Cubs pitcher an All-Star miss for Twins

CHICAGO -- The Twins are painfully aware of the cost of doing business in the major leagues as a small-revenue team.

But the cost of not doing business? One look into the National League bullpen during Tuesday night's All-Star Game at U.S. Cellular Field offered an example.

The Twins are in desperate need of production from their starting rotation, and the player they bypassed in the 2001 draft is a power-pitching big-league all-star.

"I'm happy,'' said Chicago Cubs pitcher Mark Prior, selected No. 2 overall when the Twins chose Cretin-Derham Hall catcher Joe Mauer with the top pick. "It was unfortunate things didn't work out with the Twins. To be honest with you, I don't really know what happened.''

Every time the subject has been raised, the Twins have said they made a tough, 11th-hour decision to select the player rated the top non-pitcher by everyone with any knowledge of the available talent. This despite the contention by scouts, including some in the Twins' organization, that Prior, then of the University of Southern California, was a can't-miss front-line starter capable of pitching in the majors almost immediately.


It didn't hurt that Mauer was a local kid, and the belief that Prior could be difficult to sign within the Twins' budget was taken into consideration, Twins officials said.

"I don't think it was a signability issue,'' Prior counters. "We didn't talk about money. I think all along they were sure they wanted to take Mauer, and they did. I think they're just jerking around if they're saying it was signability, because we never talked about money.''

Mauer signed a standard minor league contract with a $5.15 million bonus. Prior, who was said at the time to be expecting at least $10 million, got a $4 million bonus but signed a major league contract -- uncommon for even college draftees. The deal, including the bonus, was worth $10.5 million over five years. An escalation incentive clause bumped that to $12 million when he made the All-Star Game this year.

Prior, 8-5 with a 3.01 earned-run average and 150 strikeouts, wouldn't say the Twins made a mistake in passing on him.

"I think they're happy with Mauer,'' he said. "There aren't too many catchers who can hit like him with power.''

Mauer, promoted to Class AA at midseason after leading the Florida State League in hitting the first half, also was in Chicago as an all-star this week, playing in the Sunday's minor league Futures Game.

Few dispute the certainty that Mauer will have his place in the major league version in a few years. But how much could Prior help the Twins now, in what might be a fast-narrowing window of opportunity to get to a World Series with their current core of players?

"I don't do those things,'' said Twins manager Ron Gardenhire, an all-star coach for the American League. "We're very proud of Joe Mauer. We're very glad we have him. Obviously, Prior's a very good pitcher, but if you start doing those things, you could go back and look at a lot of all-stars and say, 'We could have had them.' You can go through and do that with any player.''


Prior said he never was concerned about missing out on the prestige of being a No. 1 pick. And beyond whether he could help the Twins this year, he'll take being closer to No. 1 than the Twins are right now. His Cubs are in the thick of the National League Central race, three games behind division-leading Houston at the break.

"I'm happy to be here in Chicago,'' Prior said. "Obviously, I can't complain about what's happened or the way I've been treated.''

Source: Knight Ridder Newspapers

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