Pirates Win the Bidding For Korean Infielder Jung-Ho Kang

The Pittsburgh Pirates have won the bidding for Korean infielder Jung-ho Kang, according to Jon Heyman.

MLBTR detailed the bidding last week, noting that Kang’s team was going to accept the bid. The link also mentions that the bid is approximately $5 M, and that Kang is seeking $5-6 M per year on a multi-year deal over four years.

The Pirates now have a month to sign Kang to a deal. If they can work out a deal, they would pay the posting fee, along with whatever they agreed with for Kang. If they don’t get him signed, he returns to Korea, and they get the posting fee refunded.

Kang is a 27-year-old shortstop in Korea who hit 40 homers last year, with a 1.198 OPS. The KBO is a hitter friendly league, but those are still impressive numbers. There are questions about whether he can stick at shortstop in the majors, with the possibility that he could move to second base or a corner spot. If that power translates to the majors, he should be able to play any infield position.

The Pirates have their infield set in 2015 with Pedro Alvarez/Corey Hart at first, Neil Walker at second, Jordy Mercer at shortstop, and Josh Harrison at third base. There are some question marks surrounding each player. Alvarez is coming off a down year, and Hart is injury prone. Walker is injury prone. Mercer played his first full season last year and struggled the first two months, before putting up solid numbers the rest of the season. Those numbers were similar to what he put up in 2013. The question here is which Mercer will show up in 2015, and whether he can have this success over a full season. Then there’s Harrison, who had a great year in 2015, but comes with the question of whether he can repeat.

In the short-term, Kang could provide some insurance at any of those positions, although shortstop would depend on whether he can field the position. In the long-term, he could be a replacement for Walker or Alvarez, who are both under contract through the 2016 season, or a long-term option if Harrison doesn’t work out at third. With the money the Pirates will be spending on him (if they can get him signed), he is almost certain to play a big role. And if he carries his hitting over to the majors, he could play a big role at any infield position.

UPDATE 1:02 PM: A few links on Kang. First, this article on MLB.com has his reported demands. He is seeking either a four year/$20 M deal, three year/$16.5 M deal, or a two year/$12 M deal. It also says the Pirates won the bidding at $5,002,015.

The second article out of Korea says that Kang wants to face Aroldis Chapman the most out of any pitcher in the majors. He’d certainly get plenty of opportunities if he signed with the Pirates.

UPDATE 1:20 PM: Ben Badler says that Kang has a chance to be a nice bench bat or utility man.

As for the posting fee comment, if Kang was seen as a guy who was a sure bet to hit for a lot of power, then he probably would have commanded more than a $5 M posting fee. The asking price for Kang, along with the posting fee, might be a bit high for a bench player or a utility player. My guess is that the Pirates see a bigger upside, since they don’t usually make this type of commitment in the international market.

UPDATE 1:54 PM: Badler has more about Kang at Baseball America (for subscribers). The most notable things are that he says Kang has a chance to hit 15-20 homers in the majors with regular playing time, probably won’t be a shortstop, and might not be an everyday player. He also says Kang should start his U.S. career in the majors, meaning no time in the minors would be needed.

UPDATE 1:58 PM: Jeff Sullivan had a good article on Kang, with the following quote providing a nice summary of what you could expect.

It doesn’t get much more unpredictable than Kang, but if he can be anything even close to his ceiling, he’ll end up paid far less than he’s worth.

Basically, no one knows how his bat will translate to the majors, and that’s going to determine what his ceiling could be.

UPDATE 2:11 PM: The Pirates have confirmed that they won the bidding for Kang. Neal Huntington issued the following quote.

“The Pirates are pleased to have secured the opportunity to attempt to add Kang, Jung Ho to our system and look forward to commencing discussions with the Player and his representative in an effort to make that happen.”

The team said there would be no further comment on the negotiations “out of respect for the process.”

UPDATE 6:00 PM: Jon Morosi has quotes from Kang’s agent, Alan Nero, who says Kang is excited about the idea of playing in the majors and for Pittsburgh.

