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The Rockies’ fifth starter spot is still up for grabs

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A report from Patrick Saunders of the Denver Post suggests that the Rockies have a few position battles ahead of them in spring training. That includes the back end of the starting rotation, where right-hander Jeff Hoffman is expected to compete with fellow righty German Marquez for the fifth starting role.

Hoffman, 24, finished his first cup of coffee in the majors during the 2016 season. He went 0-4 in six starts with Colorado, pitching to a 4.88 ERA, 4.9 BB/9 and 6.3 SO/9 over 31 1/3 innings. Despite a less-than-stellar transition to the big leagues, he retains an impressive pitch arsenal and hasn’t experienced any setbacks since undergoing Tommy John surgery in 2014. In a best-case scenario, Saunders writes, Hoffman could round out the “best starting rotation in team history” come Opening Day.

Marquez, 21, is also coming off of a rocky debut in 2016. The right-hander labored through 20 2/3 innings out of the Rockies’ bullpen and rotation, posting a 5.23 ERA, 2.6 BB/9 and 6.5 SO/9 in six appearances. It was the latest in a series of rapid-fire promotions for Marquez, who spent the majority of his season in Double-A Hartford and made a brief stopover in Triple-A Albuquerque before getting a call-up in September. His ceiling isn’t expected to be quite as high as Hoffman’s, though he’ll have plenty of opportunities to compete for the No. 5 spot in the weeks to come.

Jorge Soler diagnosed with strained oblique, Opening Day in doubt

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Royals outfielder Jorge Soler has been diagnosed with a strained oblique, making it likely that he begins the regular season on the disabled list, Rustin Dodd of The Kansas City Star reports.

The Royals acquired Soler from the Cubs in December in exchange for reliever Wade Davis. Over parts of three seasons with the Cubs, Soler hit .258/.328/.434 with 27 home runs and 98 RBI in 765 plate appearances.

When he’s healthy, Soler is expected to find himself in the Royals’ lineup as a right fielder and occasionally as a designated hitter.

Report: Cardinals, Yadier Molina making “major progress” on contract extension

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Jon Heyman of FanRag Sports reports that the Cardinals and catcher Yadier Molina are making “major progress” on a contract extension. Molina told the team he won’t discuss an extension during the season, hence the rapid progress.

Molina is entering the last guaranteed year of a five-year, $75 million contract signed in March 2012. He and the Cardinals hold a mutual option worth $15 million with a $2 million buyout for the 2018 season. The new extension would presumably cover at least the 2018-19 seasons and likely ’20 as well.

Molina is 34 years old but is still among the most productive catchers in baseball. Last season, he hit .307/.360/.427 with 38 doubles, 58 RBI, and 56 runs scored in 581 plate appearances. Though he has lost a step or two with age, Molina is still well-regarded for his defense. The Cardinals also value his ability to handle the pitching staff.