Why Jung-Ho Kang Is On The Pittsburgh Pirate’s 25 Man Roster

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Mar 3, 2015; Dunedin, FL, USA; Pittsburgh Pirates shortstop Jung Ho Kang (27) hits a solo home run in the third inning of a spring training baseball game against the Toronto Blue Jays at Florida Auto Exchange Park. Mandatory Credit: Tommy Gilligan-USA TODAY Sports

For some reason there has been much debate over whether Jung-ho Kang deserves a spot of the 25 man roster.

The debate comes mainly from the 93.7 crew consisting of Colin Dunlap, Josh Miller, and Jim Colony who is spending time in Bradenton while the Pirates work their way through Spring Training.  They spoke with Neal Huntington recently and the GM revealed that Kang will in fact be on the 25 man roster moving into the season.

The announcement was met with significant scrutiny, especially from Colin Dunlap who went as far to say that Huntington better be “damn sure” that Kang can play at the major league level because his neck is on the line if he somehow doesn’t perform to standard.

I’m not laughing right now.  Really.

When it comes to international signings, especially when a fee has been paid to get the rights to negotiate with that player there is zero precedence for that signee being sent to AAA to start the season.  ZERO.

So why would the Pirates be the first team ever to do so?

In addition, it’s not as if Huntington spent $100 million dollars on Kang where his ‘neck is on the line’ as Dunlap insinuated.  Kang will make $2.5m this year or about the same amount as Corey Hart.  That’s not a significant investment by any stretch.  Sure it cost $5m to negotiate with him, but so what.  The Yankees paid $20m to negotiate with Masahiro Tanaka and then signed him to a 7 year $155m contract on top of that.  Now that is a significant investment.

Here is just a short list of international players that were brought to the Majors from Japan, Korea, and Taiwan that went straight to the 25 man roster.

And the list goes on, but the list that doesn’t exist is players from those league being paid for, brought to the majors, and then being sent to AAA.

Now, there has been some instances where players were brought in as amateurs and were groomed in the minors, such as the case with Shin-soo Choo.  But he was signed before he ever reached the Korean Baseball League so there was no fee to negotiate.

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There is also situations where an international player was signed to a Minor League deal and began the season in AAA.  Munenori Kawasaki signed a Minor League deal with the Seattle Mariners and started his career in the minors, but again, that situation is very different as he was signed to a minor league deal.  The fact of the matter is that when Major League Baseball teams extend a long term deal to an international player and pay to negotiate with that person, those individuals take the field.  I literally can’t find an example of a team paying to negotiate with a player out of the Japanese or Korean league, winning the bid, signing the player to a contract, and then sending that player to the minor leagues.  It doesn’t exist.

The question of whether Kang is ready to play against major league pitchers is a valid one, but comparing his situation to Gregory Polanco or Jameson Taillon is a waste of time and a horrible argument for sending Kang to AAA.  Jung-ho Kang is 27 years old.  He’s not a rookie in anything other than title. He’s an accomplished international baseball player that has earned the right to play in the major leagues by literally dominating his colleagues in Korea for the last three years.

Here’s a snapshot of Kang’s stats over that period courtesy of baseball-reference.com

YearHRRBIBAOBPSLGOPS
201225820.3140.4130.560.973
201322960.2910.3870.4890.876
2014401170.3560.4590.7391.198

His OPS last year was 1.200.  Andrew McCutchen’s was .952.

Obviously in no way, shape, or form am I implying that Jung-ho Kang is going to be a better Major League hitter than Andrew McCutchen, I am merely showing Kang’s level of dominance in the KBL compared to one of the best players in the Major League.

The fact remains that the Pirate’s sending Kang to the minors after paying a fee to negotiate with him would be unprecedented.  No other team in baseball has done such a thing and I doubt any team moving forward who signs a player through the same model will do so.

I will agree with Colin Dunlap in the sentiment that it would be nice to see Kang in AAA, but not because Kang hasn’t ‘earned’ a spot on the roster.  That argument is about the equivalent of saying your kid didn’t make the high school baseball team because the coach is friends with the other player’s parents.  I would have liked to see Kang in the minors exclusively because of the volume of at bats he would receive there as opposed to what he’ll see in the majors.

Kang will be in a very difficult position this year coming off the bench and getting spot starts because he’ll never get the opportunity to get into a rhythm.   Very few players who aren’t named Josh Harrison can come in off of the bench cold or after sitting out the last 5 games and perform at an extremely high level.

That is what may prevent Kang from over-achieving in his first year.  If you want to make an argument for why AAA is a good idea, than that, and only that, is the rationale that makes sense.

The fact remains that the Pirate’s sending Kang to the minors after paying a fee to negotiate with him would be unprecedented.  No other team in baseball has done such a thing and I doubt any team moving forward who signs a player through the same model will do so.

Next: Who are the best extension candidates for the Pittsburgh Pirates?

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