(despite a poor 2006, Mark Prior has landed a lucrative endorsement deal.)

Cubs GM Jim Hendry, aboard the Cubs Caravan bus this week, isn’t even counting on Mark Prior in the opening day line-up for 2007 — and he’s only talking spring training. As Carrie Muskat on the Cubs official web site reports, even Peoria manager Ryne Sandberg is a bigger draw. I’m glad Hendry is keeping his fingers crossed for Prior, since allowing Prior to cross his own fingers is a bit risky these days.

“The reports have been encouraging, and we’re all keeping our fingers crossed,” Hendry said. “We’d love to show up and have the old Mark back and feel like we have a great, new player come in that we weren’t expecting. We wanted to cover ourselves in depth if Mark was behind, but if he’s on schedule, we’ll feel like we got a bonus.”

Prior, 26, is coming off an injury-shortened season in which he was 1-6 with a 7.21 ERA in nine starts. A shoulder injury hampered him, and he was forced to devote this offseason to rehab. Pitching coach Larry Rothschild said he talked to the right-hander every week for progress reports.

The real bonus for Cub fans may come soon, as Yahoo News reports that rival billionaires are making bids for the Tribune Co. Eli Broad, Ron Burkle, and The Chandler Family Trust are throwing down, and for the first time in a long time, David Geffen’s name is not in the mix.