The Korea Baseball Organization has reached a ruling regarding infielder Jung Ho Kang, who starred for the KBO’s Nexen (now Kiwoom) Heroes and spent parts of four years with the Pittsburgh Pirates. Kang, who seeks reinstatement following a trio of DUI arrests, will be suspended for one year and will also be required to perform 300 hours of community service, Jee-ho Yoo of South Korea’s Yonhap News Agency reports.
Kang, 33, faced a ban of up to three years under the KBO’s stringent policies surrounding DUIs. However, his lawyers argued that because the latest policy was implemented in 2018 and Kang’s most recent arrest came in 2016 (when he was playing with the Pirates and thus not even in the KBO), he should not face a maximum penalty. Yoo noted last week that something along the lines of 90 games could be considered were Kang only punished for two of his DUI arrests, and the actual ban lies somewhere in between those two potential outcomes.
The suspension for Kang won’t come into effect until he signs with a club. When or if that takes place is a bit complicated given that his former team still holds his rights. Kang would either need the Heroes’ permission to sign with another team or would need the organization to reinstate him from the “voluntarily retired” list, where he was placed when he was first posted for MLB clubs back in 2014.
Kang’s most recent DUI scandal brought about a swift downfall for a player who looked every bit the part of a productive Major Leaguer. After spending seven seasons with the Heroes and peaking with an outrageous .356/.459/.739 batting line as a 27-year-old back in 2014, Kang was posted for MLB teams and landed with the Pirates on a four-year, $11MM contract. He finished third in NL Rookie of the Year voting in 2015 and was well on his way solidifying himself as a quality regular from 2015-16, batting a combined .273/.355/.483 (126 OPS+, 129 wRC+) with 36 home runs, 43 doubles, two triples, eight steals and respectable defensive marks at both third base and shortstop.
That third DUI arrest, though, prevented Kang from securing his work visa and eventually caused him to miss the entire 2017 season as well as much of the 2018 campaign. He returned to the Pirates on a one-year pact last season but turned in a ghastly .169/.222/.395. His strikeout rate exploded from 21 percent in 2015-16 to more than 32 percent last season as his defensive grades plummeted.
Kang was worth about six wins above replacement in his first two big league seasons despite only appearing in 229 games and taking 837 plate appearances. It’s easy to imagine another world where he would’ve settled in as the Pirates’ regular third baseman. Given what was an affordable contract and a seemingly productive trajectory on a losing club, he might well have even emerged as a viable trade chip for the former front office regime.
Instead, while Kang may yet be granted one more chapter in his baseball career (depending on the Heroes’ action and interest from others in the KBO), he’ll go down as a “what might’ve been” case.