Pirates Notes: What Will the Pirates Do if Jung-ho Kang Isn’t Ready on Opening Day

BRADENTON, Fl. – A lot of speculation has gone around so far that Jung-ho Kang could be ready to go by Opening Day, based on how well his rehab appears to have gone. So far, no one on the Pirates’ side is willing to admit that the rehab is ahead of schedule, or that Kang could be ready by Opening Day. Kang has playfully said he doesn’t know and Head Athletic Trainer Todd Tomczyk said they’re still on the original timeline.

So what would happen with the roster if Kang isn’t ready to go by Opening Day?

The current infield, with Kang, would have Josh Harrison starting at second base and Kang starting at third. If Kang can’t start the season, then the Pirates would either need to find a third base option, or move Harrison to third and find a second base option. It doesn’t seem like it will matter to Harrison where he plays, since he’s been open to moving around the last two years.

“We’ve not talked with Josh directly about this,” Neal Huntington said about the possibility of moving to third if Kang is out. “He’s been more than willing to bounce all over the diamond. Last year he did it, and he obviously did it extremely well two years ago. We need to have that conversation with Josh first. Our anticipation is he’ll be willing to do whatever we feel we need to do to put the best club on the field, until Jung-ho is healthy and ready to go. And again, with the options we have internally, we have some alternatives at third. We have some alternatives at second. And Josh is going to be more than capable of playing the position.”

Looking at the Pirates’ depth, it appears that second base would be more likely for Kang’s depth. The second base options include Cole Figueroa and Alen Hanson. The third base options feature the same guys at a position they’re not as familiar with, or wondering if Jason Rogers can handle the position without being a total liability on defense.

It would definitely be a position battle if Kang isn’t able to make the team for Opening Day, but don’t expect the stats alone in Spring Training to determine the replacement.

“There’s a lot more that we look at than outcomes,” Huntington said in response to whether performance would determine who gets the open spots. “We’re looking at the process, we’re looking at their work from the day they show up into camp. If you define performance as the entire package, then yes, performance will be a factor. If you define performance by their batting average and their statistics that show up in the box score, that won’t be a driving factor.”

Ideally, Kang would be ready by Opening Day. He was a huge impact bat last year, and in the second half, was statistically the best hitter on the team, passing up Andrew McCutchen in a lot of metrics. Clint Hurdle praised his ability for good at-bats, defensive flexibility, solid defense, strong arm, and the way his hands and feet worked together on the field. He also reflected on the expectations for Kang, and how quickly he became a regular player.

“With my experience, I’m not a man of expectations. More often than not, expectations turn into resentments,” Hurdle said. “I trusted our people. They said he’s going to be a good everyday player. Didn’t know when. Turned out to be a good everyday player last year. What I bought into was the man. The man’s preparation. His confidence. His desire. His willingness to work, to learn. He was as prepared as any player we have. This is a guy coming from outside our game. Crushes video tape. Has a much better feel for energy levels than maybe I had anticipated coming in. He was very honest about how he felt, when he needed a rest, the workload he was carrying. Played out well for him throughout the year, because he actually got stronger, I felt, as the year went on.”

The good news is that it sounds like Kang will return at some point in April, which means if he doesn’t start the year in Pittsburgh, he might just be a quick disabled list trip away from joining the team. For now, the rehab work continues to look good, and even though the Pirates won’t acknowledge it, it definitely seems like Kang could be ready for the start of the season.

“He meant a lot to our club going through the season, and it’s great to see him out here moving around the way he is right now,” Hurdle said.

No Matt Joyce Confirmation Yet

Neal Huntington wouldn’t comment on or confirm the Matt Joyce signing, since it hasn’t been made official. However, he did discuss whether the team felt the need to specifically add extra outfield depth.

“We don’t necessarily feel like we do,” Huntington said. “But there are some pretty good players still out there that may add depth, that may add a different dynamic to our club. The challenge we have is it’s not like a player that we sign right now in this role would come in specifically to beat out one player. There’s some within that player’s control, there’s a lot outside of that player’s control.”

Huntington said that the decision to go with a fourth outfielder would come down to many factors, including the makeup of the bench, the makeup of the roster, the health during Spring Training, righty/lefty splits, and a versatile infield and outfield situation. Overall, it seems like this move was just to add depth, and not to add a guaranteed bench player.

“We talked to different players about what opportunity we have,” Huntington said. “Not something we were specifically looking for, but when you have a chance to add a player that might make you better, we want to make sure we take advantage of that.”

