Dustin Ackley, Justin Smoak

Is it time for Mariners to demote Dustin Ackley, Justin Smoak to Triple-A?

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Thanks in large part to Kyle Seager and Michael Saunders, the Mariners offense hasn’t been as bad as expected this year. The team is struggling mightily right now, though, having scored just four runs in four games, and if changes are going to come, this would seem to be right part of the schedule to make them.

Dustin Ackley is hitting just .220 with two extra-base hits in 82 at-bats this month. He is walking quite a bit, but he’s also striking out a whole lot. With 24 strikeouts this month, he’s up to 67 in 281 at-bats for the season. Overall, he’s hitting .242/.318/.335.

Justin Smoak is doing even worse, and the homers are no longer obscuring that fact. He’s gone hitless in five straight games, leaving him at .206/.268/.341 for the season. He does have 11 homers in 267 at-bats, but they’re not making up for the absence of singles and doubles. In fact, he has just three doubles all season.

The Mariners are currently prepared to stay the course, manager Eric Wedge told Geoff Baker of the Seattle Times. Which makes sense. They weren’t expected to contend in the AL West this year anyway, and they don’t have any obvious upgrades awaiting in the minors. For all of Ackley’s struggles lately, he’s still not having that awful of a season. He has a respectable .722 OPS outside of Safeco. Smoak, if nothing else, is on pace for 23 homers and 67 RBI.

If the Mariners did make a move, it’d be more along the lines of a wake-up call than anything else. They know Ackley is the future at second base. They still have to figure out whether Smoak is a long-term answer. They certainly want him to be, but he now has 1,042 major league at-bats and a career OPS of .677. With Mike Zunino drafted to be the catcher of the future, the Mariners could move on from Smoak if he fails to improve and go to Jesus Montero at first base.

But nothing is happening right now. There isn’t really anyone to replace Ackley in Triple-A. Alex Liddi could step in at first if needed, but he’s a weaker bet than Smoak. If Smoak is still slumping when Mike Carp is ready to come off the DL, perhaps in three or four weeks, then maybe the Mariners will make the change. As is, they’re just going to hope for the best.

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)
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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.