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Sunday Baseball Notes

MLB trade market revolves around pitchers

Phillies pitcher Cliff Lee is the biggest name that could move.

AP/File

Phillies pitcher Cliff Lee is the biggest name that could move.

Early this week, the Houston Astros will formulate a game plan as to how to approach their veteran assets. Teams are already calling about Bud Norris, a cheap ($3 million) solution to any contender’s rotation.

Cheap in salary, but he won’t be cheap in acquisition cost.

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The Astros are willing to deal him, but they realize he’s their biggest chip, and the price tag will reflect it.

The Orioles, Giants, and Pirates have kicked around the idea of acquiring Norris, but according to one National League executive there will be about a dozen teams interested before all is said and done.

Now that the draft is over, there’s more focus on what teams can do to acquire that one missing piece to their starting rotations. There has been no one more aggressive in his pursuit for pitching than Baltimore general manager Dan Duquette, who has a good, competitive team, but knows that one veteran starter could make all the difference.

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It hasn’t been that often over the years that Giants GM Brian Sabean has had to seek a pitcher, but that’s certainly the case this season with Ryan Vogelsong on the disabled list and Barry Zito struggling on the road.

Matt Cain has pitched much better in his last eight starts and is getting closer to the dominant Cain.

Sabean, known for his strong work in acquiring in-season positional help (Cody Ross, Marco Scutaro), now will turn his attention toward finding pitching help.

There’s always “the list” of pitchers who might become available, but it doesn’t always happen that they actually are available. Sometimes the player acquisition cost is prohibitive. Sometimes the salary restraints make it impossible.

Could the Orioles afford Cliff Lee’s $25 million salary? Well, that’s the type of restraint we’re referring to, which is why Norris becomes so valuable.

“We’re looking for a starter and a reliever,” said Duquette. “We’d like to solidify our pitching all around because that’s the name of the game, really. We have to look at everything. Don’t think we’re going to be in the market for a big-money pitcher, but there seem to be some guys out there that we might focus on and see where it takes us.”

There’s Matt Garza with the Cubs, who was tattooed in his last start for nine runs over five-plus innings, but Garza appears to be healthy again. He will be a free agent at the end of the season and is available in a deal. But you wonder how much he could improve what you already have, especially if he’s not pitching well.

The Cubs would have loved to have dealt him last trading deadline or in the offseason, but physical issues with his elbow prevented that. So, the Cubs have remained patient and are waiting for the market to come to them.

The Cubs also have another trade chip in former Rangers spot starter Scott Feldman, who is 5-5 with a 3.22 ERA. Feldman would make a lot of sense for the Orioles.

While the Royals now sport the top ERA in the American League and have begun to play better, there are still scouts monitoring their pitching staff. The prize would be James Shields, with the Royals owning another option on his contract for 2014 at $12 million. But would the Royals deal him? There seems to be enough teams out there thinking they would.

Miami’s Ricky Nolasco is also drawing interest, as is Milwaukee’s Yovani Gallardo if the Brewers feel they’re out of the NL Central race. Nobody really knows for sure what the Blue Jays are going to do, and whether they would make their starters — anyone from free agent-to-be Josh Johnson to Brandon Morrow, R.A Dickey, and J.A. Happ — available in a deal.

The White Sox suffered an unfortunate fate because Jake Peavy would have been a top prize for a team needing a starter, and they were more than willing to listen.

Peavy may still be back in time from his rib injury to be available again, but for the most part he’s out of the trade market.

The White Sox may be ready to sell off at some point, but don’t ask for lefthander Chris Sale because he’s not going anywhere.

There’s no question if the Indians continue to fade, teams would be knocking on the door for Justin Masterson, Zach McAllister, or Corey Kluber. They also have Ubaldo Jimenez, who some believe would do well with a change of scenery.

Lee is the biggest name that could move, and yes, Jack Zduriencik is probably going to have to keep playing that recording he says he will carry with him about Felix Hernandez not being available.

If you’re a contending team, could a guy like San Diego’s Jason Marquis (8-2) help you? The Twins’ Kevin Correia? Seattle’s Joe Saunders or Aaron Harang?

