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It’s Time To Stop Kidding Ourselves About Kang

Kang was going to be the long-term answer at third. Now he won’t. Let’s move on. (Gene Puskar/AP)

Jung-ho Kang was released from his Dominican team Monday. Imagine explaining that sentence to someone in 2015.

The Pirates were hopeful that they could convince the Aguilas Cibaenas to have him stick around for a whole season to get the rust off, but the former Rookie of the Year contender was hurting a team that has plenty of players who will never sniff the big leagues. In 24 games, he batted .143, slugged .202, struck out in 37% of his plate appearances (31/84) and made four errors. The Cibaenas had seen enough.

The sad part is just about everyone expected this to happen. The Dominican League is one of the premier homes for winter ball. Kang had not played in a game or even faced live pitching in over a year. He was lead to the slaughter.

It may also be the last time he sees any action for a while. Neal Huntington has been steadfast for months now in his hopes that Kang is in the Pirates’ 2018 plans. Don’t count on it.

In March, Kang was sentenced to a suspended eight-month prison sentence for his third DUI. That’s been hanging over his head in his failed attempts to earn a work visa and get back into the country. He won’t have to serve any jail time if he honors the terms of the sentence, but the terms of that sentence are in place until early March 2019. He can’t even play in the KBO until then because he’s still under contract with the Pirates. So from now until then, his playing options are extremely limited. The Dominican was a perfect fit because of the country’s relaxed temporary visa policies and the league’s demand for players. There won’t be any comparable competition he can face again until next winter.

Can Kang keep his nose clean for the next 15 months? For his sake, I hope so, and I hope that DUI was the wakeup call he needed to get help. When talking about the incident in September, Kang told Yoo Jee-Ho of the Yonhap News Agency: “Something like that must never happen again, and I am trying to be a better man.” Good. Don’t just say it. Be that better man.

But Kang’s performance in the Dominican should be Huntington’s sobering reminder that it’s time to give up. Kang can’t/won’t help the team in 2018.

The best the Pirates can realistically hope for is Kang gets a visa halfway through spring training in 2019 once his sentence is completed. At that point, he’ll be a few weeks away from turning 32 and would not have faced American pitching in nearly 30 months. Getting his feet and timing back would demand a lengthy minor league assignment. At best he would be a mid-year call-up, but it wouldn’t be surprising if he didn’t get the call until September.

And even if he did get back to the big leagues, he probably has a suspension waiting for him, either from the DUI (which the league never dolled a punishment for), the sexual assault accusation in Chicago in 2016 (and with the recent paradigm shift where sexual assault victims of the rich and powerful are being believed and supported more and the assaulters are starting to feel the repercussions, you can bet the commissioner won’t let this slide), or both.

But besides that, yeah, he TOTALLY could be the starting third baseman in 2018.

The Pirates have decisions to make about the future of their infield, and they need to accept that Kang won’t be a part of it. They’ve dragged their feet long enough. It’s time to choose their path.

Jordy Mercer is entering his third and final year of arbitration. Sean Rodriguez is on the last year of his deal. Josh Harrison and David Freese have club options remaining for 2019 (and 2020 in Harrison’s case), but there’s no guarantee they will be back. The Bucs could probably use an upgrade over Freese, anyway. There’s a chance Josh Bell is playing with a completely different infield in 2019.

The Pirates have options on how they want to approach a potential changing of the guard. I already suggested Neil Walker would be the perfect fit if he and Huntington could bury the hatchet. If they want to get flashier and take a risk, Zack Cozart was one of the best infielders in baseball last year and should fall within the Pirates’ price range. Between the BAMTech money and the $3 million they will save from Kang’s salary, they have cash to spend.

Internally, Kevin Newman could be in the majors next year despite struggling in 2017. Cole Tucker should be a year behind him. As the founding member and acting president of the Max Moroff fanclub, I would be remiss to not mention his .846 OPS and four defensive runs saved in the second half of the season.

My point is that the Pirates aren’t Kang or bust. Sure, when he’s healthy, he’s probably the best player out of the five I mentioned (besides perhaps Cozart), but he comes with the most turmoil. And not fake, generated turmoil like how he handed out Korean snacks to his teammates and alienated the locker room. Real turmoil, to the point that he is borderline untouchable despite how many dingers he can hit.

