Cubs debt is getting in the way

For any Chicago Cubs fan hoping that Prince Fielder or some other star would wind up in Wrigley as a free agent this winter, what follows is not good news: The team's debt will impact the Cubs' pursuit of free agents, writes Gordon Wittenmyer.

Cubs owner Tom Ricketts has greatly impressed executives with other teams. They think he's smart; they think he's a natural leader; they think he gets it. And Ricketts is going to need all of those skills in the years ahead, in placating Cubs fans thirsting for a winner.

The easiest thing in the world for Ricketts to do would be to go after Albert Pujols or Fielder and perhaps land one of those stars, but Fielder might be one more pricey Band-Aid for an organization already crippled by immovable long-term contracts.

Alfonso Soriano is right in the middle of an eight-year deal, with subpar results, and Milton Bradley didn't make it to the halfway point of his contract. The Cubs gave the green light last year to Kosuke Fukudome's agent to seek a trade and there were none to be had. Whether it's fair or not, Aramis Ramirez is regarded by some rival scouts as one of the most disinterested major leaguers in uniform. And Carlos Zambrano has garnered more attention for dugout explosions and broken bats than for his pitching. Those five players essentially account for about $70 million of what the Cubs are spending in payroll this year.

It makes sense for Ricketts and the Cubs to look to player development, and the draft. But that route will take time -- years, perhaps -- for a fan base that might be as restless as at any time in the century or so since the Cubs last won a World Series. There could be months and years of hard days ahead for Ricketts and the Cubs.

The Cubs have lost four straight, and if there is heat on the manager, Mike Quade is ready for it. But one of Quade's uniformed peers doesn't think he should be evaluated based on the Cubs' performance this year because of the team's problems. "It wouldn't matter if it was John McGraw or Lou Piniella -- nobody could win with that group," said the peer, noting the indifferent play of Aramis Ramirez.

More on the Cubs: Chicago is now nine games out of first place, with a 23-32 record, and soon other teams will be looking over the Cubs' roster wondering if they will start trying to trade off parts. Soriano and Ramirez have no trade value, but one veteran who will have trade value is Kerry Wood, who gave the Cubs a hometown discount of $1.5 million this year because he wanted to return to Chicago. Presumably, the Cubs would let Wood decide whether he wants a midseason deal, which would be the right thing to do, given the financial concession that Wood made to sign with the Cubs. Wood has a 2.57 ERA with 10 walks and 17 strikeouts in 21 innings for Chicago this season.

Bud Selig sees no trouble in the Cubs' debt structure, writes Phil Rogers.

• The Mariners broke out, again, with seven runs in a shutout of the Rays, as Mason Kelley writes. Jason Vargas, the Ringo Starr of this rotation, was excellent.

How Vargas pitched a shutout, from ESPN Stats & Info:

A) He rode the fastball: Vargas threw a season-high 66 fastballs on 115 pitches (57.4 percent) and used that fastball in all zones to get 11 fly ball outs (previous high this season was five). In total, Vargas got 16 outs with the fastball and gave up just two singles.

B) He controlled lefties: The Rays had three lefties in the lineup (Johnny Damon, John Jaso and arguably the league's best hitter right now, Matt Joyce). Vargas pitched to the strike zone against Jaso and Joyce (25 pitches, 19 strikes) and went out of zone to Damon (15 pitches, 8 strikes). Damon managed the only hit against Vargas, as the three combined to go 1-for-10 with two strikeouts.

C) He left runners on base: Because of his season-low four hits allowed, Vargas did not have many baserunners. The Rays did not have a baserunner reach second until the fourth inning, with Seattle up 4-0, when Ben Zobrist stole second. Vargas threw 28 pitches with runners on base, and the Rays went 1-for-7 with a strikeout.

• Not surprisingly, the Marlins are furious with the comments made by Giants GM Brian Sabean, as Ted Hutton posts, with Logan Morrison responding on behalf of a close friend. The Marlins believe Sabean has put Scott Cousins in increased jeopardy, and they're mad at Buster Posey for not acknowledging Cousins's apology.

Here's the apology that came from the Giants, but I'm not sure it'll help, because it didn't come from Sabean himself.

In an interview with Gwen Knapp, referenced in this piece, Sabean declined to comment.

San Diego's catchers were not happy with what Sabean said.

• The Mets had a really bad day, learning that David Wright and Ike Davis could be out until sometime around the All-Star break and then losing on a Jose Reyes error. Nothing is going right for the Mets, writes Joel Sherman.

