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Pirates get a steal in Kang

Pirates get a steal in Kang
Jung-Ho Kang (Photo: CBS Sports)
December 24, 2014
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On Monday there was one of the more interesting and shocking signings to me so far this offseason.  Now, I should not actually say signing, but since reports leaked from the player’s camp I would be shocked if he didn’t sign.

In all fairness the event that really happened on Monday was the Pirates of all teams winning the bidding on Jung-Ho Kang for a paltry sum of $5,002,015. It is clear they went a little over five million in hopes that other teams might have a round $5 million bid, and it appears to have worked.

For those who don’t know the posting system, teams bid on the right to negotiate with a player. It’s a blind system and the highest blind bid wins. They have to pay that money even if they fail to sign the player. It almost never happens where a team pays millions to negotiate then fails to land the player. In any case, the small market Pirates won the bid on the biggest named player to go through the posting system this year for a sum I found amazingly small.

On top of this it was reported on Tuesday in multiple places that Kang would like a three to four year deal at $5 million per year. I also saw a report that he would accept a two year deal at $6 million a year. I am not the most knowledgeable person with the monetary side of contracts, so I don’t know how it would affect his arbitration after these deals are done, but I would assume it would mean an increase in his contract amounts. Even still, four years for $20 million or if you include the cost of the bid four years $25 million seems like a solid deal to me.

Kang played in Korea and he tore the league up. There is no other way to put it: he was a force. He was basically the Korean equivalent of Mike Trout last year. I’m not saying he is Mike Trout, I’m just saying that his production differential when compared to the rest of the Korean league was Trout-like.

The Korean League is a league which is a little better than Double-A. How often do teams get a chance to bid on a player who should be ready to play in the majors this year with a pedigree like this? I understand it’s a risk but at the same time $5 million a year is less a risk than Murphy was for the Tribe last year. At least I see it this way when one looks at age, position, and production history before the signing.

The hardest skill to acquire in baseball is power and specifically right-handed power. The hardest players to find are up the middle players. Kang has shown both of these skills in Korea, and while he is not a big guy he turns on pitches and they seem to explode off his bat.

Kang might not be a guy who challenges for a home run title but there is a chance that he could be a 20 home run shortstop in the Major Leagues. As of now there are only three players that are regularly capable of achieving that feat in the majors. One of them is also right-handed and used to play for the Indians in Jhonny Peralta and the other two are Troy Tulowitzki and Ian Desmond. Kang could bust but his upside makes him a rare talent.

Now the Pirates were already an extremely deep team. Their outfield has three players with all-star up side in Andrew McCutchen, Starling Marte, and Gregory Polanco. The infield has Josh Harrison at third who was an all-star last year, Neil Walker an under-rated second baseman who ranks among the top 10 for his position, and Pedro Alvarez a big power bat.

The only holes were at catcher and shortstop. They lost backstop Russell Martin and replaced him with Francisco Cervelli who is there for his defense and went to Jody Mercer at shortstop. I can’t see any way the Pirates don’t try and end up with Kang at shortstop. There was debate if he could play there in the majors, but they might as well see if he can before they move him off the position and reduce his value.

Kang might not be a day one starter and he could easily bust because of the large level difference of his transition. Yet, for the price I can’t help but feel like the Pirates made a very nice bid and win here.

One of the best minors in baseball just got better and did so by adding a player to help them this coming year.

Follow Jeff on Twitter @jeffmlbdraft, or email him at jellis121@yahoo.com

User Comments

Homer
December 26, 2014 - 10:10 AM EST
Turning my attention to Jung Ho Kang, he was one of several players on my offseason wish list. I think the Indians missed a unique opportunity to add a talented RH hitting power bat. I projected him as .240-250 hitter with 20+ hrs 20+ dbls and a 20-25% K rate. In other words, Brandon Moss lite on the power. Signing him for 4yrs / $25M (inc. $5M posting fee) would have hardly been restrictive. Maybe the a Indians did bid, we dont know. Kang seems motivated to play in the US, so I suspect he'd sign for probably less with incentives built in something like 4/$21M with $8M in incentives.

Others from my wish list included Josh Donaldson, Chase Headley, Brett Anderson, Justin Masterson, (KRod) Francisco Rodriguez, Ryan Cook, Scott Van Slyke, and Alex Rios. I've also engaged discussion on Kemp, Bruce, Upton and (minimally) Hamels. The Indians have landed none.

Truth is, most of those guys were priced out of the Indians mkt. I'm not convinced the Indians are done shopping. I think they could have some money to spend in the form of adding a bullpen piece in January, but with the depth this club has it could go status quo. It could be beneficial to let some of the young guys prove themselves. I think Shawn Armstrong could be a potential late inning reliever. Maybe Louis Head, Gio Soto, Ben Heller and a few others.

Like I have suggested in other posts I suspect the Indians might be willing to break the $90M barrier to get a value signing or two. They have shown a willingness to surpass the mark in their pursuit of Grant Balfour, Fernando Rodney and Joaquin Benoit last yr. It seems reasonable the Indians might rev up pursuit of a backend arm like Rafael Soriano, Casey Janssen and KRod if they remain unsigned going into early January.