Other Notes

**Neal Huntington talked about John Jaso’s move to first base, and his drive for the position:

“This guy wants to be a good first baseman, and he knows there’s a big upside for him if he can go out and prove that he can play first base here for the next couple of years,” Huntington said. “The catching, the hands are soft. He’s tough. And again, most importantly, this guy is passionate about becoming a good first baseman. He’s put in a ton of work. He’s making adjustments, has retention, and really wants to be good over there.”

I talked with Jaso earlier this week about his move to first base, and the challenges of moving to a new position for a former catcher.

**Huntington on what will ultimately determine the final bench spots: “We’re looking to take the right 25 north, and give Clint and our staff as many options to win games as we can. And sometimes one player may fit a little bit better than another player fits in that versatility, in that ability to help in a given role off the bench.”

**Clint Hurdle was asked about the Cubs off-season and how they’ve gotten a lot of attention, and whether the Pirates would need to change their approach in response.

“We believe our goals aren’t going to change. We’re not going to reset the bar based on coming up a game short in the Wild Card game again,” Hurdle said. “We won 98 games. I think you look at the success we’ve had for the last three seasons, to where we’ve got our process in a pretty good place. We need to tweak it. We need to make some adjustments to get better, collectively and individually. Every year, there’s a team that wins the off-season, doesn’t necessarily win the World Series. Those things are out of our control. One thing we’ve gotten really good at here is taking care of what we need to take care of. Focusing on what we can do to get better.”

The final thing that Hurdle said might come across as a lofty prediction, based on all of the projections having the Cubs as easy NL Central winners and the Pirates sitting around .500:

“We believe we have a talented enough group to win the division and win the World Series.”

  • Do you have any other purpose in life than trolling? Apparently not because your view is unsubstantiated, arrogant and foolish.

  • Wow! Which championship team do you manage or own? I respect the right to an opinion, but Hurdles record makes your remarks either foolish or ignorant. Perhaps both. I look forward to following the team you are coaching so that I can evaluate your chops at the job.

  • Is Rogers defense that bad?

  • Hurdle is top 5 manager in the game, possibly top 3. Almost every manager in MLB will call for too many questionable bunts throughout the season ,etc. But to think Hurdle is a poor manager based on such reasoning is very myopic imo. He isn’t perfect but you can do a lot worse than Clint Hurdle. This team didn’t win 270 games the last 3 years because Hurdle is a moron. I’m not saying he deserves all the credit, but he certainly doesn’t deserve to be called clueless and the worst manager in the game. Sorry, but that is one of the dumbest things I’ve read in awhile.

  • I find Huntington’s present tense: “still some pretty good players out there” statement to be interesting—–I still have a ridiculous fantasy of Ian Desmond signing with us for 3/36

  • BuccosFanStuckinMD
    February 19, 2016 10:15 pm

    I like what I am hearing about Jaso – his character and drive – if he is properly motivated, he appears he has the hands to be a successful and above average first baseman. That may be worth 3-5 games over the course of the entire season – add in a better BA and OBP, and less rally killing Ks, he could be a real difference maker in the lineup. I just hope he can hit LH pitching enough, that he’s more than just a platoon player. Morse doesn’t thrill me, but we’re stuck with him because the team won’t eat his contract, which is likely the right baseball move. Remove his contract, he would have likely been waived some time ago.

  • Given that Ian Desmond still hasn’t signed anywhere for some reason, I’d be asking on him, just to see what it might take to bring him in. If interest is so low that no one’s signed one of the better starting shortstops in baseball over the past half-decade (last season notwithstanding), there’s a possibility he could be had on a one-year, bounce-back type of deal, and whether or not he returns to form, it would give us a true backup shortstop who isn’t just a glove man. The upside, of course, is having a 4 WAR shortstop in 2016.

    Honestly, I’d go as high as $10-12 million if it was only a one-year deal, if interest is really as low as it seems. I still kind of expect him to sign something like 4/60, but that he hasn’t already gives me hope this could still happen. Not much, but not zero. “So you’re saying there’s a chance!”

    • Considering the draft pick compensation I wouldn’t be asking him anything. You don’t give up a first round pick on a “bounce back candidate”!

    • I would agree with you that there is a price floor at which it makes absolute sense for the Pirates to check in on him. 10-12m is nowhere near that floor for me, given Desmond’s 2-year decline in plate discipline and defense. And that’s before we consider foregoing that #21 pick in the June draft. If he could be had for a 6m pillow contract, I would bite.

