Mark Prior’s retirement reminds us that young pitchers will break your heart

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Every year we get a report that Mark Prior is working out, hoping to make a major league comeback after years of injuries. No more. Andrew Simon of MLB.com reports that the former Cubs phenom is calling it quits:

After a series of injuries and several comeback attempts, it appears Mark Prior is ready to call it a career.

The right-hander, now 33, was in Lake Buena Vista, Fla., on Monday for the Winter Meetings, where he told reporters he was retiring. Prior also indicated he could take a job in the Padres’ front office, although the club has not confirmed it.

Prior is Exhibit A for the proposition that young, talented pitchers exist to break your heart. The second overall pick in the 2001 draft, Prior was a fixture in the Cubs’ rotation by 2003, when he went 18-6 with a 2.43 ERA and 245 strikeouts in 211 innings at age 22. The sky was, seemingly, the limit. The conversation wasn’t about whether or not he could keep it up, but just how great would he end up being.

And then the injuries came. He made only 21 starts in 2004. He made 27 starts in 2005. In 2006 he started nine games, was totally ineffective and then had reconstructive surgery on his shoulder. It would not be until 2010 that he would pitch in a minor league game. He never pitched in the big leagues again.

At the time his career was disintegrating due to injury, many pointed a finger at Prior’s manager with the Cubs, Dusty Baker, for allowing him to pitch too many innings and throw too many pitches in too many outings. And maybe Baker did work Prior too hard. But I don’t feel anyone to this day knows enough about ideal pitcher usage and preservation to say anything with any amount of certainty about that. Some pitchers break, some pitchers don’t, and despite his reputation as an abuser of pitchers, Baker’s pitchers have been pretty darn durable since Prior and his teammate Kerry Wood went down.

Prior just broke. Even guys who look like they’re going to collect multiple awards and hundreds of wins some day break. And with them break the hearts of any baseball fan who put too much faith in young promising starting pitching.

There is, indeed, an MLB-to-Portland group

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On Monday, Baseball America reported that MLB is prepared to expand to Portland and Montreal. We talked about that at length yesterday. One of the most common responses to that piece has been “Portland? Really?”

There’s good reason for that response. Baseball-to-Portland has been talked about for years, but there has never been any real traction. Past initiatives have failed, significant public funding for a stadium seems to be a political impossibility and, heck, Portland wasn’t even interested in keeping its Triple-A team, turning its stadium into a much more successful soccer venue and not missing the Beavers all that much.

It would seem, however, that the reports are not mere speculation and there is a genuine baseball-to-Portland initiative afoot once again. From the Oregonian:

On Tuesday, former Trail Blazers broadcaster Mike Barrett confirmed to The Oregonian/OregonLive that he is part of the Portland group.

“I am officially involved with a campaign to bring Major League Baseball and a stadium development to Portland,” Barrett said. “There is also a formally organized, sophisticated and seasoned management group running this initiative. We will keep you fully apprised of any/all developments as this project progresses.”

One guy — a broadcaster no less — saying he’s part of a group is not exactly a major needle-mover, of course. But it does contrast with past Portland initiatives that have been well-publicized grassroots affairs. While those may have been more broad-based and while their public nature may have provided some refreshing transparency, the simple fact of professional sports ownership in the 21st century is that well-monied groups who play things close to the vest are more likely to make waves. We’re in an age when technocratic hedge fund-type guys make things happen in this arena, not in an age when flamboyant public personalities do.

None of which is to say that baseball in Portland is a lock or that expansion anywhere is a short term proposition. It’s just to note that, yeah, there is a bit more going on, it seems, than just pointing at a map and saying “yeah, a team would make sense here.”