The Cubs opted to not tender a contract to the right-handed pitcher by Wednesday's 11 p.m. CT deadline, and he is now a free agent.
The Cubs would've preferred to non-tender Prior and re-sign him for less than last season's $3.575 million and include a club option for 2009. Negotiations on a possible 2008 deal for the arbitration-eligible pitcher were unsuccessful, and the one-time All-Star who won 18 games in 2003 is now looking for a new team.
Prior has compiled a 42-29 record and 3.51 ERA since he made his big league debut in 2002, but his career has been interrupted by injuries.
Last season, Prior was unable to pitch in either the Major Leagues or the Minor Leagues because of his shoulder. Prior did appear in four Cactus League games in March, and gave up 14 hits and nine walks over 10 1/3 innings. The team decided he needed more time, and he was optioned to Triple-A Iowa on March 28. Prior maintained his sense of humor about the demotion.
"I'll go down and help that team win, and try to make the Triple-A All-Star team and maybe I'll get invited to the Futures Game or something," he said.
The right-hander never reported. He ended an outing in extended Spring Training early, and eventually needed arthroscopic surgery on his right shoulder in April. The procedure, done by Dr. James Andrews, included a debridement of his right rotator cuff as well as repairing the labral and capsular injuries. Prior started his throwing program in mid-September.
"The goal is, obviously, to come back," Prior said on Sept. 21 during a visit to Wrigley Field. "I expect to come back. This day and age playing, we're fortunate to have medicine and technology that gives us a second chance."
His agent, John Boggs, said Andrews expects Prior to be ready for the Major Leagues in mid- to late May, but told the Chicago Sun-Times on Tuesday that "if you want to be conservative, tack a few months onto that."
That means Prior may not be ready until the All-Star break, and that's the risk the Cubs didn't want to take.
Carrie Muskat is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.