    • I’m not opposed to Desmond…but, for some reason, he’s going to have to sign for a pillow. However, if he doesn’t sign by opening day…the price skyrockets.

      • Why does his price skyrocket opening day?

        • Not tied to compensation after then.

          I think he’s a lot better than the market has determined. My gut was that Gallardo would be the last signed (even if)…but it looks like Desmond will. If someone grabs him from now until opening day, I’m guessing 1/8.5. After then will be in the 3/35 range.

          • Draft pick comp doesnt go away until after the draft I believe. That’s why Drew And Morales waited til after the draft 2 years ago to sign. I see a turning of the tide with these QO’s. Quite a few accepted them this year after seeing how turning it down severely hurts their market.

            • I thought it started after opening day…but…then again…it may have started after I opened my first beer tonight.

              • I’m surprised I remembered after my first one!

                • I think I was getting confused thinking about when a player is tied to it…but, oh well…you were right, and I was wrong. I can live with that. But, I’m out of beer…that it totally unacceptable! 🙂

              • What goes away after opening day is being able to offer the qualifying offer after the coming season.

            • Upon googling, I think you’re right…my mistake 🙂

              • I think we will begin to see more players accept QO’s and teams will probably be a little more hesitant to offer them considering the players starting to accept them.

            • Yeah, it looks like teams are going to throw out the QO as an “I Dare You”. Colby Rasmus getting offered was shocking…him accepting was even moreso. I’m guessing the PA is going to be fighting this hard.

              • I saw Manfred made a comment that he wasnt surprised with what was happening with them like he was expecting this. I couldn’t believe Rasmus was offered one considering he already said he doesnt want to play much longer.

                • If he wants to quit soon…he now has 16 million more reasons to pull a Jeff King 🙂

                  Part of me looks at a player like Rasmus and thinks…really? Then another says…um…either the player gets that money or the ownership does.

                  It’ll be interesting to see what the PA fights for the next CBA. I think they’ll take on one of two issues…QOs or the International Draft, but not both. My gut says they’d take on QOs because it’s an issue that effects players and not prospective players…

                  • I agree. The QO’s are hurting their pockets and I believe that is what the PA looks out for first and foremost.

                    • How is turning down $16 mill hurting their pockets?

                    • Because the draft pick compensation drives down their free agent prices because the signing team is has to give up their first round pick. The PA is always looking to out for the wallets of all players. And if there is something driving down free agents value they will always look for ways to increase player wages.

                  • A player turns down $16 mill. Maybe they should accept it. I don’t feel bad for the

            • BuccosFanStuckinMD
              February 19, 2016 10:19 pm

              You are correct – the draft pick comp doesn’t end until the 2016 draft. Desmond will have to drop his demands in salary, if he has any hope of getting picked up before then. Still can’t believe he turned down $100M before last season…wow

    • BuccosFanStuckinMD
      February 19, 2016 10:17 pm

      Although Desmond has some rare skills and ability, his defense has really regressed over the past couple of years. Add in his erratic hitting and likely high price tag, I’d pass on him. He will not be content with not starting, so what would be his role?

    • In your opinion then, why hasn’t Desmond already been signed ?

  • I’d say that as much as people dis his defense, Rogers is the backup plan at 3B. Why else would they “overspend” for him when the already have Morse (not highly tradeable, and a bit expensive) for the 1B platoon? I can’t say much about Figueroa at 2nd, but I hope they leave Hanson at Indy until his OPS rises substantially. I don’t think he has done enough at the plate to merit a promotion yet, and having him man a bench role at Pittsburgh won’t help him develop at the plate.

    • I’m really curious about where Rogers primary position is going to be. And also kind of scared of it being anywhere but 1B.

      • Pinch Hitter…..Maybe roll the dice at third if Kang isn’t ready. Outfield and hope our ground ball pitchers don’t have any balls hit in his direction. But, it always seems that balls find the not so good fielders.

    • I believe if we had to pay all of Morse’s salary they would have traded him. Even if they didn’t get anything for him. (see Charlie Morton)

  • I will confirm that Jaso has been putting in a ton of work, unlike the previous first baseman. Other may disagree with the last point, but the truth is in the pudding!!!

  • They could not win the Division the last three years when they had a better team than the do now and the worst manager in baseball says this kind of crap – sorry – the guy could not win with a great team in Colorado and he is a nice guy who has no clue

    • No offense intended, but the one without a clue is not Hurdle.