I've heard nothing on the three and any of the three could be a valuable addition IMHO. My personal preference is KRod, who has remade himself as a CL after losing some velocity compared to earlier in his career. I think the Indians could jump in with a 2/$12M to (maybe as high as) 2/$14M and land him easily. KRod saved 44/49 games last yr, but struggled a bit in the second half. I think that has helped deflate his (real) value. I would suggest he could be signed for as little as 1/$5M depending on how the market shapes out. If he remains on the market until mid-January there's a chance he gets another one yr deal with the Brewers.

Last yr, I clamored for the Indians to sign Oliver Perez who eventually signed for 2/$5M and KRod who eventually signed for 1/$3.25M. Both would have been steals, IMHO. That being said, I expect the Indins to make several more minor signings with ST invites as per their norm. Hopefully, the Indians will jump in on a value signing or two as the offseason quickly wears away...Spring is nearer than when the offseason first began.
Homer
December 26, 2014 - 9:23 AM EST
I don't get the love affair with the Browns...I like them too, but they've been a train wreck since they returned to the league.

Drafting a QB like Manziel was stupid....for a lot of reasons. For the record, I wanted them to draft Derek Carr at 6th overall last season. For me there was no need to risk letting a potential franchise QB slide past them there.

I think Clay is right, Cleveland radio would just spin it.

The best scenario for the a indians is to just win. They need sustained winning for several yrs, maybe a Superstar caliber player would help. But with the most recent CY Young award winner with multiple yrs of control and the third place finisher in MVP voting (again) with multiple yrs of control fans have 'no excuse.' The Indians have real talent. Truth is, they probably have one of the most under rated teams in baseball.

Most recently, ESPN did a fan pole posing the question; "who will win the AL Central?" The Royals, the Tigers, and the White Sox all polled higher than the Indians. Based on that poll the Indians are in for a fourth place finish. Fangraphs recently projected the Indians to win 85 games (again) this season, which, means absolutely nothing other than expect them to be very competitive.

The Indians are a much different team going into next season even with some regression (and progression) with the pitching staff. Looking at the lineup, there are some questions surrounding third base. However, unlike yrs past the Indians have depth and options. They could easily put together a pkg for a third baseman (like Todd Frazier) or turn to internal options such as JRam, Walters, Urshela, Aviles and Erik Gonzalez. They seemingly have some free nancial flexibility built in as well. That is, it would be fairly easy to find a taker for David Murphy's $6.5M guaranteed money. Truth is, the Royals signed a guy (I wanted: Alex Rios) for $5M more to get slightly better production. The Indians are in a great place right now, they have a very talented team with yrs of control,but some bad contracts. The good news is that have only short terms left (Bourn and Swisher). I still think the Indians should shop Bourn (or Swisher), but the way they've constructed the team I think they could compete for the AL Central with what they have now.
Clay
December 26, 2014 - 5:29 AM EST
I actually don't buy into the Indians "don't have any stars people want to see" argument anymore. Indians could have gotten Upton, may have seen initial buzz but come playing time the low attendance in April will still be the "hot topic" on Cleveland radio along with the Browns quest for yet another QB.

All that would happen is anyone saying "we don't have any stars!" would spin it to "we never keep any stars!"
Joe Chengery
December 25, 2014 - 1:57 AM EST
First, I wish everyone at IBI and all posters a very Merry Christmas!

Second, Pete, all due respect, but, the reasons why acquiring Upton wasn't a slam-dunk move for the Indians:

1. High price contract means the Indians likely would have had to clear some payroll, and probably more than Murphy and even Raburn combined. And, unfortunately, Swisher is pretty much untradeable. Bourn, I think, is still a possibility, though you probably wouldn't get much salary relief, as there would be a bad contract probably coming back in return (unless the Indians got virtually nothing in the trade, and it's likely the other team would probably still want to unload a bad contract to acquire Bourn).

2. Need to clear some roster space as well, with both the aforementioned outfielders, Brantley, Bourn, Moss, etc.

3. As mentioned, Upton does have the Indians on his no-trade list. It's not a given he wouldn't waive it, but it's not a given he would, either. He might prefer the National League, for instance, as some players do prefer a steadier diet of fastballs and breaking balls in more predictable counts, as the NL has been known to be as compared to the AL. This is partly why I think Brandon Phillips did better with Cincinnati- he was much more of a fastball, dead-pull hitter, only learning to go the other way a bit over the years. He fit much better in the NL than the AL. I'm not saying for sure Upton is that way, but maybe he doesn't want to switch leagues if he has a choice, being more familiar with the other league, etc. Case in point, it's not a given he would waive his no-trade clause, plus his offensive performance would probably drop a bit, both because of his unfamiliarity with the league and how Progressive suppresses right-handed power.