“Sometimes you’re just better off going with what you have in your system,” said one National League special assignment scout. “Some of the [bleep] you see out there. Why bother trading for something you might already have? You give up players and money. And most of the time it just isn’t worth it. Unless it’s a tried and true, proven guy, don’t do it.”

Apropos of nothing

1. On Thursday, about a half-dozen Red Sox players had to produce urine for a performance-enhancing drug test at Camden Yards. “Yeah, it’s always after we’ve had a good series against someone,” said one player. “It’s like clockwork. When you’re going good, they’re right there waiting to test you.”

2. When Padres righthander Jason Marquis grounded into a double play in the seventh inning Monday night, it was the first Marquis had grounded into in 170 games (346 at-bats) since July 28, 2006. That happened to be the third-longest active streak in the major leagues behind Giants pitcher Matt Cain and Padres shortstop Everth Cabrera.

3. One of the toughest jobs in baseball? Pinch hitter. Yet Braves backup catcher Evan Gattis has it down pretty good. He was 6 for 8 as a pinch hitter, with a double, four homers, and 11 RBIs — twice as many homers and five more RBIs than any other major league pinch hitter. This from a guy who had one pinch hit in the minors.

4. The one punishment I didn’t agree with in the Diamondbacks-Dodgers brawl was the 10-game suspension levied against Ian Kennedy. He didn’t throw purposely at Yasiel Puig. Don’t know how anyone could think he did. You could see five games, but 10 games, which is essentially two starts? I thought that was excessive.

5. The Tigers need to enhance their bullpen. Heading into the weekend they had gotten quality starts in 18 of their last 19 games, but only had a 10-8 record in those quality starts to show for it. What gives? In six of those eight losses, the Tigers were ahead or tied in the seventh or later.

6. Dustin Pedroia, commenting on the Diamondbacks-Dodgers brawl while watching a replay of it said, “Look at Mark McGwire. He’s got veins in his neck that are bigger than me.”

7. Baltimore’s Adam Jones is one of the more unique center fielders with his ability to hit for power, average, and who has a plus-arm in the outfield. “I don’t think you see too many center fielders with arm strength and I think you can use that to your advantage,” Jones said.

8. Red Sox pitchers lead the league in walks.

Swing and a miss

Strikeouts are in line for historical season

According to Major League Baseball, through June 12 there were 76 games in which the starting pitcher recorded at least 10 strikeouts, the highest total in history through that date, surpassing the previous high of 69 in 2001.

The season record for games in which a starting pitcher has collected at least 10 strikeouts is 187, set in 1998. Entering play on Thursday, the 2013 strikeouts-per-nine-innings rate sits at 7.58, which would be the highest in major league history. Last season, a record was set when there were 7.56 strikeouts per nine innings. Through 974 games in 2013, there were 14,720 strikeouts. That’s a pace of 36,724, which would also rank as the most in major league history.

We’ve tackled this issue before in this space. Credit a combination of power pitchers, hitters who may be looking at too many pitches, and those who fail to protect the plate with two strikes as culprits to this phenomenon.

“It’s rare you see a guy like Yadier Molina, who hits for average, power, and when he gets to two strikes, he changes his approach, protects the plate, doesn’t try to do too much. That’s the throwback guy, the way it used to be,” said a former Red Sox infielder, now a scout for an American League team. “Now, I’m not sure guys really care if they strike out or not. When I played you were embarrassed to strike out.”

The Red Sox have certainly done their part. Mike Napoli was tied with Houston’s Chris Carter for the major league lead in strikeouts with 93 heading into the weekend. Jarrod Saltalamacchia was 19th with 67. The Astros continued on their record pace. Their batters had 630 whiffs to lead all of baseball, ahead of the Braves (596) and Red Sox (578).

St. Louis infielder Matt Carpenter led the majors entering the weekend with 269 called strikes, followed by Joe Mauer (261), and Mike Trout and Napoli (246).

ETC.

Updates on 9

1. Coco Crisp, OF, A’s — It would seem to be a no-brainer that the A’s pick up his 2014 option for $7.5 million. But if they don’t, Crisp, even at 33, would be in demand. There aren’t many top center fielder/leadoff hitter types out there. Jacoby Ellsbury will likely be No. 1 on the list, though injury concerns could dig into his market. But one American League special assignment scout said Crisp might be a better low-cost option because “he can do everything Ellsbury can do. Neither of them have an arm, but Coco is still fast, a very good outfielder, and can still be a game-changer.”

