Why not take the chance on Jungho Kang?
-- Jim R., Ephrata
A few days after the World Series ends -- so, within the next two weeks -- the Pirates must officially pick up Kang's $5.5 million option or buy it out for $250,000. They've yet to tip their hand, but they made it quite clear that they still value their relationship when they called him up for the final weekend of the season.
"Kang is still interesting, so we want to keep that door open. The easy answer is picking up the option. We'll make that decision as we go through the process," general manager Neal Huntington said on Sept. 30. "If we don't, we'd have significant interest in seeing if there's a middle ground where it makes sense to have him come back. And if Kang plays the way Kang is capable, he has [an] everyday opportunity here."
I still think the most likely outcome is that "middle ground" coming in a new deal, but let's look at some arguments for and against picking up Kang's option. Jim asked "why not," so we'll start there.
Against: He has 77 plate appearances over 19 games in the Majors/Minors since 2016, so it's nearly impossible to project how he'll perform going forward based on recent results. He turns 32 in April and, thus, might be entering the back end of his prime. He's strictly a third baseman now, according to the Pirates. His December '16 DUI arrest in South Korea led to a suspended eight-month jail sentence, which he reportedly will not have to serve if he avoids further charges for another year, and kept him from acquiring a work visa until earlier this year. Kang was also investigated, but not charged, by Chicago police in '16 after a sexual assault allegation was made against him.
For: Kang took responsibility for his drunken-driving arrests, acquired a work visa and, upon his return to the United States, vowed to continue "honoring" the treatment program recommended jointly by the MLB and MLB Players Association. He seemed remorseful and grateful for another chance, which management awarded him in late September. The Pirates entered last season with $10 million committed to role players David Freese and Sean Rodriguez, so $5.5 million isn't out of their range for a veteran reserve with the potential to be more. Kang would be a natural platoon partner, at worst, with lefty-hitting third baseman Colin Moran. Pittsburgh needs power, and there are only a few players on the roster who can match Kang's potential to slug.
:: Submit a question to the Pirates Inbox ::
Might the Pirates trade Moran, given the number of options at third base and Ke'Bryan Hayes looking to be better and only suited for third?
-- Matthew L., Burlington, N.J.
Moran is their presumptive Opening Day starter at third right now, and I don't see him going anywhere just a year after joining the organization in the Gerrit Cole trade. Maybe they'll bring in another player, or keep Kang, and those two will share time. Jose Osuna, Pablo Reyes and Kevin Kramer are among the young players who could back up Moran at third early next season, but there aren't any prospects who could take his job by April.
It was an uneven year, but Moran, 26, showed some promise during his rookie season. He hit for a respectable .277 average and got on base at a .340 clip while displaying a strong and accurate arm. The Pirates could use more power at the plate and better overall defense, however, especially if he's going to be a regular.
The way he hit in September, after making a Polanco-esque adjustment, was certainly encouraging. Huntington also mentioned in late September that they were seeing improvement in Moran's turns to second base and his first-step quickness. Moran is a smart player and a hard worker, and there's no doubt he'll focus on his defense heading into next season.
Hayes, the best position player prospect in the Pirates' system, is already an incredible defender at third. Everyone raves about his glove, and his bat started to catch up this year. I wouldn't be surprised if the job belongs to Hayes at some point in 2020, but he's ticketed for Triple-A to start next season.
Do you think Andy Barkett would be a good hitting coach for the Pirates?
-- Dwayne S., Columbus, Ohio
More than anything, hitting coaches are judged based on their results, so only time will tell. But I think Barkett, the only person publicly linked to the job thus far, is an extremely logical and qualified candidate.
He possesses plenty of experience, having played 11 years of professional baseball. He has put in his time as a coach and instructor, serving various Minor League roles for the Braves, Tigers and Marlins from 2006-15. There's also the familiarity factor, as Barkett -- who saw his only MLB action with the '01 Pirates -- worked in Pittsburgh's system in '16 and managed Triple-A Indianapolis in '17.
Along with analytically inclined hitting coach Tim Hyers, Barkett has had success with a talented group of hitters as the assistant hitting coach for the World Series-bound Red Sox. Barkett was very popular with players in Indianapolis, and a huge part of coaching at the MLB level is building relationships to establish trust. Not to say he's the only candidate out there, but there's a reason the Pirates and Rangers are reportedly interested.
Why not take the chance on Jungho Kang?