• Jack Zduriencik has had his best success in the draft picking position players, and for that reason it would not be a surprise to some of his peers if the Mariners go for a position player with the No. 2 overall pick, on someone such as Bubba Starling. Late Friday evening, there continued to be great mystery about how the front third of the draft would go, but generally, the anticipation of some other teams is that the Pirates will pick Gerrit Cole with the No. 1 overall choice.

The Braves want pitching with this year's draft.

For the Rockies, draft anticipation is building, writes Irv Moss.

The Padres' history of No. 1 picks is not good, as Chris Jenkins writes.

The Cardinals have one pick among the first 78, as mentioned within this Rick Hummel notebook.

• There are no great teams in the majors right now; rather, there are a handful of very good teams (Philadelphia, for example) that have some distinct flaws. Of all teams, the one that has the highest potential ceiling to me is the Texas Rangers, because of their athleticism, because of their room for growth, because their most glaring need (bullpen) is fixable in the forthcoming trade market. And because of Alexi Ogando, who has developed into a real weapon, alongside C.J. Wilson and Colby Lewis.

He won again on Friday night, beating the Indians. More on his outing from ESPN Stats & Info:

A) He mixed in off-speed: Ogando threw 33 off-speed pitches (25 sliders, eight changeups) at an average of 83.3 mph, his highest average velocity of the season, but still an average of 12 mph slower than his average fastball. The Indians were fooled, swinging at 12 off-speed pitches and missing seven (58.3 percent), going 0-for-5 with three strikeouts in at-bats ending with an off-speed pitches. It's the third start this season Ogando hasn't allowed a hit against his off-speed pitches (2-0, 1 ND).

B) He was effective away: Ogando threw his fewest pitches away from hitters in six starts (42), but was effective. Ogando had allowed five hits against pitches away in his last two starts (all well-hit singles), but on Friday the Indians went 0-for-9 with all six of Ogando's strikeouts. The six strikeouts are a season high for that quadrant (three fastballs, two sliders, one changeup).

C) He saw four 3-ball counts: Ogando walked one batter but threw five pitches with a 3-ball count, his lowest total since April 17. Ogando threw four of those pitches for strikes and induced two ground outs and a fly out.

Ogando (eight IP, one ER against the Indians) has thrown six or more innings while allowing one or fewer ER in seven of his 11 starts on the season. The three pitchers with seven such starts all hail from the AL West.

Most starts of 6-plus IP allowing 1 ER or fewer, 2011 season

Alexi Ogando -- 7 (6-0 record)

Jered Weaver -- 7 (5-0)

Trevor Cahill -- 7 (6-0)

Alexi Ogando is undefeated in 11 career starts, the fourth-longest streak to start a career by any active pitcher:

Livan Hernandez -- 13 (June 5-Sept. 6, 1997)

Jered Weaver -- 12 (May 27-Aug. 18, 2006)

Mike Leake -- 12 (April 11-June 10, 2010)

Alexi Ogando -- 11 (April 5-June 3, 2011)

Dings and dents

1. Pablo Sandoval is not that far away from being back in the big leagues: He had three at-bats in his first minor league rehab start on Friday. Last week, Giants Manager Bruce Bochy said he figured Sandoval would need something in the range of 20 to 25 plate appearances before he'd be ready to be activated.

2. The Dodgers are being wrecked by injuries, and the latest to hit the DL is Jon Garland, who has shoulder inflammation. Rafael Furcal also got hurt, straining his side, and Don Mattingly thinks he's headed to the disabled list.

3. Brett Lawrie's promotion to the big leagues has been delayed, as Mark Zwolinski writes.

4. The Braves will have an update today on Jordan Schaefer, who fouled a ball off his face.

5. Joe Mauer served as a DH in an extended spring game.

6. There is an update within this notebook on Tsuyoshi Nishioka.

7. Brandon Inge was diagnosed with mono.

8. Sean O'Sullivan has landed on the disabled list.

Moves, deals and decisions

1. Brad Hawpe has been taking fly balls lately, prepping for the inevitable promotion of Anthony Rizzo, as Tim Sullivan writes.