  • If you have not seen
    Jung-Ho Chang’s Highlight Video you can definitely tell the Pirates got this
    guy for a bargain. He has
    hit 40 home runs, 117 RBI with a .356 average in just 115 games in the 2013
    season. I understand that
    this is the KBO that he was playing in. There
    were guys such as Felix Pie and Yamaico Navarro (Ex-Pirates) who also hit in
    the .300’s and had an ample amount of RBI’s. Those guys were nobodies
    when they were with us due to young age. No one can tell if he is going to
    be a good fit for the Pirates but definitely will make an impact as a young
    exciting player.

  • King Kang?

    Too soon?

    I like the signing. Considering they paid Morel, Martinez, Nix, and Ishikawa to play the infield last year, I’d much rather throw the opportunity to someone who should be, at least, mediocre.

  • I like this gamble. The Pirates are spending like they said they would and at the perfect time..

  • Combine $5-$6m per with the posting fee … Does feel like a steep price for us,for a guy that ‘projects’ as a very good bench bat. Man , they really value that ‘Clint Hurdle’ type , super – utility guy.

    • Remember the scouts that said Jose Abreu didn’t have big league bat speed and might not be athletic enough to handle first base? Traditional scouting is notoriously risk averse and Kang is something completely new.

      Jeff Sullivan at FanGraphs had the best take I’ve read so far on Kang and the Pirates. His point is that essentially, the Pirates have taken a Jose Tabata-sized gamble on a player that looks like be a lot like recently acquired Sean Rodriguez, but younger and with a realistic chance to have greater impact.

      Logic dictates that at some point, a player from the KBO will be a successful big leaguer. The first one of his kind, regardless of which country he’s from, will always be undervalued. The Pirates are betting it’s Kang, and are only risking an amount that really isn’t going to deter any significant moves in the future.

      • That, and there really isnt much precedent at all for a player from the KBO coming over and playing in the bigs. It just hasnt happened enough to assume one way or the other. Kang is likely the most talented player to come out of the KBO in awhile, as most players go from HS to MLB if they show big time talent.

      • I hear ya … What scared the hell out of me was the runners up in that HR race… Thames and Navarro(whom we know 1st hand) 3rd &6th respectively . The weight of that alone is worrisome.

  • Scouts I spoke with on Kang said he has a chance to be a nice bench bat/utility man. Posting fee reflects that. –Ben Badler

  • This is meaningless and for illustration only, but just for fun I looked at the MLB achievements of Felix Pie and Yamaico Navarro vs their 2014 seasons in the KBO, and using that info, backed into the following projection for Kang, based on 500 PAs: .246/.303/.421/.724 BB 38, K 185, 2B 18, 3B 6, HR 13, RBI 65.

  • Breaking news! Pirates are telling the central and the rest of mlb ( Prepare to be boarded!!

  • Jordy Mercer has become more than just about anyone expected, and that should be greatly appreciated by fans and the organization.

    But if you’re looking for ways to improve the team, finding a guy who can hit RHP better than 20% below league average would be a decent place to start. I’m not suggesting removing Mercer entirely, or even going to a straight platoon. But there are at-bats to be had on this club, and that shortstop is one of them.

  • I was looking for Kang’s stats from the WBC (2-9, 1HR), and came across this September post from Pinstripe Alley.http://www.pinstripealley.com/yankees-rumors-offseason-hot-stove/2014/9/8/6122217/jung-ho-kang-jeong-korea-MLB-posting-yankees-shortstop-rumors
    Which is perhaps most notable for mentioning that Shin-Soo Choo never played in the KBO and Felix Pie (remember him?) had a .340/.941 season with 16 HRs. So it’s safe to say the jury’s out on whether Kang is truly going to compete for a starting job or will be the new Josh Harrison, spelling at numerous positions. But for what he’ll be making, it’s doubtful he’s going to AAA for any length of time.

  • Dat bench tho…. looking mighty fine

  • Tim: If he signs for 3 years, would he be Arbitration eligible for years 4, 5 & 6??? Could be a way to get some extra value w/o commiting too much in the first 3 years.

