Pirates officially make S. Korean Kang Jung-ho free agent

October 31, 2018

SEOUL, Nov. 1 (Yonhap) — The Pittsburgh Pirates have officially declined their option on South Korean infielder Kang Jung-ho, making him a free agent this offseason.

The Pirates made the move Wednesday (local time), according to a report by MLB.com. This was the final year of Kang’s four-year, US$11 million contract. The Pirates had a $5.5 million option for 2019, and they decided instead to buy it out for $250,000.

There was a clerical error by Major League Baseball (MLB) earlier when the transaction page on the Pirates’ official website showed that Kang had elected for free agency as of Monday. MLB acknowledged that the club hadn’t made a decision on Kang’s option, and that entry on Kang’s free agency was removed.

In this Getty Images file photo from Sept. 28, 2018, Kang Jung-ho of the Pittsburgh Pirates hits a single against the Cincinnati Reds in the top of the sixth inning of a Major League Baseball regular season game at the Great American Ball Park in Cincinnati. (Yonhap)

In this Getty Images file photo from Sept. 28, 2018, Kang Jung-ho of the Pittsburgh Pirates hits a single against the Cincinnati Reds in the top of the sixth inning of a Major League Baseball regular season game at the Great American Ball Park in Cincinnati. (Yonhap)

But hours later, the Pirates made their decision on the 31-year-old official.

This doesn’t necessarily spell the end of Kang’s career with the Pirates, as they can still sign him as a free agent. They have an exclusive negotiating window before free agents are able to sign with any club on Friday at 5 p.m. (Eastern Standard Time).

The former All-Star shortstop in the Korea Baseball Organization (KBO) put up solid numbers as third baseman for the Pirates in 2015 and 2016. But legal issues and injuries kept him off the field for the entire 2017 season and most of the year.

In December 2016, Kang was charged with fleeing the scene of an accident after driving under the influence of alcohol in Seoul and received a suspended jail term three months later. He was denied a U.S. work visa, which prevented him from joining the Pirates.

Kang got his work permit in April this year and began playing in the minor leagues in June. Then he suffered a left wrist injury later that month and underwent surgery on Aug. 3, which threatened to end his comeback bid.

But Kang was called up for the Pirates’ final regular season series against the Cincinnati Reds and batted 2-for-6 in three games.

The Pirates’ regular shortstop, Jordy Mercer, has also elected for free agency. The Pirates may sign Kang to a deal cheaper than $5.5 million and make him their new shortstop. He played 60 games there in 2015.

The Pirates’ general manager Neal Huntington said late in the regular season that the club would keep its door open for Kang.

“If we don’t (pick up his option), we’d have significant interest in seeing if there’s a middle ground where it makes sense to have him come back,” Huntington was quoted as saying by MLB.com on Sept. 30. “And if Kang plays the way Kang is capable, he has (an) everyday opportunity here.”

In Kang’s absence this year, rookie Colin Moran served as the primary third baseman. Moran batted .277/.340/.407 with 11 homers and 58 RBIs in 144 games — solid numbers but without the kind of power that Kang displayed in his first two seasons.

Kang finished third in the National League Rookie of the Year voting in 2015 after batting .287/.355/.461 with 15 home runs and 58 RBIs in 126 games. In 2016, he had 21 homers and 62 RBIs, with a .255/.354/.513 line in 103 games.

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