Boston Red Sox designated hitter David Ortiz reacts after flying out against the Tampa Bay Rays during the eighth inning of their MLB American League baseball game at Fenway Park in Boston

The State of the Races

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The division races are secondary right now. Let’s go with the wild cards first:

AL Wild Card: Unless you’ve been living under a rock or (worse) watched football all weekend, you know that Boston leads Tampa Bay by a mere two games now after dropping three of four to the Rays.  What you can be somewhat more reasonably excused for not knowing, at least if you’re on the east coast, is that the Angels are only four games back of the Sox themselves.  And then you look at the schedule and you see that, with their margin shrinking, the Red Sox will trot out Kyle Weiland, John Lackey and an arguably healthy Erik Bedard in the next three games and you wonder if this thing isn’t going to be all tied up soon.

NL Wild Card: Atlanta leads St. Louis by 3.5 and — surprise, surprise — the Giants by four.  Big surges by both St. Louis and San Francisco here, along with awfulness by the Braves.  Obviously I have my rooting interest and that won’t flag on a personal level, but let’s be objective about this, shall we?  As things currently stand, wouldn’t the Braves be the worst team to make the playoffs if they hold on? From the perspective of “do you actually want to watch them play baseball games in the playoffs,” wouldn’t you prefer the Giants or the Cardinals?

As for the divisions:

AL East: The Yankees 4.5 lead seems pretty darn safe. Boston’s struggles also mask the fact that the Yankees are playing some pretty uninspired ball themselves.

AL Central: Congratulations on the clinch, Detroit. Now let’s all join forces to fight the “Verlander for the MVP” wave that I feel is building this morning. Or, if we can’t fight it, let us at least remind its backers that Miguel Cabrera, Alex Avila and the rest of the Tigers team isn’t chopped liver.

AL West: Rangers by 4.5, which means it’s almost over.

NL East: Congratulations on the Phillies clinching. Everyone was so worried about that.

NL Central: Brewers by 6.5. All done but the paperwork.

NL West: Dbacks by 5.  Kudos to them for not crumbling as the Giants surged. It would be the wackiest thing ever if two NL West teams made the postseason dance, wouldn’t it?

Report: Royals and Eric Hosmer have discussed a long-term contract extension

SAN DIEGO, CA - JULY 12:  Eric Hosmer #35 of the Kansas City Royals and the American League rounds the bases after hitting a home run against the National League in the 2nd inning of the 87th Annual MLB All-Star Game at PETCO Park on July 12, 2016 in San Diego, California.  (Photo by Denis Poroy/Getty Images)
Denis Poroy/Getty Images
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Ken Rosenthal of FOX Sports reports that the Royals and first baseman Eric Hosmer have discussed a long-term contract extension. However, Hosmer also indicated that he will head into free agency if a deal is not consummated by Opening Day.

Hosmer, 27, avoided arbitration with the Royals last month, agreeing to a $12.25 million salary for the 2017 season. He is one of four key Royals players who can become a free agent after the season along with Mike Moustakas, Alcides Escobar, and Lorenzo Cain. If Hosmer does reach free agency, he would arguably be the top free agent first baseman.

Hosmer finished the past season hitting .266/.328/.433 with 25 home runs and 104 RBI while making his first All-Star team.

Yankees sign Jon Niese to a minor league deal

PHOENIX, AZ - AUGUST 17:  Jonathon Niese #49 of the New York Mets delivers a pitch during the first inning against the Arizona Diamondbacks at Chase Field on August 17, 2016 in Phoenix, Arizona.  (Photo by Jennifer Stewart/Getty Images)
Jennifer Stewart/Getty Images
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Joel Sherman of the New York Post reports that the Yankees have signed pitcher Jon Niese to a minor league contract, pending a physical. Assuming the deal is finalized, Sherman notes that the Yankees will have Niese work as both a starter and a reliever in big league camp this spring.

According to Sherman, the Yankees were interested in lefty relievers Jerry Blevins and Boone Logan, but didn’t want to commit at their asking prices. They are looking for a lefty set-up man along with Tommy Lane.

Niese, 30, pitched for the Pirates and Mets last season, finishing with a 5.50 ERA and an 88/47 K/BB ratio over 121 innings.