Baker keeping tabs on former players, Wood and Prior

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whtigers
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Baker keeping tabs on Cubs' Prior, Wood

Both could be free agents, and Reds need pitching

October 26, 2007

BY CHRIS DE LUCA [email protected]

BOSTON -- Whether it's simply to catch up on the past or plot for the future, new Cincinnati Reds manager Dusty Baker has been chatting with his former Cubs co-aces, Mark Prior and Kerry Wood.

''I talked to Mark Prior [Wednesday], and I've heard from Woody and some other guys,'' said Baker, who will turn his focus to managing the Reds once his current gig as an ESPN analyst ends after the World Series.

Both pitchers could become free agents this offseason, and the Reds are starved for pitching.

Wood, 30, is eligible for free agency after completing a one-year, $1.75 million deal with the Cubs this season. He came off the disabled list Aug. 3 and went 1-1 with a 3.33 ERA in 22 outings as a middle reliever. If the right-hander wants to return to a starting role, he likely would have to do that elsewhere.

Prior, who missed the entire 2007 season after undergoing shoulder surgery, is eligible for salary arbitration. Prior, 27, made $3.575 million this season and couldn't be paid less than $2.86 million next season because major-league rules forbid cutting a controlled player's salary more than 20 percent.

Because he hasn't pitched in more than nine major-league games in a season since 2005, it's likely the Cubs will non-tender Prior, making him a free agent.

Baker seems to have taken a deep interest in the former first-round pick's situation.

''The thing I'm most curious about is I haven't heard what was wrong with Mark,'' Baker said. ''Usually, you hear torn labrum or rotator cuff. I would like to know at least where and what was wrong.

''If I'm going to get blamed for it, I would like to know exactly what happened. Most of the time when you have surgery, don't you have surgery on something?''

No one blamed Baker for Prior's shoulder problems that popped up this spring training. The day after Prior underwent arthroscopic surgery April 24, the Cubs released a statement saying orthopedic specialist James Andrews ''performed a debridement of Mark's right rotator cuff as well as repair of labral and capsular injuries in his right shoulder.''

According to Cubs sources, Prior underwent surgery to correct multiple issues in his shoulder. The club did not provide further details on the work done, sources say, because Prior preferred to keep the information private -- a request major-league clubs must honor.

Sources speculate that Prior could be off a major-league mound until June as he recovers from the surgery.

Baker was reminded that the Cubs were more secretive during his watch in 2004, when the team insisted Prior's inactivity that spring was related to ''right Achilles tendinitis'' -- the ailment still listed in the Cubs' media guide for the pitcher's two-month stint on the disabled list -- instead of elbow trouble that eventually was reported by the Sun-Times.

''I know what it was,'' Baker said. ''I'm not going to say.''

As he did upon his arrival in Chicago, Baker is portraying himself in Cincinnati as a recruiter of talent. It never really happened with the Cubs -- unless you count the Neifi Perez signing in August 2004 -- but he promises to be more vocal about the hand he is dealt in Cincinnati.

''I'm hoping that if we do lose some players,'' he said, ''that I can be more assertive about reloading vs. just accepting what you're given.''

That could be perceived as a complaint about the talent he was given with the Cubs. Did Baker stay mum on what he wanted in Chicago?

''I've always done that, everywhere I've been,'' he said. ''You've never heard me say, 'I need this, I need that.' I've always accepted what I was given. I figured I could make it work no matter what it is.''

So has Baker gone back to the mind-set of a manager, or is he still a media member?

''I'm not back in the [managerial] mind-set yet. I've got to finish this job first,'' he said of his work for ESPN. ''I'm semi in the mind-set. I've made contact with people. I've gone over rosters.''

http://www.suntimes.com/sports/baseball ... 26.article


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