawford dined with Brian Cashman and the Yankees’ brass at the Winter Meetings. Before that, there were reports that the Yankees were “very much engaged in discussions” with Crawford’s agents. According to Crawford himself, either none of those things happened, or he just has a terrible memory. He spoke to Dennis & Callahan on WEEI this morning, and his story doesn’t exactly match what we heard this winter.

“To be honest with you, I never talked to New York. They never offered me a contract. I never had any kind of communication with New York, so it was never an option to go to New York.” Emphasis mine. Maybe he’s talking about the Mets?

The RAB Radio Show: February 23, 2011

Mike is out today, so we’re bringing in Dave Gershman of Beyond the Box Score to co-host the show. We’re talking Baseball America’s Top 100 list, which includes six Yankees. We’re talking them, plus some other AL East prospects, on the show.

Podcast run time 31:11

Here’s how you can listen to podcast:

  • Download the RAB Radio Show by right clicking on that link and choosing Save As.
  • Listen in your browser by left clicking the above link or using the embedded player below.
  • Subscribe in iTunes. If you want to rate us that would be great. If you leave a nice review I’ll buy you a beer at a meet-up.

Intro music: “Smile” by Farmer’s Boulevard used under a Creative Commons license

Yanks made a hefty offer to Pavano

(Kevork Djansezian/AP)

Perhaps the oddest moment of an odd winter came during the Rafael Soriano press conference. Speaking to the press after Soriano’s introduction, Brian Cashman revealed that he had discussions with Carl Pavano. There was an offer, and Ken Rosenthal’s sources indicated that he was on the verge of a pinstriped return. That didn’t work out, though, as the Twins wooed him back with a two-year, $16.5 million deal. Still, he stood to make a decent sum from the Yankees.

Today SI’s Jon Heyman reported that the Yankees offered Pavano one year at $9.75 million plus incentives. That base salary would have trumped Pavano’s annual salary with the Twins, but there’s no chance that the incentives would have brought him anywhere near that $16.5 million guarantee. Still, I wonder what the situation would have been if the Twins only offered the two years and $13 million that the Pirates did. Might he have come back to New York for up to, say, $12 million in incentives?

The issue really highlights the fan divide on the subject. Despite question marks in the Nos. 4 and 5 rotation spots, many fans wouldn’t have wanted Pavano back under any circumstances. The emotions of seeing Pavano, flat-out accused by some fans of stealing $40 million from the Yanks, for some outweigh the positives he could bring to the mound. My stance runs counter to that; I mocked Pavano as much as the next guy, but on a one-year contract he made more sense than perhaps any other non-Lee pitcher this off-season.

The point is moot, of course. We’ll never get to see Pavano write his redemption story. Instead he’ll start on Opening Day for the Twins. The Yanks did make a significant effort, though, offering Pavano the highest average annual value. But in the end more money, and a less hostile environment, won out.