Through the first nineteen games of the season, Jung-ho Kang has compiled 22 plate appearances, with the majority of them occurring during the previous series with the Cubs when Jordy Mercer was out with his rib injury. His season line to date has been…not good. His triple slash line is .200 AVG/.227 OBP/.250 SLG (477 OPS, 33 wRC+).
Some people believe that Kang should be sent to the minors to work things out. Many are disappointed with the start of his MLB career. Whether or not you’re in this camp or not depends on what your expectations were for Kang coming in to this season.
If you believed that Kang would come over and instantly be a starter and a force in the league, you’re probably very disappointed. You may have seen the $5M (don’t forget the always-humorous extra $2,015 at the end of it) posting fee and the 4 yr/$11M contract and thought that the Pirate-expensive outlay of cash guaranteed that he would be an impact player.
If you believed, as I did, that Kang’s first season would be one long adjustment period, both to the United States and to the Majors, then you’re probably not too surprised by his slow start.
There’s no need to send Kang to the minors for any service time considerations. Kang’s contract runs from 2015 to 2018, with a club option for 2019. At the end of his contract, whether the Pirates pick up his 2019 option or not, Kang becomes a free agent. Concerns that are typical with callups from the minors simply don’t exist in this scenario. Furthermore, Kang’s yearly salaries are fixed (aside from certain performance bonuses based on plate appearances), so arbitration doesn’t even come into play.
What would Kang gain by going to Triple A? Although Indianapolis isn’t some backwater burg, it’s still not a major league city or one as big as Pittsburgh. There’s a chance that Kang would feel even more isolated than he may feel right now. From a performance standpoint, if you accept that the Korean Baseball League is roughly equivalent to Double A, then a move to Triple A would be just another rung. He’d get regular playing time and he would most likely be able to resort to putting up strong numbers, but what would that point be? Remember, Kang is 28 years old, not some 22-23 year old prospect that may be rushed to the Majors.
The Pirates signed him to a finite length contract with the idea that he would contribute at the Major League level, not at Triple A. Kang’s numbers, in this tiniest of sample sizes, are already better than what Michael Martinez, Jayson Nix, and Brent Morel put up last year (Morel led this ghastly trio with a .179 AVG/.220 OBP/.231 SLG triple slash line).
Right now, Kang is the 25th man on the roster. He provides positional flexibility around the diamond and has more of a pedigree, albeit from a different country, than any bench player has had in recent years. It’s worth running him out there for a spot start once a week and keeping him as a pinch hitter for this first season, especially the first half. I feel that by July 1st, we’ll see a much different Kang than what we see now as his growth will continue to increase exponentially.
It’s time for everyone to reassess their expectations for what Kang will provide the Pirates in 2015. This move for him was always made with 2016 and beyond in mind.