How the Jung-Ho Kang Posting Sways the Balance of Power in the National League
Pittsburgh Pirates 2015
Jung-Ho Kang a fit on many National League teams
As a breakout star in the Korean Baseball Organization, Jung-Ho Kang's posting offered teams in need of a shortstop a way to put the final touches on their roster before the 2015 season. The New York Mets, the San Diego Padres and the Seattle Mariners are all teams that expect to contend in 2015 that need an upgrade at shortstop. The St. Louis Cardinals have Jhonny Peralta at shortstop, but they were still one of the teams to make a significant bid in the posting process for Kang. The Phillies need a shortstop right now after trading Jimmy Rollins, even though they expect 2015 to be a rebuilding season for their team. The Pirates were able to sway things in their favor for the 2015 playoff chase, when they won the bid for Jung-Ho Kang to prevent him from negotiating with any other National League playoff contenders for a contract this coming season. While the Pirates plan on signing Jung-Ho Kang, even if they are not able to agree to terms with him, by winning the bid they have prevented any other team from signing him to a Major League contract for the 2015 season. A look at the versatility Jung-Ho Kang adds to the Pirates roster will present a clearer picture of what the thought process was behind outbidding every other team for negotiating rights with the star shortstop.
What role would Kang have on the Pirates roster in 2015?
It came as a surprise when it was revealed that the Pirates were the team to submit the highest bid in the posting process for Kang. It was surprising not because of the money, but rather because the Pirates have all their starting infield positions filled for the coming season. Last season the Pirates were able to establish significant success early in the season with Josh Harrison playing many different spots around the infield and outfield while producing at a high level at the plate. Since Kang could be joining a more complete Pirates offense in 2015, he is not likely to earn everyday playing time like Harrison did in 2014. However there will be a need for Kang's skills as a right handed power hitter against tough left handed pitching. Since Kang has the ability to play shortstop, the Pirates are likely to ask him to expand his defensive repertoire to include playing second base and third base. Since it is probably out of the question for the Pirates to ask Kang to play outfield, the Pirates will have to get creative on days where they want to field a most right hand hitting lineup. This would likely include Kang playing third base, while Harrison could be asked to use his athletic versatility to play some right field after proving to be an excellent defender in the outfield last season. In a super utility role such as the one that Josh Harrison held for most of last season, Kang's skill set will not go to waste as Clint Hurdle can be creative to find a way to get him more at bats.
Can Kang play shortstop at the Major League level?
Some scouts have suggested that Jung-Ho Kang does not project as a Major League shortstop defensively based on his range. This may just be based on concerns about his size, as Kang has a power hitter's frame at the shortstop position. When playing in the Korean Baseball Organization, Kang regularly displayed sure hands at the shortstop position. This means that while Jung-Ho Kang can play shortstop at the Major League level, second and third base are the ideal positions for his range defensively. The situation now presented to the Pirates, is that they have to determine for themselves whether or not Jung-Ho Kang has the range to play shortstop on a regular basis. When Jordy Mercer first started to log a significant innings total at shortstop for the Pirates, he was a bigger shortstop who appeared to have less than ideal range. While the Pirates are not looking to have Jung-Ho Kang replace Jordy Mercer as their starting shortstop, they need to find out if they can play him at shortstop regularly on Mercer's days off. Mercer being able to improve his reads and jumps on the ball off the bat gives the Pirates hope for Jung-Ho Kang at the shortstop position. Overall while the Pirates may ask Kang to play shortstop sometimes, he does have the flexibility to take his at bats while defending the other infield positions if they determine he does not have the range to play shortstop.
The Pirates win negotiating rights rather than other contenders
With recent information being released about the Cardinals being involved in the bidding for the negotiating rights for Jung-Ho Kang, winning the bid was that much bigger for the Pirates. The Pirates were able to keep a potential impact hitter away from the Cardinals for the 2015 season, with the opportunity to add that player to their roster on a multi-year deal. With the way each division race has gone the past two seasons, the Pirates have settled for a wildcard playoff berth instead of earning division titles to make their playoff appearances. With both the Padres and Mets currently trying to move ahead of at least one other team ahead of them in their divisions, the Pirates were able to gain a significant edge on both of those teams by taking away a player that could impact the National League wildcard race. Further significance of this move is with the Pirates entering the season with a championship as their goal, and with Jung-Ho Kang playing for them rather than another National League team, he has the chance to help them make that happen. Now the Pirates are left with the task of coming to an agreement with Jung-Ho Kang so that they can benefit from the production that his right handed power should provide at the Major League level in the coming seasons.
Does Kang sway things in the Pirates favor?
If and when the Pirates are able to reach an agreement with Jung-Ho Kang, they will have an advantage in National League pennant races for every year that they have him under contract with the team. With Kang having the ability to play third base, the Pirates were able to add a right handed batter with power at the only position where they do not have significant depth in the farm system currently. Kang's quick bat and strong approach at the plate should fit very well into the Pirates offensive philosophy that places a high value on players that have the ability to work their way on base. While Kang may not become a star in the Major Leagues, he does possess the tools necessary to be an impact player for the Pirates. By adding another highly skilled right handed hitter to Clint Hurdle's lineup options, the Pirates can put some dangerous lineups on the field against both right handed and left handed pitchers. After struggling against left handed pitching for stretches of the 2014 season, Kang should help to sway things in the Pirates favor by increasing their chances of winning each and every game they play.