Pete Kozma

Pete Kozma is the new Shane Spencer

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OK, so the comparison isn’t quite perfect, but I needed a catchy headline to get you to read about this craziness.

When the Cardinals lost starting shortstop Rafael Furcal for the season they called up Pete Kozma from Triple-A, where he’d hit just .232 with a .292 on-base percentage and .355 slugging percentage in 131 games. And that offensive ineptitude was nothing new for Kozma, whose career numbers in the minors include a .236 batting average and .652 OPS.

Kozma was the 18th overall pick in the 2007 draft coming out of high school, but at no point in his six-season career as a minor leaguer has he ever hit. His career-high OPS is .702 and his batting averages by season are .233, .258, 231, .243, .214, and .232. Based on his lengthy track record Kozma projected to be one of the majors’ worst hitters.

But the Cardinals called him up, mostly because they lacked other options, and then a funny thing happened: Kozma started hitting. So much, in fact, that manager Mike Matheny couldn’t possibly take him out of the lineup. So now through 23 games as a major leaguer Kozma has hit .338 with a .600 slugging percentage and .975 OPS. And the Cardinals, despite injuries to multiple key players, have hung tough in September and are headed to the playoffs, where Kozma can see if his deal with the devil extends past Game 162.

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.