      • i basically never agree with Bruce- Ever. But I agree with him this time. Point for you Bruce

        • We won 98 games last year guys, and you’re saying this in spite of Hurdle. Jesus Christ. Sure he probably lost 2 to 3 games on poor coaching decisions, but you have no idea what kinda value he adds behind closed doors, being a coach off the field. You guys are ridiculous. If 98 isn’t good enough for you, you are just as bad as the self entitled my generation who is crying about not being able to get a job because America sucks and is unfair (Really they picked a stupid major). Its the 1%s fault they can’t get a job and now they’re going to become a socialist and Bernie Sanders will make america how it should be, FREE FEEBIES FOR EVERYONE WHO MADE PISS POOR LIFE CHOICES!

          Anyways, we have an amazing product for the next couple years. Enjoy it and stop complaining you old men.

          • What I want is a flag – a pennant of some sort – win a division – win a league – win a World Series – and then I will go away happy. Until one of those happens you “settlers” can relish the wins – the X best team in baseball for the last Y years. Me – I want to put an end to the 36 year losing streak before I die – I am 69 years old and running out of time

          • Nick- you went off the reservation here. Try to listen more and rant less. When Bruce is talking about bad management, he is talking about in game management. That is what we see, and that is what DIRECTLY wins and loses games. He might rally the troops well and take care of things behind closed doors, but I can’t see that and I don’t care about that. I could out manage him during a game honestly in terms of personnel use, playing time decisions, etc. – I’m 37 by the way. Noone is complaining about 98 wins, they complain about the decisions that are made which keeps you from winning the games you NEED to win.

        • Thanks!

    • I’ve been critical of Hurdle, but mostly for things for which I would be critical of virtually every other manager in the game: not having quick enough hooks on pitchers (or an extra one ready all the time, because I will never buy the idea that warming up in the bullpen costs a guy durability on the season), not batting McCutchen second (or at least fourth) to maximize his run producing potential, things like that. But he actually does a really good job of managing playing time and bullpen innings, and he clearly has a good feel for the room. Plus he’s open to new analytics and information, adjusts his managing accordingly.

      Hurdle’s not the best manager in baseball, but he’s among the best options for the Pirates specifically. And I really don’t think he gets enough credit for how he handled getting Harrison into the lineup two years ago and Kang last year, nor how well he managed everyone’s playing time when they had so many starting-quality players near the end of last season, making sure everyone saw regular at bats.

      • How do you credit him for playing a guy who should have been in the majors – had earned a spot in 2011 but kept getting shuttled back and forth between Pittsburgh and Indy so guys like Brandon Inge and Casey McGehee could waste at bats… He was FORCED into using Harrison – after Tabata and Snyder stunk up the joint and realizing that Gabby Sanchez was not an option in RF. Of course the right move would have probably been to bring up Polanco – but that was not an option for the BMTIBB – so Harrison got to play RF – and did a decent job and hit better than anyone not named Mccutchen for the rest of the year – that did not require a genius – a good manager would have gotten to that solution to RF weeks earlier.

        He continually gets out managed by guys like Baker, Matheny, Bochy and now Maddon…

        • None of that describes what happened with Harrison. He was one of Hurdle’s favorites, but didn’t have the numbers before 2014 to start.

          • So he did not get his opportunity in 2014 when the Pirates were out of other alternatives to play RF until they could safely promote Polanco?

            • He did get an opportunity then. He was a bench player in the majors before that. And his performance didn’t warrant a starting role. He had a .648 OPS in 575 PA before the 2014 season. In 2014, he had a .614 OPS in the first month before making his first start in right field.

              With that track record, the Pirates had no reason to start him, especially if Hurdle didn’t like him, as you suggest. But Hurdle did start him. And it was at that point that he took off.

              So again, the idea that Hurdle was holding him back until he couldn’t anymore is false. Harrison had 200+ plate appearances in two separate years under Hurdle as a bench player. And then, with a poor offensive track record, and a history of being primarily an infielder, Hurdle gave him starts in right field, before he broke out. Hurdle gave him plenty of opportunities, and it worked out.

              • Why did Hurdle start him in RF Tim – I just want to make sure I am not missing something – did he start him because he thought it was a good idea or because he was out of options…

            • Quit digging your hole Bruce, it is just getting deeper. You don’t have any more inside information that Tim doesn’t.