    • Kang is a professional free agent. If he signs for 3 years, then he is gone in year 4.

  • Not to be a downer, but to temper expectations a bit, when they say the Korean League is hitter-friendly, they are not kidding. The average slash line for the entire league is .289/.365/.443 for 2014. The average ERA for pitchers is 5.22, and this guy’s own team batted .298/.382/.509. I was blown away by that…

    • yeah. anyone who is expecting 40 dingers is silly. But as long as he can OPS .700 and play the whole infield, this will be a fine-enough signing if he signs for 4 yrs, 20 mil + the posting fee. And the upside is definitely higher than that.

    • the BABIP in the KBO shot up to .330 this year. The ISO was .154 which is the same as MLB

  • Very bold and interesting “un-Pirates-like” move…..since I know little about Kang and non one knows how he will do in MLB, I really do not have much of an opinion on the move. Maybe its protection against first base continuing to be a train wreck – and moving someone like Walker to first base long term?

    The Pirates do seem pretty well set in the infield and traded for one one utility player already – Rodriguez. And if neither Kang nor Rodriguez can play SS adequately, do we need to carry another utility player just for one position?

    His hitting numbers are Ruth-like, but it sounds like they are greatly inflated. Unless they sign this guy to open up a trade of someone else, on the surface it seems a little odd. Would it be better to put that money toward a closer, first baseman, or a catcher who can actually hit and field?

    Interesting….if they sign this guy in the next 30 days, it will make Spring Training more intriguing….

    • Naw, the light hitting SS only guys could stay in AAA in case of a long term injury to Mercer. For a game or two Kang or J-Hay could play SS.

  • Assuming the Pirates work out a deal with Kang, you have to wonder if the Pirates have more significant moves coming. I can’t see a multi-year deal for a guy they see as a bench bat.

  • I never heard of this guy before and didn’t know the Pirates were in an auction.
    So when I seen the scroll on MLBTV that the Pirates won out on the bidding I was thinking something like 40m and I was OMG !!
    Then when I read 5m my balloon popped. 29 other teams didn’t think enough of this guy to put up a fight.
    well the Pirates have taken chances on other players that teams passed on so maybe he gives some value. I’ll root for him as I do all Pirate players and hope for the best.

    • I’m usually the negative guy on these boards… Chill he doesn’t have to be 40M to be a good player. Heck very little interest in Polanco too. Teams make mistakes all the time.

      • I wasn’t being negative if you see it that way that’s your problem.
        I thought it was funny because I was shocked when I seen that the Pirates won a bidding war and in the past when teams are bidding it always is a big number and that was my first thought.
        I didn’t say it was a bad move I just thought it was a bigger move than it was. If the guy comes through great I’ll be rooting for him as I stated.

        • I have to say when I saw the headline on MLBtraderumors, I had to re-read it about three times before I believed it.

  • Love this news, now just sign him. Go big or go home. I can’t wait for Spring Training, already have my tickets!

  • well looking at the highlights , he can play . his dead pull hitter deal may have to be a work in progress. but he should stick a short and move jordy to second and walker to first and trade pedro to the AL.

    • Okay, except that I have not read anywhere where anyone thinks he can stay at SS in the majors. He plays on Turf and he does not charge the ball well, although that could be by design.

      • On turf, one probably doesn’t need to charge very much. Remember those old days in 3 Rivers? You could shoot a ground ball through the infield with little trouble.

      • Very, very few thought Mercer could stick at short, either.

      • From what I’ve read he seems to be very much like jordy in that he makes a high percentage of the 50/50+ balls and a low percentage of the plays that require range.. the buccos benefit in the defensive positioning by limiting the difficult plays so I think kang will do well at ss

    • Actually, with our shifting he may be perfect at 3B. Many question his range, and with shifts and his good arm 3B makes a ton of sense after this year. Cant see him starting at all this year unless Harrison or Walker get hurt.

  • Seems like a lot of interest in his home runs, but he does hit for average also, he gets on base a lot, which leads me to believe that he is a pretty good contact hitter. With stocky legs and 6′ tall looks like he could play 3rd or 1st even though many think he will wind up at 2nd. If he is legit, a trade might be in the works.

