1:18pm: Kang did indeed have surgery to debride the cartilage in his wrist this morning, the Pirates announced. However, it’s not a guarantee that the injury will end his season. Per the team’s press release:
“The Pirates are very appreciative that Dr. Birdsong was able to clear a time slot on his schedule to expedite the timing of the surgery. The typical return to play from this type of surgery is four to six weeks.”
11:51am: Pirates infielder Jung Ho Kang will require season-ending surgery to repair his left wrist, according to Jee-ho Yoo of South Korea’s Yonhap News Agency. The operation is said to come with a three-month recovery period. Kang has been on the minor league disabled list with a wrist issue since late June.
The 31-year-old Kang hasn’t played in the Majors since the 2016 season due to ongoing legal issues in his native South Korea. The former Nexen Heroes star was arrested and charged with his third DUI during the 2016-17 offseason, leaving him unable to secure a work visa and costing him the entire 2017 season as a result. Kang eventually acquired a visa and was ablt to return to the United States back in May. He spent a few weeks ramping up (but still on the restricted list) before being optioned to the minors in mid-June. He played in just seven Class-A Advanced games and nine Triple-A contests before incurring the injury.
It seems possible, if not likely, that Kang’s injury will end his tenure with the Pirates organization. He’s earning a $3MM base salary in 2018 — though he wasn’t paid while on the restricted list earlier this season or in 2017 — and is under control for the 2019 campaign via a $5.5MM club option. That option comes with a modest $250K buyout, and it seems far likelier that the team will go that route than to roll the dice on a player who hasn’t set foot on a big league field since October 2016. It’d be somewhat of a surprise for any organization to exercise that option, but the cost-conscious Pirates, in particular, seem likely to take a pass.
The question for Kang, then, will be whether his considerable off-field issues will prohibit him from receiving a look with any other big league organization. In addition to the DUI charges he faced in Seoul, Kang was also accused of sexual assault in Chicago back in the summer of 2016, though the allegations never led to any charges being filed.
Kang did bat .273/.355/.483 with 36 home runs in 837 plate appearances as a member of the Pirates, so there’s at least reason to believe that with a mostly healthy offseason and a full Spring Training, he could be a productive on-field asset. If he were to get another opportunity, it seems likely that it’d come on a minor league pact with an invitation to 2019 Spring Training, though there will quite likely be some teams that decide to steer clear of Kang entirely, given those off-field issues and the long layoff between would-be MLB appearances.