4. This leads to why the Indians would be reluctant to part the high prospect price it would take to acquire him.

5. And it would only be for one year, unless the Indians could resign him, and that would be unlikely, especially if Upton has the Indians on his no-trade list now, not to mention that probably 90-95% of the league couldn't afford his contract demands, especially considering he has had several injury issues over the years; he didn't manage to play a full season and stay healthy until 2011, his fourth full season. He was injured and inconsistent again in 2012. Most teams would probably be a bit reluctant to commit that much money over a long period of time to him due to his injury history, and the Indians certainly would after what has happened with both Swisher and Bourn (granted, they were older than Upton, who will be 28 in Aug 2015, but that's only 2.5 years left in his 20s, and Upton will probably seek at least a four to five year contract, maybe even six-year contract). That makes the high prospect price even more prohibitive.

Plus, all due respect, but if your argument about the public wanting to see HRs hit often would bring them out, where were they in the mid-2000s when Sizemore, Hafner, Martinez, and Peralta were launching HRs regularly? Fans didn't come out in droves then either (rarely any sell-outs or near capacity- most nights were lucky to get 25-30K, usually getting just 15K-20K) not since the days of Alomar, Lofton, and Gonzalez (2001), and Belle, Thome, and Ramirez before that did fans really come out regularly. Yes, you might get an occasional 30K night in the mid to late 2000s, but usually due to a promotion, the first game or the last game of the season. That's pretty much how it is now.

Thus, I don't think it's so much the power or relatable players- the Indians have had those. The problem is still more related to fans thinking that Dolan is cheap (not compared to some owners) and the fact that the city is more enamored with the Browns and football, as well as LeBron, even though the Indians have easily outdone the Browns in performance, and really the Cavaliers as well outside of a brief stretch with LeBron from 2007-2010. Yet, the city holds the Indians to a different standard- they finish with near 90 wins or 90+ wins, have several Cy Young winners and contend into the final month and they're lucky if 10K show up to the ballpark.

Plus, a championship is a championship- were people complaining about the Royals not having a 20+ HR hitter on their roster last year? (The Indians, by comparison, had three!) Of course, Royals fans weren't filling the ballpark for much of the season either- why Ned Yost made a comment about it late in the season. I don't think Giants' fans are complaining that their offense isn't an offensive powerhouse, especially after winning three out of the last five World Series. If the Indians did anything similar and didn't have an offensive powerhouse, fans should still be willing to come out to the ballpark (and it shouldn't take three WS titles or even WS appearances to do that, but almost think that's what it will take to get the fans to pay attention to the Indians again).

Matthew
December 24, 2014 - 11:54 PM EST
I agree the risk is small enough that the Pirates did OK here, but I also think there's very, very little chance that Kang ever becomes even a good platoon bat. His numbers were insane in Korea the last two years, but so were everyone else's. They're juicing the ball big time to attract audiences in the KBO. As has been reported elsewhere, Kang's stats roughly mirror Eric Thames. Kang's not a SS, and likely not much of a bat. Good luck to him, but I just don't buy it.


Pete--

Can't wait to hear more about your conversation with Upton when he told you he'd waive his no-trade. Must have been fascinating.
gwelymernans
December 24, 2014 - 10:27 PM EST
actually, if they can't sign him w/in the 30 days window, they get the posting fee back. i look for the bucs to sign him to three years, maybe w/ an option for a fourth year.

it seems more likely that he fulfills a utility role (albeit w/ significant playing time) than a starting role in 2015. he will have to adjust to the states, as well as to the speed of mlb. mercer had a bad first two months at the plate, but rebounded well and his defense grew by leaps and bounds. kang actually projects better as a 2b or 3b, given his range.

i think he offers positional flexibility in 2015, and trade flexibility after that. the pirates found out what a lousy bench (morel/nix) can cost them when both mercer and walker were out last year. also, this creates a situation where walker or alvarez might be more easily moved (perhaps as early as this trade deadline, but more likely next offseason). additionally, as far as middle infield prospects go, they've really only got alan hanson in the upper minors.
Jerry
December 24, 2014 - 10:15 PM EST
Jeff:

The Kang deal does seem to be a reasonable risk for the Pirates. The caveat though, and maybe why the bidding was lower than you anticipated, is that he will be 28 this coming April. It is therefore difficult to imagine that Kang would spend much, if any, time in the minors making any benefit to the Pirates' minor league system moot ( unless other players would remain in the system longer).
Matt underwood
December 24, 2014 - 9:10 PM EST
Is the tribe still butt hurt by the Danys Baez signing? At the time it was one of the largest international bonuses given I believe. Now it's like they would rather try to catch lightning in a bottle with mediocre or garbage MLB players as opposed to buying an international lottery ticket
Pete
December 24, 2014 - 7:44 PM EST
So, we've lost out to Donaldson, lost out on Upton, and now lost out on Kang. What bothers me the most is that everybody on this board kept saying the Indians would have to pay a ransom to get either Donaldson or Upton. In either case, the Padres or the Blue Jays did not surrender a young starting pitcher that could slot into a rotation like Salazar could.

Just a curious question to Antonetti, do you think the new kids section is going to bring the fans in 2015? The Indians were last in attendance because they have no players that nobody wants to see. That's why I'm so disappointed by not getting Upton (and don't tell me about the no-trade clause because we could gotten around it). Fans want a reason to go the ballpark. Yes, they want a winner but they also want to see an offense and guys hitting the ball out of the park (even for a year!).

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