  • The fans might have a lot of fun with Kang (pronounced Kong), especially if he does well.

  • Pirate Fan in MD
    December 22, 2014 2:39 pm

    I heard this morning on MLB.com radio on Sirius/XM them discussing Kang to maybe the Nationals while nothing about the Pirates. The background of the story was the Nats want to make a run at Max Scherzer while perhaps dangling Zimmerman or Pfister. Further, it’s said that the Nats may not be completely thrilled with Drew Storen as their #1 closer especially in really high leverage situations like when competing for a Divisional title. They are also said to be looking for a full time 2nd baseman. Kang’s name was brought up as a potential solution at 2nd base for the Nats. IMO, I still believe the Bucs need another starter beyond what they already have due to the Jameson Taillon injury setting him back a year. Sign Kang. Trade Melancon and Alen Hanson to the Nats for Doug Pfister and a lower level prospect. Kang becomes the fill-in 2nd baseman for Walker when he inevitably goes down with a back injury. Sean Rodriguez backs up 3rd base and some outfield and Cory Hart is strictly a platoon 1st baseman.

  • He would be on the roster instead of a light hitting back up shortstop. I like it!!!

  • With the value of 1 WAR now being roughly $7.25 million and climbing, this does not seem like too much money to invest in a player – even if he only amounts to a utility infielder. The Pirates are no longer among the lowest payroll teams, and they are in Win-Now mode, so it makes perfect sense to pay a modest amount for a utility infielder with upside.

    This guy is relatively young, clearly at least somewhat talented, and he is not asking for a huge financial commitment. There is no downside to this deal for Pirate fans.

  • I am glad to know we are bidding for some of these guys. Its good to know that if there is someone out there that can help us we will consider it.

  • The Pirates scouts are very good, if they thought this guy was a bad deal the Pirates would not have taken him.
    Since I never saw him play I have to believe the scouts on this one. They say you never have enough pitching, well, they should say you never have enough depth also, this looks like a good pickup to me even though I don’t know how they are going to use him.
    This guy has been discussed on MLB trade rumors for a while, especially about a mystery team in the bidding.

  • Jon Morosi said that the low bidding was indicative of his talent assessment.

    I hope Kang proves him wrong!!!

    • Jeff Sullivan’s take —

      We know that’s not a lock, but it’s not inconceivable, so, how much do you pay for the right to find out? I hesitate to draw this comparison, but Yasmany Tomas signed for six years and $68.5 million, with an opt-out clause. A lot of talent has come out of Cuba lately, which boosted Tomas’ price, but if you just look at the player, he’s almost pure power, with questions on whether he can even play anywhere in the outfield. Kang doesn’t have Tomas’ power, but he does have real power, and he seems to have greater defensive value and versatility. Tomas got that much money as an unknown, supported by predecessors. Kang doesn’t have predecessors, which is why he could turn out to be a steal. Teams will be cautious until there’s proof that players can come from Korea and hit.

      So soon we’ll find out who’s feeling bold. Kang will end up costing tens of millions of dollars, but he won’t cost five or six dozen. There are some teams still looking for a shortstop, and there are still others looking for a second or third baseman. It doesn’t get much more unpredictable than Kang, but if he can be anything even close to his ceiling, he’ll end up paid far less than he’s worth. Eventually, a position player will come over from the KBO and hit. Perhaps it won’t be this one. But in a market where a Cuban unknown can sign for almost $70 million, Kang seems like a fine gamble at something like half that.

  • The organization must not believe that Alen Hanson is a future regular at the Major league level.

    • Or maybe they realize that Walker and Pedro could be gone in two years?

      You never have enough depth.

      • I don’t think the pirates would commit $5 million for the bid and $15 million+ in salary unless they thought the player would become a regular. This move seems out of character for the organization . Team scouts must be incredibly impressed with the player’s talent.

        • The SS/2B depth in the minors is a long way from ready, a move like this is what a contender should do.

