Prior on the block: Should Brewers bite?

ESPN.com’s Buster Olney is reporting that the Chicago Cubs are shopping former 18 game winner Mark Prior. Should Doug Melvin be calling?  First, the 27 year-old Prior hasn’t shown any signs of excellence since his 11-7, 3.67, 188 K’s in 2005. Prior dipped in ’06, making only 9 starts, while mustering a 1-6 record and 7.21 ERA. The Cubs stayed with Prior for ’07, settling on a $3.65 million contract in his second year of arbitration eligibility. Olney reports that the Cubs have until December 12 to decide whether to offer Prior arbitration again. If the Cubs decide to do so, they’ll probably offer the maximum reduction of 20% allowed by the CBA, or $2.85 million.
In assessing the situation, there are really 3 outcomes:

  1. The Cubs decline to offer Prior arbitration, making Prior an UFA
  2. The Cubs offer Prior arbitration, and the keep him for another year*
  3. The Cubs trade Prior and the arbitration option to another team

*= a 4th option, the Cubs offering a one-year deal with a club option for a second year does not appeal to Prior, according to Olney
For Doug Melvin, then, the questions become:

  1. Should the Brewers offer the Cubs anything for Mark Prior (and at least $2.85 million guaranteed), or
  2. Should the Brewers wait to see if the Cubs can’t get anything

Now, with so many teams in need of pitching, one would think that some team would take a gamble on Prior (after all he won 18 games one season and is only 27, right?). So, how could Melvin play this? Some ideas:

  1. Offer Kevin Mench–like Prior, Mench is in the last year of his arbitration period, and is hoping to build upon his $3.4 million 2007 contract. The Cubs always need outfielders, it seems (right, Cubs’ fans?), and the 30 year-old Mench might be willing to conform and agree to a club option for 2009. While this doesn’t help the Brewers’ outfield situation, it would end up being a wash salary wise.
  2. Offer Chris Capuano–Cappy, age 29, is in the second year of his arbitration contract, and also hopes to build on his $3.25 million contract from ’07. Giving the Cubs a lefty is not too constructive, and Cappy could bounce back. Again, a wash in salary.
  3. Offer Claudio Vargas–Vargas, like Capuano, is also 29, and also in the second year of arbitration, and is hoping to add to his $2.5 million payday from ’07.

Therefore, all 3 moves neither increase or decrease the number of players eligible for arbitration and all are fairly payroll neutral, as all 4 will wind up with somewhere between $2.85 and $4.00 million for 2008.
Assuming that Prior is relatively healthy, and has some chance of returning to former glory, and is more comfortable in relief than Capuano or Vargas, does this move make sense? My take–adding another arm doesn’t make sense, so Mench is out, and Cappy could still bounce back or be effective in relief (and is left-handed). You pretty much know what you are going to get with Vargas, and he doesn’t seem happy in relief, so I’d deal Vargas for Prior IF you can get Prior to agree to contract terms in the neighborhood of $3.0 million (or $2.5 million, plus incentives). Discuss amongst yourselves….

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