2. Jonathan Papelbon, RHP, Phillies — The Phillies believe there are at least three teams — Red Sox, Tigers, and Cardinals — that may have some interest in Papelbon at the trade deadline. It’s no secret the Phillies are scouting those teams with Papelbon in mind. Ruben Amaro Jr. came out and said last week that he’s not ready to “blow up” the Phillies. And while the Philadelphia GM is not crazy about moving Cliff Lee, Papelbon could provide the “retooling” with younger players the Phillies need.

3. Javier Vazquez, RHP, free agent — Teams continue to nudge him into coming back to pitch, but the former Braves and Yankees righthander seems to be content, at least for the moment, to stay out of baseball and be with his family, according to a source familiar with Vazquez’s thinking. Teams like his makeup as much as they like what he could add as a middle of the rotation starter.

4. Gerrit Cole, RHP, Pirates — When eight-time Gold Glove winner Russell Martin says, “It’s the best fastball I’ve ever caught,” that means something. Cole is the Pirates’ young phenom, who made a successful major league debut and averaged 96 miles per hour with his fastball, topping out at 100. The Pirates’ staff is decimated with injuries, with Wandy Rodriguez, A.J. Burnett, and James McDonald all on the disabled list, but the 22-year-old Cole has saved the day. The Pirates are out there looking for a starting pitcher.

5. Stephen Drew, SS, Red Sox — Now that June 15 has come and gone, the Red Sox would be able to trade Drew anywhere. Free agents signed during the offseason can’t be dealt until after the 15th unless they give their permission. What would the market be? Given the lack of shortstops around baseball, the Red Sox would have no problem finding a taker, but they have been steadfast that Drew is their guy. One National League GM couldn’t quite understand their infatuation with Drew. “They’re either trying to justify the $9.5 million they paid him, or they’re not sold on [Jose] Iglesias, who could start for 29 other teams.”

6. Jesse Crain, RHP, White Sox — As bullpens become depleted teams are looking for solid, dependable guys who can be used from the seventh inning on. Crane is becoming a top name on wish lists around baseball. The White Sox will have to decide in the next month whether they’re going to try to win with what they have or begin the overhaul that eventually must take place because their farm system is barren.

7. Roy Oswalt, RHP, Rockies — Looks like he will be back soon, after finishing up a five-start tuneup in the minors. Oswalt expressed recently why he’s returned, and it’s music to everyone’s ears. In the last couple of seasons, baseball people, some in Philadelphia, thought Oswalt had lost his passion for pitching. But when asked about why he continues to pitch he said, “The biggest thing is the passion for the game. You go home and you think about what you’ve done for the last 20 years and you watch it from the sideline and you know you can still do it. Watching guys play baseball on TV made it even worse.”

8. Logan Morrison, 1B/OF, Marlins — While many baseball people remain focused on Giancarlo Stanton’s availability in a deal, Morrison, 25, is now healthy and has returned to the lineup. Morrison is a big lefthanded hitter who will be monitored closely by scouts over the next month. It’s hard to tell whom the Marlins will or will not build around, but teams will come calling if Morrison is OK.

9. Nate Freiman, 1B, A’s — The Wellesley native has carved out a niche for himself with Oakland. Freiman beat Mariano Rivera in Thursday’s 18-inning affair against the Yankees, ending the game with a single off the iconic reliever. Even though Freiman grew up a Red Sox fan, he said about Rivera, “I always rooted for him. The way he’s carried himself throughout his career, the professionalism, the class. That’s a guy I’ve always admired, so it was a big thrill.”

Extra innings

From the Bill Chuck files: “[Houston’s] Lucas Harrell has thrown 579 pitches out of the strike zone, more than any other pitcher. He’s followed by James Shields’s 564 and Jon Lester’s 562.” Also, “Jon Lester has gone full on 99 batters, the most in the majors, 14 more than Felix Hernandez.” And, “Shin-Soo Choo has worked the count full 61 times. Mike Napoli leads Boston with 52.” . . . Happy birthday Calvin Schiraldi (51).

Nick Cafardo can be reached at cafardo@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @nickcafardo. Material from interviews, wire services, other beat writers, and league and team sources was used in this report.
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