JAN. 16, 9:58am: The Pirates have officially announced the signing of Kang to a four-year contract with a club option for a fifth season.
JAN. 12: The Pirates and Korean infielder Jung-ho Kang have agreed to terms on a four-year deal with a fifth-year option, reports Jim Bowden of ESPN and MLB Network Radio (Twitter links). Kang’s contract, which is still pending a physical, will guarantee him about $16MM, according to Bowden. Kang is represented by Octagon’s Alan Nero.
Kang’s former club, the Nexen Heroes of the Korea Baseball Organization, announced recently that the 2014 KBO MVP was flying to Pittsburgh to take a physical this week, and Nero himself told reporters last week that he expected an agreement to be reached with the club this week. Kang had reportedly been seeking about $5MM per year on a four-year deal, so it appears that Pittsburgh GM Neal Huntington and his staff were able to talk Kang and Nero down a bit.
The 27-year-old Kang (28 in April) is coming off an incredible season with the Heroes in which he batted .356/.459/.739 batting line and 40 home runs in 117 games between the regular season and the playoffs. Though KBO is notoriously hitter-friendly, those numbers still garnered quite a bit of attention from big league clubs, even though some were clearly skeptical, as Pittsburgh’s $5,002,015 winning bid for the negotiation rights was relatively modest.
MLBTR’s Charlie Wilmoth recently penned an international profile on Kang, noting that Dan Szymborski, who created the ZiPS projection system, likened the KBO to a hitter-friendly version of Double-A. Within that profile, Charlie notes that an MLB international scouting director to whom MLBTR’s Tim Dierkes spoke opined that Kang possessed no plus tools, merely raw power that wouldn’t translate to games in the Majors.
On the other side of the coin, however, some scouts do think that Kang can be a regular in the Majors. ESPN’s Keith Law ranked Kang 15th among free agents this offseason, noting that he’d start Kang at shortstop and give him every opportunity to prove he belongs. Likewise, former MLB and KBO pitcher Ryan Sadowski, now with Global Sporting Integration, said that he feels Kang can absolutely be a regular player and hit about 20 homers per season at the big league level when he spoke with Jeff Todd on the MLBTR Podcast.
It’s unclear exactly how Kang will fit into the Pirates’ plans. He could supplant Jordy Mercer as the club’s starting shortstop, but Mercer is coming off a solid enough season that he could make a case to start in spite of Kang’s arrival. Kang has said that his preference is to play third base if he has to move off shortstop, per Jeeho Yoo of Korea’s Yonhap News Agency (Twitter link), as he’s more familiar with that position. However, Josh Harrison appears locked in at third coming off a brilliant season in which he was one of the National League’s most valuable players. Kang could bounce around the diamond in a role similar to the one that Harrison filled for much of 2014 and settle into a permanent spot in the event of an injury to one of Pittsburgh’s infielders or regression from Mercer or Harrison.