There was a report today that the Pittsburgh Pirates agreed to a deal with Jung-Ho Kang for $16 M over four years, including an option for a fifth year. The full details aren’t out yet, so we don’t know the breakdown of the deal, how the option year works, or whether the deal is actually confirmed for $16 M over four years.
We also don’t know what type of production Jung-Ho Kang can bring to the U.S., as he’s the first hitter to make the jump from the KBO, which is a very offensive-friendly league. Is he going to be a bench player? Will his power transfer over in a big way, leading to an eventual starter? Are the Pirates the first team to tap into the Korean market for a discounted star player, similar to the Cuban market several years ago? Those are more questions that will eventually be answered when Kang actually makes the jump.
There is one question we can answer today: what would Kang need to do to justify his current deal? He’s an interesting situation. He’s not a traditional free agent, since he could only negotiate with one club. The Pirates are paying $16 M over four years, plus the $5 M posting fee, which puts their investment around $5.25 M per year on average.
It might not be fair to apply the current cost of a win on the open market to Kang, since he never hit the open market. But that’s the best way to determine a player’s value, so that’s what I’m going with here. The current cost of one WAR is around $6 M, with some estimating higher and some estimating slightly lower. I’ll go with the $6 M figure, since it seems conservative. That means Kang needs to average an 0.875 WAR each year over the life of his contract in order to justify his price, plus the posting fee.
That’s not a difficult thing to do for a guy like Kang, who projects to be a solid utility guy on a conservative scale, and possibly much better on a more optimistic view. Chris Stewart had ab 0.9 WAR last year, posting a .693 OPS, although he also had a lot of value due to his position behind the plate. Josh Harrison had an 0.9 WAR in 2011 over 204 plate appearances, hitting for a .272/.281/.374 line. He got a lot of value from his defense all over the infield. Jose Tabata had an 0.8 WAR in 2011 in 382 plate appearances, posting a .266/.349/.362 line. In 2013, Gaby Sanchez was at an 0.8 WAR in 320 plate appearances, with a .254/.361/.402 line. He needed more offense to get to that value, since he wasn’t providing a ton of value defensively as a first baseman.
Kang is along the Harrison line, in that he will have a chance to get value from positions like second base, third base, and shortstop. The reports on his potential at shortstop aren’t favorable, so I wouldn’t expect positive defensive value there. But it’s not out of the question for him to provide some defensive value at the other two positions. That puts less pressure on his bat, to the point where he could end up below a .700 OPS and still be worth an 0.9 WAR if he gets enough plate appearances.
Keep in mind that this is the break-even point for Kang’s reported deal. Based on the market rate, the Pirates aren’t paying for much expected production here. And it’s likely that they’re expecting a good chance for big value from Kang, and for him to exceed this break-even level of production.
Links and Notes
**The top 20 prospects countdown started last week. It will resume next Monday, after mini-camp is complete. The full top 20, along with the rest of the top 50 and all 200+ profiles of Pirates’ minor league players, can be found in the 2015 Prospect Guide, which can be purchased on the products page of the site. If you purchased last week while I was out of town, your book was shipped out today.