Despite the heartbreaking end of the 2003 season, the Cubs were favorites to contend for the National League crown in 2004.
With the additions of a returning Maddux, the Cubs were viewed as having the best starting rotation in all of baseball. With Prior, Wood, Maddux and Carlos Zambrano and Clement anchoring, along with the offensive additions of Todd Walker and Derrek Lee, the Cubs seemed destined to make up for their NLCS faux pas the previous year.
However, Prior’s health came into question heading into the season. Many speculated Tommy John surgery was needed but Prior and the Cubs were mum on the situation, adamantly stating he was suffering from an Achilles tendon injury.
Prior return after missing the first two months of the season. Upon being activated, it was quite apparent that Prior was dealing with some arm issues as he struggled, not pitching like the dominant level he was pitching at the previous season.
He finished the 2004 season with a 6-4 record, starting 21 games compiling a 4.02 ERA.
While the Cubs improved one game in the win column from the ’03 season, they failed to make the playoffs.
More injuries became a broken record for Prior in 2005, once again starting the season on the disabled list. After returning, he was the victim of a Brad Hawpe line drive that left his bat at 117-mph, crashing into Prior and leaving him with a compression fracture. In 27 starts and 166.2 innings, he went 11-7 with a 3.67 ERA and 188 strikeouts.
Prior’s name was mentioned in trade rumors during the 2005 offseason after shortstop Nomar Garciaparra left for free agency. Miguel Tejada of the Baltimore Orioles was thrown into the mix. However, nothing ever came to fruition.
He would yet again suffer an injury in spring training, this time with a strained shoulder. For the third consecutive year, Prior would begin the regular season on the disabled list. He wouldn’t make his 2006 debut until June 18 and was shellacked by the Detroit Tigers.
In four starts, he went 0-4 with a 7.71 ERA before being placed on the disabled list again for a left oblique muscle strain. He briefly from July 21 to Aug 14 before heading back, finishing his season with a 7.22 ERA with a 1-6 record in just nine games and 43.2 innings. It also marked the first time in his short career that he didn’t have a K/9 of at least 10 (7.8).
After missing the entire 2007 season after opting for exploratory surgery on his right shoulder, the Cubs non-tendered Prior in December and his tenure with the team came to an end.