Kang put it best during his interview with Jee-Ho: “I’ve been away for too long.” He’s going to be gone even longer. The Pirates don’t need to release him yet because he’s on the restricted list, meaning he’s not taking a roster spot or earning a salary, but he’s played his last game as a Buc. He was doomed to fail in the Dominican, but maybe failure was good. Now Huntington has all the proof he needs that he cannot and should not come back.

About Alex Stumpf (66 Articles)
<p>Alex is a Pirates and Duquesne basketball contributor to The Point of Pittsburgh. He graduated from Point Park University with a degree in Journalism and Mass Comm. and a minor in English in 2014. Everything can be explained with numbers. If you want to keep up to date on both teams or have a story idea, you can follow or reach him @AlexJStumpf.</p>
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24 Comments on It’s Time To Stop Kidding Ourselves About Kang

  1. Henry Kassab // November 29, 2017 at 8:05 AM // Reply

    Couldn’t agree more. Unfortunately, Kang has seen his last days as a Pirate and the Pirates need to move on whether via trade or free agency. As you stated, Cozart may be one if the more intriguing free agents out there. If the Pirates can sign him to a 3 year – forty million deal I think Huntington should pull the trigger.

    • Cozart is projected by MLBTR to get $42 million over three years. That is reasonable but it appears to be beyond what the Pirates would do. I could be mistaken but I believe that would be the most money the Pirates every paid a player on a per-season basis. Add to that the fact he is 32 and the Pirates have a major thing about paying that kind of money to over 30 players and I don’t see this deal happening.
      Alex is correct the team needs to do something. I just wouldn’t get my hopes up about them doing something that would excite the fan base.

      • Kevin Creagh // November 29, 2017 at 9:14 AM // Reply

        You’re correct that the Pirates have an internal go/no-go once a player hits 32. Virtually all of their team extensions revolve around that age.
        I think the market for SS is pretty weak this offseason, so Cozart could be that guy that may have to wait until January to sign. The Reds could never generate a market for him in a trade the past couple of seasons. It wouldn’t surprise me to see him sign for 2 years, in which case I’d love the Pirates to jump on that.

      • In addition the organization has two shortstops, both former first round picks, among their top ten prospects.

        I don’t see them making any kind of significant investment in a free agent at that spot.

        • Kevin Creagh // November 29, 2017 at 9:59 AM // Reply

          I’m not a fan of Kevin Newman’s ability to hit at the major league level. Cole Tucker is 2 years out himself. Although he brings a lot of youth relative to his level in the minors, it’s not as if he’s a Carlos Correa that you absolutely can’t block. If the Pirates wanted to either extend Mercer for 2-3 years or bring in Cozart, I wouldn’t be surprised.

          • Legitimate points, Kevin.

            I’m leery of Cozart given that 2017 was a career season and away from that bandbox GAB he’s a career .702 OPS.

            I would think they could do as well with someone else for far less money and exposure.

          • Kevin Creagh // November 29, 2017 at 10:27 AM //

            He was having a very strong 2016 before his injury, too. Plus his D has always been top-of-the-line, so you’d be buying that too.

          • I, too, am suspicious of players having a career year after age 30, ala Sean Rodriguez.
            As for Cozart’s 2016, he had an outstanding April and the rest of the season was fairly pedestrian — .232/.299/.401 — .700.

      • If the Pirates do anything, I’d be willing to bet it will involve a trade for a younger player with some pop and team control. That will probably cost them at least one major league player, and one of their top prospects. It will happen because they don’t spend money and necessity is the mother of invention.

  2. ‘lead to the slaughter’?

    Did you shoot him? lol

  3. Let us know when you have some new insight to offer on Kang. As for your assessment of what his troubles in the Dominican League mean, or what it might mean for how long he’d need to be game ready, the same exact things that you are saying now were said before he ever arrived in America. He’ll need a lengthy minor league assignment to get used to the American game, yada-yada! I’ll worry about what he needs once he gets a visa, but I’d bet anything he won’t need any lengthy minor league assignment. As for what he can do to try and be ready, he can play in Japan or Mexico or a variety of other places, if he so desires. No one here has been counting on Kang for 2018 and I’m certain that the Pirates already know if there is a chance that he’ll be available any time in 2018 and are making plans going into the Winter Meetings with a game plan to address second or third base if they already know Kang won’t be available.

