Notes: Prior must strengthen shoulder

Notes: Prior must strengthen shoulder

CHICAGO -- Mark Prior was examined by two orthopedic specialists in the past two weeks, who concurred with the Cubs' medical staff that the pitcher needs to focus this offseason on strengthening his right shoulder.

Prior has "looseness" in his shoulder, which not only helps him to pitch, but also causes some problems, Cubs athletic trainer Mark O'Neal said Tuesday.

What's looseness?

"Laxity," O'Neal said. "Some people either have a tight shoulder or are labeled as genetically loose. Mark is one of those people who has loose joints -- it's something that's genetically given to him. That looseness is what allows him to generate as much force as he does to be the great pitcher that he has the potential to be and has been."

However, the looseness also can result in some arthritic changes, and was part of the reason Prior has had problems. The right-hander did not make his first start until June 18, and was eventually shut down after a three-inning outing on Aug. 10.

Prior was examined by Dr. James Andrews in Birmingham, Ala., and also by Dr. Lewis Yocum in Los Angeles. The exams were coordinated by team orthopedic specialist Stephen Gryzlo.

"All three agreed he needs to be strengthening the heck out of this thing, working hard," O'Neal said. "We'll have him spend time with Larry [Rothschild, pitching coach] this offseason on fine-tuning his mechanics, so we're optimizing things and making sure we can make this work as best as we can."

Prior was told to rest for four to six weeks after the season ended and will then resume his program. O'Neal said surgery is the "last resort."

Coaches: New Cubs manager Lou Piniella gave Larry Rothschild his first big-league coaching job in 1990 with the Cincinnati Reds. The two are together again, as Piniella said Rothschild will return as pitching coach for a sixth season. He was given a two-year contract.

Piniella will be the fifth Cubs manager Rothschild has worked for. He started in 2002 with Don Baylor.

"Larry will be back," Cubs general manager Jim Hendry said. "What I did with all the candidates is you ask, if you got the job, who would you like to have with you? Right from the start, Lou mentioned a few names. Larry was a definite for him."

Rothschild nearly left the Cubs to join Jim Leyland in Detroit.

"I know they've had some injuries here," Piniella said. "You can't blame the pitching coach for that. That's going to happen anywhere. I'm really pleased to work with a guy who I have tremendous respect for and who I know has done a good job for me. A pitching coach is one of my most important hires on the staff. He's got half the team."

The Cubs could name the rest of Piniella's coaching staff within the week. John McLaren, who has worked with Piniella all but two seasons that he's managed, could be reunited with his former boss. The Cubs also were expected to promote from their Minor League ranks and could name Triple-A Iowa manager Mike Quade to Piniella's staff.

Money talks: Hendry said he would contact Aramis Ramirez's agent soon to discuss reworking the third baseman's contract. Ramirez has the option of filing for free agency after this season.

"All indications still point that Aramis would love to stay, and we certainly would love to keep him," Hendry said.

"This guy can hit, drive in runs, and does a nice job over at third base," Piniella said of Ramirez, who batted .291 with 38 homers and 119 RBIs.

Ramirez does not have to declare his intentions until two weeks after the World Series ends. The same is true for Juan Pierre, a potential free agent, whom Hendry would like to keep in the Cubs' lineup.

"I think Juan is an outstanding guy, a great teammate, a hard worker, and I think he's earned the right to test the market," Hendry said. "In the free-agent world, that's probably the toughest thing to figure out now -- what is the market value [of a leadoff hitter]. I think it's wrong to speculate that he's going to hit the market and never come back. We've had some talks with his agent, but you have to want to be here, too. If he wants to be here, we'll find a way to make it work."

Piniella sounded as if he'd like Pierre back at the top of the Cubs' lineup.

"Juan Pierre's a good player, a really good player," Piniella said. "He got off to a slow start, and probably because of the cooler weather after being in Miami. He's been on a championship team, and he's a winner."

Aches and pains: Kerry Wood, who was diagnosed with a partial tear in his right rotator cuff, is in the beginning phases of his throwing program. Wood is rehabbing in the Phoenix area, and O'Neal said he expected to have a better feel for the right-hander's progress when he sees him in early November.

First baseman Derrek Lee, limited to 50 games because of a fractured wrist, is doing well and not experiencing any problems, O'Neal said.

"This is the month when we're telling these guys to take it easy," O'Neal said. "Derrek took it easy more than we wanted to because of his wrist."

Outfielder Jacque Jones, who disclosed at the end of the season that he was battling a sore shoulder, is doing strengthening work three to five days a week in San Diego.

O'Neal said Gryzlo and Yocum agreed Jones' problem is something that can be handled conservatively.

Extra bases: According to baseball historian Ed Hartig, Piniella is the Cubs' 50th manager, not the 48th as previously reported. Piniella also is the eighth to have managed a World Series winner before. ... O'Neal received a two-year contract extension. ... The Cubs will have their organizational meetings Nov. 7.

Carrie Muskat is a reporter for This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.