        • They could see him as the 25th man, getting reps at 3B, 2B, and SS at various points in the season. For 5 million, all he would need to do is provide 1 WAR for the team to feel content with his value. They may be going all out on versatile bench options, and trying hard to upgrade the bottom of the bench after what transpired last year.

    • I disagree. This might be more than just a depth move, but Alen Hanson is not being “blocked” at the major league level by this move. There was nobody “waiting in the wings” for the inevitable injury to Walker or perhaps ineffectiveness from either Mercer or Harrison. This fills the gap that Harrison filled so proficiently last year.

      Plus, it makes no sense to worry about blocking someone who has yet to see a single pitch at AAA.

    • Why? I think Kang ends up at 3B but can play all IF positions. If he works out J-Hay can play super utility and play everyday.

      • J-Hay is the 3rd baseman, thats already been stated. Isn’t going to change, he earned it

    • I think he’s just a future asshol….i mean a current one who will only increase in size and aggrevation. Trade him…..please, before other teams catch on

    • could be right, but you’re probably reading wayyyy too much into it.

  • I REALLY think that Mercer would be a great 3B. I think if he went to 3B he’d be a GG and could add 15-20 lbs and hit 25 HRs.

    I think Harrison is a better fit at 2B even though the UZR numbers don’t like him there in a small sample.

    • I like Kang at 2b or 3b. I like Mercer at SS. He performed well there last year.

      • It says a lot for your team when you can even discuss all these players at different positions.

      • true, I just see Mercer’s frame and think he could put on some serious muscle if he didn’t have to worry about range. The dude is like 6’3″ or 6’4″ and has to stay lithe due to being a SS.

  • I think this opens the door for the inevitable Walker trade which would be the right move

    • I agree

    • Maybe after this year, but right now we don’t even know what Kang will bring. Just remember that Yamaico Navarro hit over 30 HRs in that league.

      • I think Walker should be traded regardless.

        • Disagree. Walker is a catalyst on this team. Though his defensive range is poor, I think his bat and intangibles are right for us… Not just that he’s a home-town boy.

          If the Bucs do make a trade here, I could see it involving PRNW, but I think it is too soon to make that deal. Kang has to show up and produce and then if Pedro does / does not produce also figures into an equation that runs all over the diamond for us.

          Have to give the line a little play and see where the current takes us…(that’s a fishing metaphor)


          • I hear you for sure. I think it definitely would be nice to see how everything plays out. But I also think Walkers value has never been higher and depending on what he could bring back, could really make this major league team even more solid all around. I really don’t know what he could bring back, but I don’t see the Pirates and walker agreeing to an extension and i think we should capitalize on his value now.

            • @uyerta36a7x (wha?)
              Good points, all of them. I wonder about this equation:
              Kang > Walker?

              • Hahah not worth explaining. It was a long time ago!

                From everything I’ve read I doubt kang > walker but I would guess there is a move for walker out there that would improve the overall strength of team now and in the future. I don’t see walker staying healthier than he did last year.

              • very doubtful, especially if walker can hit decent against lefties again this year

            • What could be more helpful than a 20 HR 2nd baseman? I just don’t see what we’d be trading him for which would provide more value than Walker does for a playoff caliber team. Unless there is a stud catching AAA catcher, or an ace we can package him and Pedro for

              • Maybe some combination of players that would provide similar value at 2b and an upgrade in the rotation and bullpen.

          • Thank you for saying Walker’s defensive range is poor instead of being a Tim Williams clone (I like Tim, but not his clones) and stating his “defense” is poor, which its not. You are 100% right, he is a catalyst, he’s a hometown kid, and his bat keeps getting better. His back was barely an issue last year, so instead of getting worse than 2013 it got better……He only gets traded if we are out of it in July and even then, i’m not sure what we’d trade him for, we have all the prospects we need and the ML roster is set even for next year

      • And Yamaico Navarro stinks!

  • Super Excited to see the Pirates take a chance here… The other day when they were speculating which team I just knew it was going to be the Pirates for some reason.