        • Bridgevillebuck
          February 20, 2016 8:24 am

          Bruce. What is your philosophy? On one hand you complain about payroll and now it’s not letting younger players develop, I’m sure if Kang and Cervelli had flopped last year they would have been on your list of wasted ABs.

          • I always though the Kang signing was a great idea – and said so at the time – thought he should have been used more early last year. Cervelli was a smart addition – I did not think he would hit as well as he did – but he was/is a proven top defender as a catcher – with an average or slightly below average arm.

            I also hoped they would be able to land the Korean first baseman to fix that problem – I will be watching how he does for the Twins.

        • 2014 was the first year that Harrison had an OPS over .700

        • I’m waiting for the reason that the other 25 managers are better than him…

      • Darkstone: Nor did he get enough credit for holding this Pirate team together in 2015 when, after 40 games, they were 18 – 22. Many of the hitters were struggling and the Bullpen was on life support, but he never called anybody out, and he never hit the panic button. The players responded to that quiet belief in them to get back on track, and finished 80 – 42 from that point.

        • Bridgevillebuck
          February 20, 2016 8:55 am

          I was not aware that the Pirates record was that good in last 122 games and that was dealing with extended injuries to Burnett, Mercer, Harrison, Kang. We were really witnessing some good baseball in the last 3/4 of the season. Just imagine how well they would have done if they hadn’t the “worst” manager in baseball.

    • If Hurdle ever left Pittsburgh he would not be unemployed for long.

    • JoseGuillensArm
      February 19, 2016 9:38 pm

      Wow that’s a hot take. Specifically, what makes him the worst manager in baseball? I’m only asking because I’m curious as to how many of the 64 games we lost you attribute to Hurdle? We must have had some team to win 98 games despite, in your opinion, having a gum chewing idiot pulling the strings. I’m also curious how you watch games considering you have a problem with every aspect of the Pittsburgh Pirates?

      • I put the epic collapse – remember that – on him… The failure to win the division when the team had the lead going into September two years ago – the failure to coach and develop young players – including Pedro – while trotting out crap like Barmes and McGehee and Hart and Sean Rodriquez and Ike Davis and I could go on…

        • Get the hell out of here ! You know damned well that players aren’t ” developed ” at that level. You are making a complete fool out of yourself.

          • They are developed – look at the Cubs Ace – you are the fool – and please F off

            • You can tell me to do that if out makes you feel good. But if you think you appear to know anything at all about MLB by acting like a 13 year old, guess what ? You don’t know anything, and repeatedly continue to show it every time you put comments down. ” Wah wah , I’m 69 years old …..wah way, no pennants and it’s all Clint Hurdle’s fault. ” OMG, I am laughing so hard at your stupid comments I can barely type straight. What a clown..

    • Sorry Bruce…there are things to be head-scratching about regarding Hurdle…

      …but he’s put up a .532 with the team after 19 losing seasons. I can’t be angry for too long.

    • BuccosFanStuckinMD
      February 19, 2016 10:24 pm

      I’m not a huge Hurdle fan in terms of his managing decisions at times, but he is far from being the worst manager in baseball, I think he’s a better motivator and communicator, than strategist, but that’s not a bad thing. He’s not Showalter (who I think is the best manager in the game now) or Bochy, but he’s an above average manager.
      He had a very good hitting team in Colorado, but was saddled with below average pitching – and that team has yet to figure out how to be reasonably successful away from Coors Field….

    • Bruce, I respect everyones right to have an opinion, and yours go against what a majority feel here. So I am wondering if you could explain why you feel Hurdle is the worst manager in baseball. I am open to other views to consider, as I am sure others here are.

      • Bruce is trying to stir the pot. Over the last three years Only St. Louis has more win than my (our) Pirates.

        • I confess to lobbing in a hand grenade every once in awhile – particularly when I see silly talk about how great it is to have lot of wins during the regular season or stuff suggesting that a guy like Matt Joyce who has been in career decline for YEARS has a chance of contributing as a fourth outfielder. I my world Hanson would get a legitimate shot at starting at second base an J-Hay then becomes your fill-in/fourth outfielder. I don’t understand why prospect get treated so badly by this organization – if Hanson can’t do the job DFA him and go back to Harrison at second – but this is silly – it is time to find out if Hanson can play at the Major League level or move on….

          And it it 36 years of not winning anything that matters that bothers me – three years of “competing” and being “good” are not enough.

          • I agree….everyone after the World Series winners are losers. That’s what we have turned into, winners or losers, no gray area. Poor Ernie Banks, what a loser, never won anything. How did he ever make the HOF?

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