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First base a hole that Bucs need to fill in 2016

Club weighing stop-gap measures until prospect Bell is ready
MLB.com

PITTSBURGH -- The Pirates knew all along that Jung Ho Kang's success could be a double-edged sword.

On one hand, they would reap the benefits of their aggressiveness in an untapped Korean market. Kang allowed them to do just that last season with a standout rookie campaign. On the other hand, Kang's instant impact would drive up the price on the next hitter to leap straight from the Korea Baseball Organization to the Majors.

PITTSBURGH -- The Pirates knew all along that Jung Ho Kang's success could be a double-edged sword.

On one hand, they would reap the benefits of their aggressiveness in an untapped Korean market. Kang allowed them to do just that last season with a standout rookie campaign. On the other hand, Kang's instant impact would drive up the price on the next hitter to leap straight from the Korea Baseball Organization to the Majors.

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The Pirates saw that happen this week, as the Twins won the negotiating rights to first baseman Byung Ho Park, Kang's former Nexen Heroes teammate.

Last winter, the Pirates' $5 million bid in the posting process allowed them to negotiate with Kang, who quickly silenced any doubts about his ability to make the KBO-to-MLB transition. The Twins' bid for Park was reportedly $12.85 million, more costly than Kang's entire four-year, $11 million contract.

"We felt Kang's success would influence the market and would drive up the post," Pirates general manager Neal Huntington told MLB.com's Mark Bowman at the General Managers Meetings in Boca Raton, Fla. "It certainly seemed to."

The Pirates scouted Park in the KBO, and Huntington said Tuesday they believe he will be a good Major League player. The 29-year-old had back-to-back 50-homer seasons in Korea, and batted .343 last year.

The Bucs could seemingly use an upgrade at first base next year, and Park may have filled that need. Given their success with Kang, the Pirates were often linked to Park.

"At the same time, we looked at how Park would fit on our club," Huntington said. "It looks like 2016 is a natural fit, but when you start looking at 2017 and beyond, we have a young player in Josh Bell that we think has a chance to be a really good Major League player."

Pedro Alvarez is coming off a solid season at the plate, but he had a poor year defensively. CBSSports.com reported on Tuesday that Alvarez, projected to make about $8 million next season, is once again on the trading block.

The Pirates' other internal options at first base are Michael Morse, who hit well in limited time last season, and Bell, their No. 3 prospect according to MLB.com, who has only played 35 games above Double-A.

Bell has hit at every level, batting .305 with an .821 OPS in the Minors, but his defense is still a work in progress. He moved from the outfield to first base this year, and Huntington said Bell is "getting better" at first.

If Bell is ready for a full-time role by 2017, the Pirates just need a one-year solution at first base next season. Would filling that gap have been worth a posting fee of $12.85 million (or more) along with Park's potential salary over the next few years?

"As we looked at how we allocated resources not only for [2016], but for 2017 and beyond, we felt a post of the size we anticipated it being would influence and impact our ability to do what we want to do as we move forward," Huntington said. "We felt there were enough options [at first base], maybe not just internal.

"We felt there were enough options available that it gave us pause to invest the amount of money that we anticipated it would take to acquire Park."

Adam Berry is a reporter for MLB.com. Follow him on Twitter at @adamdberry.

This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

Pittsburgh Pirates, Pedro Alvarez, Josh Bell, Jung Ho Kang, Michael Morse