Pirates GM Neal Huntington more clearly spelled out what looked to be an increasingly apparent reality on Thursday, telling Stephen J. Nesbitt of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette that one can “pretty much eliminate the thought” of Jung Ho Kang suiting up for the Pirates in 2017.
The 30-year-old Kang was arrested and charged with his third DUI in South Korea this past offseason. The resulting sentence called for eight months of prison time, but that punishment was suspended for two years and allowed the infielder to avoid serving any actual jail time so long as he does not violate terms set forth under the suspended sentence. Kang’s appeal was denied, and he has since been unable to secure a work visa after his applications have been rejected by the United States embassy.
“That’s unfortunate,” said Huntington. “The situation is a result of regrettable actions. As far as 2018, we still remain optimistic that we’ll go through the process again this offseason, and perhaps the thought process or the environment will change. But we have to face the reality that it might not.”
The 2017 season is the third of a four-year, $11MM pact that Kang signed with the Pirates, though he has not received any of this year’s $2.75MM salary due to his placement on the restricted list. The contract calls for him to earn $3MM in 2018 and includes a $5.5MM club option with a $250K buyout for the 2019 campaign as well.
In Kang’s absence, the Bucs have turned to David Freese as their primary third baseman, with versatile Josh Harrison also seeing some time at the hot corner. The veteran Freese, who signed to a two-year extension last summer, has responded with a .244/.374/.362 batting line through his first 262 trips to the plate in 2017. In Kang’s first two Major League seasons, the former Nexen Heroes star batted .273/.355/.483 with 36 home runs in 837 plate appearances.