  4. Daquido Bazzini // November 29, 2017 at 2:04 PM // Reply

    I suspect the Pirates will cut ties with Jung Ho Kang soon.
    Too many problems and has not played baseball at the MLB level in about year and a half.
    It’s ashame as Kang was a productive player who seemed to have it together.
    Apparently not to the latter.

    Also….It’s highly doubtful they could get him into the country.
    With the current (supposed and would be) dictator Don Trump in power, anyone is lucky to get inside the U.S. that doesn’t fit his criteria.

    • Why cut ties? He’s costing them nothing because he’s on the restricted list and isn’t even taking up a spot on the 40 man roster. He may come back or the Pirates may at some point trade his rights to another team once his visa status is cleared up, even if it is in 2019 as one poster suggested.

  5. Henry Kassab // November 29, 2017 at 2:13 PM // Reply

    Can’t see the Pirates releasing him so long as he can remain on the restricted list.

  6. Howard Weiss // November 29, 2017 at 2:22 PM // Reply

    Bob Stover – While under contract to the Pirates, I believe that Kang cannot play professional baseball anywhere but for the Pittsburgh Pirates.

    Daquido – I don’t look for the Pirates to cut ties now with Kang. I don’t know that he was much value, but at some point he might be something of an asset.

    • I don’t believe that that’s true if the Pirates give their permission. If you come up with a definitive answer, please share it with all of us.

  7. Daquido Bazzini // November 29, 2017 at 2:44 PM // Reply

    Howard – I wish that were true.
    How are they going to get him in the country?

  8. Howard Weiss // November 29, 2017 at 4:47 PM // Reply

    Daq- Perhaps after March 2019, when the terms of Kang’s sentence end, he might gain entry to the U.S. maybe then he might be worth something. You know, like the old car that has been in the family for a long time and has over 200,000 miles on it. But it runs and is okay for junior to drive to school or his first job, until, inevitably, he wrecks it.

    • mark delsignore // November 30, 2017 at 2:15 PM // Reply

      “You know, like the old car that has been in the family for a long time and has over 200,000 miles on it. But it runs and is okay for junior to drive to school or his first job, until, inevitably, he wrecks it.”

      Howard, this is NOT what the Pirates need. We got enough cars “OK for Jr to drive”.

      Too many.

  9. What would it take (using your surplus value model) to get Eugenio Suarez from the Reds? I know…trading a young, cost-controlled player within the division just isn’t going to happen…but as a thought experiment.

    • mark delsignore // November 30, 2017 at 6:15 PM // Reply

      um…….I would say….

      freaking impossible?

    • Kevin Creagh // November 30, 2017 at 8:55 PM // Reply

      In Suarez’s 2 full seasons he’s put up 1.7 and 4.1 WAR, average of 2.9. Let’s be generous and round to 3 going forward and keep him there.
      He has 3 arbitration years left. MLBTR estimates his arb-1 this year to be $4.4M. Using our 25%/40%/60% arb model, that puts his FA worth at $17.6M. Let’s also assume $8/WAR and add $0.5/WAR going forward.

      2018 — 3 WAR — $24M worth, $4.4M salary = $19.6M surplus
      2019 — 3 WAR — $24M worth, $7.2M salary = $16.8M surplus
      2020 — 3 WAR — $24M worth, $10.8M salary = $13.2M surplus

      That’s a total of $49.6M surplus. From the prospect surplus model, that’s a hitter #26-50 ($38.2M) plus a non-top 100 but pretty good piece or a pitcher #11-25 and a pitcher #51-100. Or mix and match of course.

      So for the Pirates, that would be Mitch Keller and…they don’t really have a pitcher #51-100, so you might have to pitch Luis Escobar and Taylor Hearn? Or Austin Meadows (he’ll probably be in the 26-50 range) and some lower piece.

      Suarez would be pricey.

  10. Plenty of major league players have been cut from the Dominican League if they haven’t produced. You are reading far too much into this — almost like you expect this to be some AA league and a rusty player can’t cut the mustard.

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