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Do the Red Sox Want Mark Prior?

Mark Prior pitching for the Orange County Flyers in September of 2010. (Photo courtesy Stanimal Sports Photography)

Remember Mark Prior?

Last September, the Texas Rangers agreed to terms with the injury-plagued right-hander on a low-risk minor league deal knowing full well he’d never see a big league mound. It’s the exact same thing, actually, that Antoine Walker is doing over in the NBA’s D-League. Prior’s tuning up for a full-fledged MLB comeback.

In 11 innings over nine relief appearances for the Orange County Flyers, Prior gave up only one unearned run with 22 strikeouts. He also walked 5, which in 11 innings isn’t much. Either way, it’s encouraging for a guy who hasn’t seen a big league mound since August 10, 2006. There once was a time when Prior was a white-hot commodity around the major leagues. He, along with similarly-plagued Kerry Wood, became the reason that the Cubs finally broke their own little curse. He was taken number one in fantasy baseball drafts, and he was really young with unlimited upside. I remember imagining Wood and Prior plowing through National League lineups like well-oiled buzz saws. Prior only made 106 starts for the Cubs and then turned out to be made of glass, and disappeared into a world of trainers, rehab, discouragement, and later, hope.

The reports say Prior has spent the last three years overcoming a torn labrum, which is crucial to a pitcher’s performance. Red Sox fans may remember whispers of Pedro Martinez’s frayed labrum during his latter years decline. To have it torn is obviously next-level and therefore that much harder to overcome. He is supposedly throwing in the low 90′s which more likely means he’s around 89 and can probably tap the 91-92 every once in a while. It’s still encouraging though, as this is still one of the most highly regarded prospects to come our way in a very long time. And somewhat surprisingly, he’s only 30. Curt Schilling, by contrast, was 37 when he pitched the Sox to World Series glory in 2004.

Prior also signed a minor league deal with San Diego last spring but was released in August, never finding a way to get healthy. According to The Boston Globe’s Nick Cafardo, Prior has three teams in mind with whom to sign, but has been mum thus far on the issue. Little else is public about Prior’s plans to this point, but it makes you wonder if the Red Sox should take the leap with the troubled former phenom.

Should the Sox Take the Prior Gamble?

No. I couldn’t be more clear about that. No way in hell. This is a movie we all know the ending to, and we’ve seen it a million times. Remember Wade Miller? I think Red Sox nation salivated at the chance he would return to his former self, the one who was a dominant pitcher for the Houston Astros. It just never happened. And while it was for short money, Miller took a spot in the rotation that could have been filled with someone younger or more effective. It’s no surprise that was the lost season of 2005, when the Sox rolled over in the way of the soon-to-be-champion White Sox. A look at that roster shows Matt Clement’s name as well. Need I continue? When pitchers have arm troubles, it’s over. It’s simple fact. Every GM wants to be the one to restore a guy back to greatness, but for every Josh Hamilton, there’s a million BJ Ryans.

In the end, Theo Epstein isn’t really in a position to be taking chances. By this point everyone has heard his “bridge” reference in which he all but admitted last season was a transition year. He has since redacted, but he’s probably correct. Red Sox fans have little patience after tasting success, and another year of mediocrity will be too much. He’s got to start spending some more money, and it ought to go into Treasury Bills and not to the craps table. Spend wisely, Theo.

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