All possible options will be tried, as cash is never short in New York and especially when the team is in need. Nobody puts Baby in the corner; not the Phillies, not Lee and certainly not a lack of free agents.
So, when the news came that the Yankees signed pitcher Mark Prior to a one-year minor league contract, the possibility of what Prior was and could be started to cause butterflies in my stomach.
Back in 2002, when Prior debuted with the Chicago Cubs, the level of excitement could only be compared to that of Washington Nationals phenom Steven Strasburg.
Yes, Prior was that good. At just 22 years old, he was joining team ace Kerry Wood, and in 2003 they made a tandem of the best one-two punch in the majors.
That season Sports Illustrated dubbed them the “Chicago Heat” and it was well deserved. Combined, Wood and Prior posted 522 strikeouts, seven complete games and three shutouts over a total of 422 innings in 2003.
Prior finished with a 2.43 ERA, was named to the All-Star team, finished third in the NL CY Young voting and ninth in the NL MVP. Wood posted a 3.20 ERA, leading the Cubs to 88 wins and a division title.
Cubs manager Dusty Baker was frivolous with his two stars, as fans voiced concerns about the constant high pitch counts. Prior was averaging 113+ pitches during that 2003 regular season, and the number jumped to 126 in September through the postseason.
Baker’s irresponsibility clearly was at fault and he is the reason for all the anal pitch counts across baseball with young prospects. After that 2003 season, neither half of the “Chicago Heat” did anything except be on the DL and Chicago fans were devastated but blamed it on the curse of the Cubs franchise.
Wood was about four years older then Prior, so he managed to hang out in the bullpen but Prior imploded by 2006 and hasn’t pitched in the majors since.
Yankee fans are familiar with Wood, after he joined the pinstripes post All-Star break last season and dominated as the team’s eighth inning pitcher.
For Cubs fans, it was déjà vu because Wood not only dominated, but also stayed healthy through the end of the 2010 season.
Yankee fans’ relationship with Wood was an immediate love affair and I have yet to meet anyone who doesn’t want Wood back in 2011.
Presumably I expect to hear that Wood is back within days, confirmed the minute GM Brian Cashman announced the signing of Prior.
Cashman well knows that these two are not going be the “Chicago Heat” ever, but Cashman’s genesis behind it could be brilliant.
If Prior can be as good as Wood in the Yankees bullpen, the “New York Heat” could have a major impact in a huge way.
The humbled “Middle-Men,” also known as the bullpen or the set-up guys, hold such a critical role for every team across baseball. Being dominant in the seventh and eighth innings is without question a game-changer in any situation.
If this little experiment works out, Cashman would be deemed a literal genius. Even if it fails, Wood is still solid and Prior cost the Yankees under $1 million, which is literal pocket change.
This should give Yankee fans some comfort because Cashman is going to try any and every formula possible to make sure the 2011 team can win again.
It’s nice to know that hasn’t changed.
- Source: Mark Prior signs minor league deal with New York Yankees (sports.espn.go.com)
- The Chicago Cubs Should Trade Carlos Zambrano… And Might Be Able To! (chicagonow.com)
- Prior signs one-year deal with Yankees (mlb.mlb.com)
- New York Yankees: Pitching Coach Larry Rothschild And The AJ Burnett Test (ladylovespinstripes.com)
- Martin agrees to Bomber deal (nypost.com)
- Mark Prior, Yankees Reach Minor League Contract Agreement (sbnation.com)