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Cubs Sign Prior

By John Manuel and Jim Callis

Mark Prior did not want to hold out.

But the current machinery that governs how major league organizations procure amateur talent--otherwise known as the draft--doesn't work as efficiently as it used to. Even Baseball America's reigning College Player of the Year can't change that.

So instead of starting his professional career soon after being selected second overall in June, the Southern California righthander had to wait more than two months before finally signing his first professional contract Wednesday with the Cubs.

"I think now that this is the last part of a long year, but the important part leading up to this was to have a good season," said Prior, 20, who went 15-1, 1.69 with 18 walks and 202 strikeouts in 139 innings for the Trojans. "Now that I've signed, I can concentrate on baseball and forget a little bit about the business side of it."

While the business side didn't go as quickly as Prior, his father Jerry and adviser John Boggs would have liked, the total value of Prior's major league contract represents a record for a player. He will receive $10.5 million over five years, with payments beginning in January. A $4 million bonus is due in the first year of the contract.

In addition to the bonus and the contract's total value, several other factors made the contract attractive to the Prior camp. The full $10.5 million is guaranteed. The final two years of the contract are player option years, giving Prior flexibility if he becomes eligible for major league arbitration or in the event of a big league work stoppage.

The contract also has a number of incentive clauses that would escalate the total value of the deal. If Prior reaches every incentive--such as winning the rookie of the year or Cy Young awards--the total value of the contract would nearly triple. More likely, Prior will earn an additional $250,000-$500,000 for each subsequent year of the deal if he earns an all-star berth or Cy Young votes.

Prior is not required to pitch in instructional league or in the Arizona Fall League this year, and instead plans to return to class at Southern California on Aug. 27. Prior, whose course load in the spring included 17 hours of classes, is two semesters from earning a business degree. His contract includes $20,000 a semester for those two semesters. He could work out with the Cubs during instructional league on weekends, a detail both sides were still working out.

After months of little activity, negotiations warmed up Aug. 5, when Boggs met with Cubs president/general manager Andy MacPhail in Cooperstown during Hall of Fame induction ceremonies. Before that, the two sides had little contact, much to the frustration of Boggs, Prior and his father.

Prior attended the Cubs' game against the Brewers at Wrigley Field on Wednesday, and for the first time entertained the idea that he might have been pitching rather than watching had negotiations moved more quickly. Prior is one month older than Chicago's Tuesday starter, Juan Cruz, and nine months older than Monday's starter, Carlos Zambrano.

"I would hope to be given the chance next year," Prior said. "I was hoping maybe something like that might happen this year, but it just didn't work out that way. There's a business side of it that a lot of people don't like."

But Prior's not complaining. He lived up to his potential, and now has a contract that allows him to start his professional career.

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