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Pirates sign Kang to one-year contract

Third baseman will have chance to earn playing time in '19
MLB.com @adamdberry

PITTSBURGH -- Even before declining Jung Ho Kang's club option last week, general manager Neal Huntington said the Pirates would be interested in bringing him back next season and giving him a chance to be their everyday third baseman.

Sure enough, the Pirates re-signed Kang on Thursday morning to a one-year contract -- a second chance for a player who wasted a major opportunity after a promising start to his first stint with Pittsburgh.

PITTSBURGH -- Even before declining Jung Ho Kang's club option last week, general manager Neal Huntington said the Pirates would be interested in bringing him back next season and giving him a chance to be their everyday third baseman.

Sure enough, the Pirates re-signed Kang on Thursday morning to a one-year contract -- a second chance for a player who wasted a major opportunity after a promising start to his first stint with Pittsburgh.

The deal is for $3 million plus $2.5 million in performance bonuses, MLB Network insider Joel Sherman reported. That will give Kang the opportunity to match the value of the $5.5 million club option declined last week by the Pirates.

"We appreciate Jung Ho's hard work to get back to being a productive Major League player, while continuing to handle himself appropriately off the field," Huntington said. "We feel that bringing Jung Ho back in 2019 will make us better as he will have the ability to make a positive impact on our lineup. Competition and options are important to any organization and this signing provides us with both."

At the very least, Kang could platoon with second-year third baseman Colin Moran next season. Like veteran David Freese, who split time with Moran last season, Kang is a right-handed hitter and therefore a natural complement to the lefty-hitting Moran. But if Kang stays healthy and returns to his previous form, he could take on a larger role.

"If Kang plays the way Kang is capable," Huntington said on Sept. 30, "he has everyday opportunity here."

Can he do it? That question won't be answered until next spring at the earliest. The past two years have simply made it too difficult to predict what Kang's future holds.

Kang could not enter the United States in 2017 following a December 2016 DUI arrest in his native South Korea. It was later revealed to be his third such charge since 2009, and it came only months after Kang was investigated by Chicago police -- but never charged -- following a sexual assault allegation.

The Pirates maintained contact with Kang even as he lingered on the restricted list. They sent him a pitching machine, which he used while keeping a low profile at home. In an effort to keep his skills sharp, Kang played winter ball in the Dominican Republic last offseason. He struggled on the field, however, and was released early.

Kang, who agreed to participate in a treatment program recommended jointly by Major League Baseball and the MLB Players Association, received a work visa in late April and completed a modified Spring Training schedule in May. He played 16 games for Class A Advanced Bradenton and Triple-A Indianapolis, working his way back toward the Majors, only to be sidelined by pain in his left wrist.

On Aug. 3, Kang had surgery on the wrist. He recovered enough to join the Pirates in time for their final series of the season in Cincinnati, where he went 2-for-6 and made one start at third base.

Kang, who will be 32 years old next season, may represent the Pirates' best chance to add power to their lineup. The first position player to jump straight from the Korean Baseball Organization to MLB, Kang hit .273/.355/.483 with 36 home runs and 120 RBIs in 229 games in 2015 and '16.

Kang finished third in the National League Rookie of the Year Award voting in 2015, though his season ended early as he underwent surgery to repair significant knee injuries caused by Chris Coghlan's hard slide into Kang at second base.

At that time, Kang was an above-average defensive third baseman and a capable shortstop who filled in for Jordy Mercer. The Pirates are in the market for a veteran shortstop this offseason, but Huntington said in September that Kang is no longer an option there.

Adam Berry has covered the Pirates for MLB.com since 2015. Follow him on Twitter and Facebook and read his blog.

Pittsburgh Pirates, Jung Ho Kang