With the Pirates out of playoff contention and infielder Jung Ho Kang in the throes of an awful season, his time with the organization may be nearing an end. Kang’s Pirates tenure could expire as soon as shortstop Erik Gonzalez comes off the injured list on Aug. 6, Rob Biertempfel of The Athletic observes (subscription link).
General manager Neal Huntington admitted Wednesday that it’s “valid” to question Kang’s status with the organization, adding, “It’s a conversation we need to have as a group now that the trade deadline has come and gone.”
Manager Clint Hurdle even acknowledged it’s difficult to give playing time to a hitter whose “bat has not shown up as (much as) we were hoping to get.” Hurdle further noted, “There’s been a lot of swing and miss,” which is true. Kang swung and miss in 8.7 percent of plate appearances from 2015-18, but the number has skyrocketed to 16.0 this season. At the same time, after Kang struck out in 21.2 percent of PA during his first few years as a Pirate, he’s up to an unappealing 32.4 in 2019. The production has been abysmal as a result, with the previously impressive Kang having slashed a miserable .169/.222/.395 (56 wRC+) in 185 trips to the plate despite showing quite a bit of power (10 home runs, .227 ISO).
The fact that Kang’s only 15 PA from earning $625K in incentives could be important to the low-budget Pirates, Biertempfel points out. Kang would also earn an additional $625K by reaching 300, 400 and 500 plate trips. However, those look like unrealistic goals for Kang, who entered the season as the Pirates’ starting third baseman but has since faded into the background behind Colin Moran. Meanwhile, Kevin Newman’s locking down shortstop – Kang’s secondary position – leaving no obvious spot for the veteran. He could become even less necessary to out-of-contention Pittsburgh with the return of Gonzalez, an offseason acquisition who hasn’t played since April 19 on account of clavicle and hamstring injuries.
Re-signing Kang was also part of the offseason business for the Pirates, who brought him back on a $3MM guarantee after turning down a $5.5MM club option. To this point, the team has stuck with Kang through worse ordeals than lousy on-field output. Kang, whom the Pirates signed out of Korea entering the 2015 season, was accused of sexual assault in 2016 (though criminal charges were never filed). He then missed all of 2017 and almost the entirety of last season because he had trouble acquiring a visa in the wake of his third DUI arrest in his homeland.
Kang was outstanding on the field before he sat out nearly two full years. But with his effectiveness having waned to a significant extent in 2019, it appears Kang’s finally about to run out of rope with the Pirates.