When Jung Ho Kang Returns He Needs To Replace Jordy Mercer

(Photo by Joe Sargent/Getty Images)
(Photo by Joe Sargent/Getty Images) /

Jung Ho Kang will be back with the Pirates soon, and when he returns what position he should play is no debate

Jung Ho Kang‘s road back to the Pittsburgh Pirates is about to hit its final stop. On Monday, Kang will join the Triple-A Indianapolis Indians in his final pit stop before returning to the Major Leagues.

There has been a lot of debate over what the Pirates should do with Kang when he returns. However, there should be no debate. What needs to be done is obvious. Kang needs to replace Jordy Mercer as the team’s starting shortstop.

First and foremost, the Pirates invested a lot in third baseman Colin Moran when they acquired him in the Gerrit Cole trade this offseason. So far this season Moran has looked the part of an every day third baseman and he needs to continue to play in order to not risk screwing up his development.

203 plate appearances into his rookie season Moran owns a .271/.355/.412/.767 slash line, a .333 wOBA, and a 110 wRC+. On a Pirate team that has been maddeningly inconsistent offensively you do not want to bench an above league average bat in Moran. Especially when you factor in Moran being in his first full Major League season which likely means Moran’s best offensive work is yet to come.

The second part of the equation is Mercer and his future. After going 1-for-4 in Sunday’s victory, Mercer owns a .251/.315/.377/.692 slash line, a .294 wOBA, and a wRC+ of 84. Mercer struggling at the plate should come as no surprise. After all, his lifetime .300 wOBA, 88 wRC+, and .699 OPS are all below league average. Mercer has never been a good offensive player, and at age 31 that is not going to change.

Mercer’s struggles this season have not been just at the plate, either. He has also been among the worst defensive shortstops in baseball. Entering play on Sunday Mercer was responsible for -7 defensive runs saved (DRS) at shortstop this season. Out of the 91 players to log at least one inning at shortstop in the Major Leagues this season Mercer’s DRS ranks 88th.

At 25 years of age and under team control for another six seasons Moran is very much part of the Pirates’ future, unlike Mercer who is 31 and set to hit free agency this offseason. Combine this with Moran being the better hitter and there is no debate over which of these two players Kang should be taking at bats away from upon his return to Pittsburgh.

Many people, myself included, questioned if Kang would ever play shortstop again after his catastrophic leg injury in September of 2015. The fact he did not play shortstop for the Pirates at all in 2016 just added fuel to this fire. But during his seven-game rehab stint with High-A Bradenton, Kang started four games at shortstop and all reports were his defense was fine.

Even if Kang were to struggle defensively at shortstop it would be difficult for him to be worse than Mercer. After all, Mercer has been one of the four worst defensive shortstops in baseball this season. At least Kang, unlike Mercer, will help to make up for defensive shortcomings with his bat.

Kang, unlike Mercer, remains under contract past this season. He will not hit free agency until after the 2019 campaign. If he can prove he can handle shortstop defensively and still crush MLB pitching, then the Pirates could look to extend Kang past 2019. If not, he would serve as a great stopgap until Cole Tucker arrives in either in late 2019 or 2020.

Next: Bucs Beat Cubs 7-1

There is no debate on what to do with Jung Ho Kang upon his return to Pittsburgh. The only thing that makes sense is for him to unseat Jordy Mercer as the team’s starting shortstop.