Mark Prior received financial security when he signed a five-year, $10.5-million contract with the Cubs after they selected him with the second pick in the 2001 draft. The club typically gains cost certainty with those kinds of big deals for amateur players. The Cubs, however, did not. As it turns out, the right-hander obtained not only security in the deal but also flexibility, which could blow up on Chicago.
Prior's $10.5 million package has already grown to $12.3 million because of bonuses and automatic salary increases triggered by his selection to the All-Star Game and his third-place finish in Cy Young Award voting this year.
Prior's greatest loophole, however, is that he can opt out of his contract after next season and exercise his arbitration rights. That would seem to be a formality, considering that the 23-year-old would stand to earn much more than the $5 million total due him in 2004 and 2005 by means of his original contract. And that will put enormous pressure on the Cubs to get him signed to another long-term deal after next season. Maybe this time they'll actually buy out his arbitration rights.