MONDAY: The Nexen Heroes, Kang’s KBO team, have announced (link in Korean, but Yonhap News Agency has the details in English) that Kang will travel to Pittsburgh on Wednesday and will take a physical later in the week. That suggests that Kang and the Pirates are, in fact, close to a deal.
FRIDAY 2:10pm: Nero tells Travis Sawchik of the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review that he expects a deal between the two sides to be completed next week (Twitter link).
1:31pm: The Pirates and Korean infielder Jung-ho Kang are close to an agreement on a four-year deal, reports Jon Heyman of CBS Sports. Pittsburgh won the bidding for Korea’s top player last month with a $5,002,015 posting fee. Kang’s agent, Alan Nero of Octagon, recently told the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette’s Bill Brink that he was confident the two sides would work out a deal. Terms of the deal aren’t yet clear, although it’s known that Kang was seeking about $5MM annually.
Kang, who turns 28 in April, is coming off an astounding season in the Korea Baseball Organization. Though the league is notoriously hitter-friendly, it’s tough not to marvel a bit at the .356/.459/.739 batting line and 40 home runs that Kang posted in 117 games (501 plate appearances) between the regular season and postseason.
Despite those gaudy numbers, however, some scouts simply don’t think that Kang’s skills will translate to the Major Leagues. 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.
Heyman notes that it’s not clear at this time whether Kang would supplant Jordy Mercer at shortstop or if he would simply bounce around the field at a variety of positions. At the time the Pirates won the bidding, I noted that it wouldn’t be a shock to see Kang fill in a role similar to the one that Josh Harrison occupied for much of the 2014 season before unseating Pedro Alvarez as the everyday third baseman. With Harrison locked in at third and Alvarez likely seeing the bulk of playing time at first base, Kang could start several times a week by spelling regulars at second, short, third and in the corner outfield. It’ll be interesting to see if his power does indeed translate to the Majors, as his new home, PNC Park, is one of the toughest parks in all of baseball on right-handed power.