2. With Endy Chavez playing well, Julio Borbon was sent to the minors.

3. Emmanuel Burriss might be pushing Miguel Tejada out of a job, writes Carl Steward.

4. Greg Halman got a call to the big leagues.

5. Jim Tracy has no set plans for the Colorado rotation.

6. The Phillies want to become compliant with baseball debt rules.

7. Dan Haren had his start moved from today to Tuesday, as Mike DiGiovanna writes. Within the same notebook, there is word that Howie Kendrick will be activated today.

8. The Astros released Bill Hall.

9. Edinson Volquez is set to return.

Friday's games

1. The Diamondbacks and Josh Collmenter never lose, writes Nick Piecoro.

2. Ryan Braun was The Man for the Brewers, as Tom Haudricourt explains.

3. The White Sox are gathering momentum: Their winning streak has reached four games after their latest win over the Tigers. Kenny Williams is a believer in this team.

4. Jared Weaver battled like crazy and was rewarded for that.

5. The Marlins had their guts ripped out.

6. Jaime Garcia bounced back from an ugly outing his last time out and shut down the Cubs. From ESPN Stats & Info, how he won:

A) He missed bats: Garcia induced a career-best 20 swing-and-misses, including seven on his sinking fastball.

B) Garcia took 15 hitters to a two-strike count and retired all 15 on only 19 pitches, a rate of one every 1.3 pitches. In the last three seasons, no starter who's retired every hitter he took to a two-strike count has done it as efficiently (minimum of 10 PA).

C) Once again, the Cubs were aggressive early in the count against Garcia. Of the 56 pitches they saw in the first two pitches of an at-bat, they swung at 25 of them (44.6 percent), the fourth highest percentage against Garcia in his short career. Garcia's other two career starts against the Cubs rank first and second. This season, no team has swung more often than the Cubs (48.1 percent).

Jaime Garcia at home, since 2010 season:

Starts 19

W-L 10-4

ERA 1.35 (best in MLB)

7. The Oakland bullpen gave it up, as Susan Slusser writes.

8. Carl Crawford got a big hit.

9. Matt Cain was back to his usual dominance.

10. The Pirates closed out their win Friday with a bang, as Dejan Kovacevic writes.

11. There never seems to be middle ground with Bronson Arroyo, and on Friday, he was terrific, as John Fay writes.

12. The Yankees lost, after Derek Jeter opened the game with a 15-pitch at-bat. After going to a 3-1 count, Jeter fouled off 10 pitches before finally flying out to center on the 15th pitch of the game thrown by Jered Weaver. It is the second-longest plate appearance this year. Ruben Tejada of the Mets drew a 16-pitch walk B8 against the Phillies last Friday (5/27). The last player to see 15 pitches to lead off a game was then-Royals hitter Johnny Damon on June 30, 1998, against the Cardinals' Manny Aybar. He struck out swinging on pitch No. 15.

13. Along the way, Adam Dunn got a hit against a lefty, against Andrew Oliver. He was 0-for-40 against lefties entering the at-bat. From Elias Sports Bureau: This was the worst hitless at-bat start to a season against a lefty since Tim Salmon started the year hitless against lefties from April 6, 2004, to July 10 of that year.

14. The Rays managed only four hits.

15. Craig Kimbrel set a record, as Carroll Rogers writes.

16. Colorado was shut down again, as Troy Renck writes.

17. The Nationals lost again with Yunesky Maya on the mound, as Adam Kilgore writes.

18. The Phillies generated just five singles, as David Murphy writes.

19. The Indians are going through a rough spot, their manager says.

20. Carl Pavano completed his march toward 100 career wins, as Joe Christensen writes.

21. The Astros' winning streak ended, as Zachary Levine writes.

22. The Yankees ran up Jered Weaver's pitch count early but still lost, as Mark Feinsand writes.

23. The Jays had a big day at the plate, writes Mike Rutsey.

24. Zach Britton had a bad night.

The Patience Index

Other stuff

• Nats GM Mike Rizzo slipped on a learning curve, writes Jason Reid.

Carlos Ruiz doesn't think there needs to be any rules to protect catchers, as Paul Hagen writes. The D-Backs' Miguel Montero says he's unaffected by the Posey play.

Alex Rodriguez talked about what his cousin does for him.

• A Pirates minor-leaguer is biding his time.

• Trevor Cahill is tinkering with his delivery.

• The Rays want more out of Kelly Shoppach, writes Marc Topkin.

• Bruce Bochy thinks his hitters were helped by the hot weather.

• Sonny Gray dominated Belmont, and Vanderbilt took a step forward.

And today will be better than yesterday.