12:16pm: The winning bid on Kang was said to be $5,002,015 over the weekend, according to a report from Yonhap. Rob Biertempfel of the Pittsburgh Tribune Review has confirmed with a source that the bid was indeed $5MM (Twitter link).
The Pirates, of course, will get the $5MM back if they are unable to work out a contract with Kang in their exclusive 30-day negotiation window.
11:39am: The Pirates have won the bidding for Korean infielder Jung-ho Kang, tweets Jon Heyman of CBS Sports. Kang’s former club, the Nexen Heroes of the Korea Baseball Organization, will reportedly accept the bid.
Kang, 28 in April, put together an exceptional season in Korea in 2014, .356/.459/.739 with 40 home runs in 117 games between the regular season and the playoffs. Kang’s Heroes reached the Korean Series (KBO’s Championship series) but fell to the Samsung Lions four games to two.
While his numbers are undeniably incredible, it should be noted that KBO is an extremely hitter-friendly environment, somewhat diminishing the impact of those eye-popping numbers. Major League scouts appear genuinely split on whether or not Kang can be an everyday player in the Majors. ESPN’s Keith Law ranked Kang 15th among free agents this offseason, noting that he feels Kang should be given a chance to play shortstop everyday initially, as he could show enough power to handle the position and make up for less-than-stellar defensive tools at the position. However, he did note that some scouts see Kang as an “unathletic corner guy” whose power won’t translate to the Majors.
Recently, Ryan Sadowski of Global Sporting Integration appeared with Jeff Todd on the MLBTR Podcast and discussed Kang in detail. Sadowski, a former MLB and KBO pitcher, has seen Kang play extensively.
Kang is reportedly seeking $5-6MM annually on a multi-year deal, which isn’t an exorbitant price but also would be a costly miss for a payroll-conscious club like the Pirates in the event that Kang cannot be a productive player in the bigs.
The Pirates have plenty of infield depth as is, with Neil Walker entrenched at second base and Josh Harrison set to man third base in 2015 and beyond. Jordy Mercer played a solid shortstop in 2014, but he seems the most likely to be displaced if Kang is signed and the looks the part of an everyday shortstop. Then again, the Bucs may simply prefer to rotate Kang between three infield spots or shift Mercer to a utility role. There’s certainly room for all four infielders to remain on the roster.