Pirates finalize 4-year deal with Korean SS Jung Ho Kang
PITTSBURGH — Even though the Pittsburgh Pirates employ one of the largest analytics departments in baseball, they are not exactly sure how Jung Ho Kang’s outstanding statistics in South Korea will translate to the major leagues.
They are willing to find out.
Pittsburgh and the 27-year-old infielder finalized an $11 million, four-year contract on a busy Friday for the Pirates. The deal includes a $5.5 million club option for 2019 with a $1 million buyout.
Meanwhile, closer Mark Melancon was among nine of the Pirates’ 12 players who filed for arbitration earlier this week and agreed to one-year contracts. The 29-year-old will make $5.4 million, more than double the $2,595,000 he earned last season when he converted 33 of 37 save opportunities and had a 1.90 ERA in 72 games.
Joining Melancon in agreeing to one-year deals were left-handed relievers Antonio Bastardo ($3.1 million) and Tony Watson ($1.75 million); right-handed reliever Jared Hughes ($1,075,000); catchers Chris Stewart ($1,225,000) and Francisco Cervelli ($987,500); third baseman Josh Harrison ($2.8 million); infielder Sean Rodriguez ($1.9 million); and outfielder Travis Snider ($2.1 million).
The Pirates were unable to reach terms with right-hander Vance Worley, first baseman Pedro Alvarez and second baseman Neil Walker and the sides exchanged arbitration figures. If management sticks to its intended plan of refusing to negotiate now that figures have been filed, then the three players will end up in hearings in February.
Kang is trying to become the first position player to make the jump from the Korean Baseball Organization to the major leagues.
”This is an unprecedented situation, so it’s difficult to truly project how he will perform,” Pirates general manager Neal Huntington said. ”That is why we had multiple people watch him play multiple times. We feel good about bringing him into our organization and we feel that this is going to be a very good investment for our organization.”
Kang hit .356 with 40 home runs in 117 games last season for the Nexen Heroes, who play in Seoul. He had a .383 on-base percentage and a .503 slugging percentage.
During his nine-year career in the KBO, Kang hit .298 batting with 139 homers in 902 games. He also played for South Korea in the World Baseball Classic in 2013.
The Pirates will pay a $5,002,015 posting fee for Kang.
”I’m very excited and humbled by this opportunity,” he said in a statement released by the Pirates.
Most of the ballparks in South Korea are smaller than in the major leagues. The Pirates, however, believe Kang will hit for power.
”He hit a lot of balls in Korea that would have been out of the ballparks in the major leagues, too,” Huntington said. ”What we really like about him is that he has a good overall approach to hitting.”
Kang was primarily a shortstop in Korea but will begin his career as a utility infielder, backing up Walker, Harrison and shortstop Jordy Mercer. Huntington dismissed the idea of having Kang start the season in the minor leagues in an effort to better adjust to the American style of play.
”The best way to transition him to the major leagues is by having play in the major leagues,” Huntington said. ”Our challenge, as it would be with any role player, is giving him enough playing time to stay sharp.”
In arbitration, Walker is seeking $9 million while the Pirates filed at $8 million. The 29-year-old switch-hitter set a career-high 23 home runs last season and batted .271 while earning $5.25 million.
Alvarez is seeking a raise to $6 million from $4.25 million while the Pirates filed at $5 million. After leading the NL with 36 home runs in 2013, he hit just 18 last season to go with a .231 batting average in 122 games.
Worley is looking to boost his salary from $527,500 to $2.45 million while the Pirates countered with a figure of $2 million. The 27-year-old went 8-4 with a 2.85 ERA in 18 games, all but one a start.
Harrison quintupled his salary of $523,000 last year, when he finished second in the NL batting race with a .315 average after beginning the season as the last man on the bench. He hit 13 home runs and stole 18 bases.
Bastardo was acquired from Philadelphia during the winter meetings for minor league pitcher Joely Rodriguez. The 29-year-old gets a raise from $2.15 million after going 5-7 with a 3.94 ERA in 67 games.
The 29-year-old Watson, along with Harrison, was selected to the All-Star game for the first time in his career last season when was paid $528,500 while leading the NL with 78 appearances. He was 10-2 with two saves and a 1.62 ERA.
Hughes got a boost from $513,500. He pitched in 63 games last season, going 7-5 with a 1.96 ERA.
Stewart made $1 million last year, when he hit a career-high .294 in 49 games. He is expected to split time with Cervelli, a 28-year-old acquired from the New York Yankees in November. He hit .301 with two homers in 49 games in an injury-filled season and made $700,000.
Rodriguez, 29, was acquired from Tampa Bay on Dec. 1 for pitching prospect Buddy Borden. He had a $1,475,000 salary last season when he hit .211 with a career-high 12 home runs in 96 games.
Snider, 26, is expected to compete with Gregory Polanco for the starting right fielder’s job in spring training after hitting .264 with 13 home runs in 140 games last season while making $1.2 million.
The Pirates are 10-10 all-time in arbitration and won the last time they went to a hearing, beating Garrett Jones in 2012.