2:15pm: Pirates president Frank Coonelly has issued a statement in response to the report:
“A Korean news outlet has reported on a purported development in Jung Ho Kang’s effort to secure permission to travel to the United States for purposes of continuing his career as a member of the Pittsburgh Pirates and added speculation regarding a driving incident in a “third country.”
The facts, as we know them, are that Kang still has not been granted permission to travel to the United States under a work visa. We continue to work with Kang and his representatives to present materials and information to the appropriate parties in the United States government that we believe establish that Kang should be permitted to travel to the United States under a work visa and we remain hopeful that such a resolution will be reached in the near future.
We have no indication that Jung Ho has had a driving incident in a country other than Korea.”
10:49am: Pirates third baseman Jung Ho Kang’s status for 2017 remains in question as a result of his December arrest in South Korea on charges of driving under the influence and leaving the scene of an accident. Kang, who admitted guilt in February, earned a suspended eight-month prison sentence March 3 and has been waiting since then to obtain a visa to return to the United States.
According to a report from Naver Sports in Korea, Kang’s visa application has been denied. Further, Kang is “suspected” of drunken driving in a third country (not Korea or the U.S.). If true, that would put Kang’s chances of playing this season in jeopardy, though the 29-year-old has appealed his sentence in hopes of receiving lesser punishment and making it easier to obtain a visa. A decision on that appeal will likely come in the next few weeks, according to The Korea Times (via Rob Biertempfel of the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review). The Pirates, like Kang, are awaiting an answer on the player’s fate; as a result, they’re unsure whether they’ll receive any contributions from Kang this year.
“Your information is about the same as what I’ve got,” manager Clint Hurdle told MLB Network Radio on Friday. “We are staying in contact with Jung Ho and in contract with his interpreter. We’re focusing on the men we have here. That’s the best I can tell you. We’d love to have him back (but) we don’t have him back. We’re going to adapt and continue to pull … (and see) if this can come to some type of conclusion that’s profitable for both sides down the road.”
While Kang has a history of off-field troubles, including three DUI convictions in Korea and an ongoing investigation stemming from an alleged sexual assault in Chicago last July, his absence would be difficult for the Pirates to deal with on the field. The Bucs do have a quality fallback option at third base in David Freese, but his production hasn’t approached Kang’s dating back to the latter’s emigration from the Korea Baseball Organization in 2015. Kang has been a bargain since joining the Pirates on a four-year deal worth a guaranteed $11MM, having slashed .273/.355/.483 with 36 home runs in 837 plate appearances.
Because the Pirates placed Kang on the restricted list earlier this month, he won’t collect any of his salary for missed regular-season time, nor will he occupy a spot on their 40-man roster.