Prior signed a one-year deal with the Padres on Wednesday for $1 million with another $4.5 million in incentives as he attempts to rebuild his credentials as a Major League pitcher and tries to repair his oft-injured image.
"I'm 27 and guys are pitching into their 40s now," Prior said. "For unfortunate reasons, I haven't been healthy since 2005. But I feel that I have a lot of great years ahead of me."
And that's why Prior and his San Diego-based agent, John Boggs, rebuffed multiyear offers and even offers for larger base pay to accept a one-year deal to play for his hometown team.
Prior is a graduate of University of San Diego High School and makes his offseason home in the city, near general manager Kevin Towers.
In Prior, the Padres get someone who didn't throw a single pitch last season after undergoing surgery on his right shoulder in April. Prior won't be available to pitch at the start of the season, though he said Wednesday that he's expecting to be ready to pitch in a Major League game in mid to late May.
"Mark Prior is a competitor and is working hard to regain the form that made him one of the great young pitchers in the game," Towers said in a press release. "We are confident he is going to help us in our rotation this season. It's exciting that Mark is coming home to San Diego to pitch for the Padres."
Prior, who is 42-29 with a 3.51 ERA in 106 career starts, last pitched for the Chicago Cubs in 2006, going 1-6 with a 7.21 ERA in nine starts. Prior was the No. 2 overall pick in the 2001 Draft out of USC and two years later was named to the National League All-Star team, the same season he went 18-6 with a 2.43 ERA.
In his career, Prior has tallied 21 double-digit strikeout games and 65 outings in which he has issued two or fewer walks. He is averaging 10.37 strikeouts per nine innings over his career.
Prior became a free agent earlier this month when the Cubs opted not to offer him a contract for 2008. There were anywhere from 11 to 14 teams interested in Prior, including the Houston Astros, who reportedly offered a larger base package. But Prior chose to stay close to home, though there were other factors involved in his decision.
Prior cited spacious PETCO Park, how competitive the Padres are and that he'll be playing for a manager (Bud Black) who has an understanding of how pitchers operate, having been a pitcher himself and a longtime pitching coach for the Angels before becoming the skipper of the Padres.
"He's [Black] someone who understands what it's like to be a pitching coach," Prior said. "I watched the way he handled the club this year and the environment he fostered, and it looked very appealing."
Black said that the Padres won't rush Prior along, noting that his "shoulder and body will let us know when he's able to pitch in a Major League game."
Prior started his throwing program three months ago and is throwing at a distance of 105 feet. He'll soon increase that distance to 120 feet and in January will start throwing from a mound. He'll make a handful of Minor League rehabilitation starts before he's deemed ready to pitch at the Major League level.
With Jake Peavy, Chris Young, Greg Maddux and Randy Wolf already pegged into the starting rotation, Prior would likely slide into the No. 5 spot when it's needed. Until that point comes, the Padres will turn to any number of in-house candidates -- Shawn Estes, Glendon Rusch, Clay Hensley, Justin Germano and Wil Ledezma -- as possible candidates.
"The fifth spot is, right now, up for grabs for a number of pitchers," Black said.
And, by May, there will be another name to consider: Prior.
"I'm really confident that I'm going to get back on my feet and re-establish myself as a competitor in this league," Prior said during a conference call Wednesday with reporters. "I know there are going to be some ups and downs. But I think this is going to be a great summer."
Corey Brock is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.Less