Pirates hope to secure deal with Korean-born star infielder Kang
Infielder Jung-ho Kang has raw power and other tools that could help the Pirates, said a former major league pitcher who faced Kang in the Korean Baseball Organization. It is unclear, though, how well Kang’s skills will translate to America’s major leagues.
“That’s the $5 million question for the Pirates,” said Ryan Sadowski, who faced Kang for three seasons in the KBO.
In December, the Pirates got an exclusive, 30-day window to negotiate with Kang when their $5,002,015 posting fee was accepted by the Nexen Heroes. The Pirates have until Jan. 20 to finalize a deal. The Heroes will open their training camp Jan. 15 in Arizona.
The Yonhap News Agency, citing a source, reported Kang is seeking a four-year, $20 million package but might be willing to settle for three years and $16.5 million.
If the sides fail to agree, Kang, 27, cannot be posted again by Nexen until Nov. 1. After the 2016 KBO season, Kang would become an unrestricted free agent and could sign with any MLB team without posting.
In nine seasons in the KBO, Kang batted .298 with an .886 OPS. Last season, he hit .356 with 40 home runs in 117 games.
“When he hits a home run, they go way out,” Sadowski said. “He’s hit plenty that would have gone out of any major league ballpark.”
Sadowski made six starts for the San Francisco Giants in 2009, then made 81 outings for the Lotte Giants of the KBO from 2010-2012.
“I faced Kang pretty often,” Sadowski said. “When I got ahead of him, I’d get him out. But when I fell behind, he’d make me pay. He’d crush the ball. He’s got power to all fields.”
Kang is listed as being 6-feet and 180 pounds. He played shortstop for Nexen, but many scouts say he would be a better fit at either third or second base in the majors.
“He’s got a thick lower half of his body,” Sadowski said. “He’s got plenty of arm, and I think he’d benefit from the defensive shifts, but I don’t know if he’d have the range to play shortstop for the Pirates.”
Sadowski said he has seen Kang make difficult plays then let what should be a routine grounder get past him.
“I never got the impression he didn’t play hard,” Sadowski said. “Maybe his concentration would benefit from playing at the higher level (in America). He’s got pretty good skills with his hands, but there are a few technical issues defensively that the Pirates probably could iron out.”
Sadowski now works with Global Sporting Integration, a Philadelphia-based company that helps athletes adapt to playing in foreign countries. He helps American players who have signed with Asian teams.
“The question for me is how Kang will adjust, going from the Korean culture to Pittsburgh,” Sadowski said.
Kang grew up in Gwangju, the sixth-largest city in South Korea.
“It will be a big transition for him. It’s not something that happens overnight.”
Although a handful of pitchers have come out of the KBO, Kang, 27, is the first position player to be posted.
The Pirates’ posting fee for Kang is the second-highest ever for a Korean player. In 2012, the Los Angeles Dodgers paid $25.7 million to talk with left-hander Hyun-jin Ryu, who then signed a six-year, $36 million contract.
Kang is the third Korean player this year to go through the posting process. The San Diego Padres paid $2 million to negotiate with pitcher Kwang-hyun Kim but could not work out a contract by the Dec. 11 deadline. In November, the Kia Tigers reportedly rejected a $1.5 million high bid for pitcher Hyeon-jong Yang.