    • Mike….I remember going… “Hmmmm….wouldn’t it be nice if we won a bidding war over some player”. I just didn’t expect it! 🙂 🙂

      • I just asked Tim earlier this year if he thought we would every get involved in one of these guys. It’s like a early Christmas present.

  • It’s just a new way for management to spend money they are no longer permitted in the draft. They still have to sign him, they just won the right to negotiate.

    • David Todd @DTonPirates
      #Pirates will get deal done w Kang. I have no doubt. Question now is, w all the options he provides, what role do they see for him, others?

      • that will be easy..if he can hit like Harrison he could be a “super sub” for now..ss,3b or 2b..or if he holds down SS..Mercer can be the “super sub”

  • This is totally out of left field. I thought a big market team was gonna get him. This is like a coupe for the Bucs.

    • coupe or coup? I guess it depends on if you need a car? 😄😄😄

      • It’s a coup if you like coupes but since I like roadsters, I guess it’s like a roadster. If he can hit mlb pitching there is plenty of room for him on the roster given potential injuries, trades, range issues and possible regressions by Pirate infielders (Hell, we just signed a guy, Corey Hart, who is at least a triple threat in the foregoing categories). Competition for playing time between good players is usually one of the best things that can happen to a team in my opinion.

      • he is a pigeon ..going into his coop

  • Web-sters are never happy. If Nutting won’t sign a guy, he’s cheap. If he signs off on a deal like this, he’s a fool.

    1. He’s Walker insurance, both in the short term and long.

    2. He’s an interesting 3B option.

    3. He’s a potential bargain Heck, if Pedro was a 2.5 WAR player at 3B, what’s his upside there? 4 WAR maybe? That’s a steal at $6 million a year.

    4. Even if no room opens up for him due to Pedro turning into a useful 1B, Walker being healthy, and Mercer and Josh playing up to their last 4 months of last year, he has a ton of trade value.

    I’m turning cartwheels!

  • This is unprecedented.

  • Pirate Fan in MD
    December 22, 2014 1:02 pm

    WOW!! Talk about a big move. This guy could play 2nd or short right now in MLB. if rumors are true and he’s seeking 5-6 million per year for multiple years, is there someone being moved?? Like maybe Alan Hanson and a reliever (maybe Mark Melancon) to say perhaps the Nationals for a maybe a rotation piece like a Doug Pfister and a lower prospect??

    • You might be onto something.


    • I think the notion of our offseason being over and the roster set might not be the case after all.

    • I don’t think Hanson will make it.. “head case”

    • Might be a bit much to say he can play SS right now in MLB. Scouts are split on his defense at SS and it seems he fits at 3B on this team going forward better. No need to move anyone, as they could now easily go into 2016 with Walker at 1B, Harrison at 2B, Mercer at SS, Kang at 3B (if he shows the talent translates well which isnt for sure) and allow Hanson to be in AAA or solid bench depth. With Pedro leaving soon depth and versatility likely make PIT happier than Fister.

  • I don’t fully get it either unlesss they feel Walker will be too expensive and or they just like compiling talent which I have no problem with

  • Daniel Feldbusch
    December 22, 2014 12:50 pm

    The only question I have is…WHY?

    • So they don’t end up starting Sean Rodriguez when Walker hits the DL, Harrison comes back to earth, or Mercer struggles out of the gate again.

    • Did you not read Tim’s evaluation ? It looked pretty clear to me.

      • We posted before Tim added his take.

        • Your take is exactly ” why ” though.

          • the same reason we give a first rounder that kind of money..you know Alvares 7 mill and all those other failures..

            • Are you really going to compare a prospect who has a SO rate of almost 40 % in A+ % AA to a guy like Pedro Alvarez ?

            • There is literally no reason to continue to be the “this team sucks and wont do A, B, C” since they may easily have a 95 million payroll on OD and have resigned everyone the fans wanted sans Martin. You have officially entered the territory of the fan who is a fan purely to dislike each move the team makes. You are Randy Quaid in Major League.

    • Why not?

    • Go outside right now and scream “mom”.