With Opening Day just a week and a half away, news broke Friday morning that Jung Ho Kang‘s request for a work visa to enter the United States was denied. This is crushing news for the Pirates and Kang, leaving his chances for playing in 2017 up in the air.
After being arrested in South Korea for his third DUI in December, Kang was sentenced to eight months in jail, suspended for two years which basically means a two-year probation and no jail time if he stayed out of trouble for that time. That was good news for Kang and the next step was for him to get his visa in order to join the Pirates in Bradenton. Now, questions remain as to when Kang could be allowed in.
The Phil Gosselin/Frank Duncan trade suddenly makes a lot of sense with Kang’s status in question. The Pirates knew that Kang missing Opening Day was a possibility, but I’m sure they knew there was a chance his visa could be denied.
Unfortunately, Gosselin isn’t Kang. He’s a solid utility player, but losing Kang for possibly the entire season is a blow. Kang slugged .483 in 229 MLB games and hopes of a 30+ HR, full season are fading fast.
The Pirates moved Kang to the restricted list earlier this spring and have the option of leaving him there until Kang is active and in the United States again. While on the restricted list, Kang does not count against the Pirates active roster and will not accrue any service time. The Pirates also have the option of not paying him his salary. Kang signed a 4 yr/$11M deal with the Pirates (15-18) with a team option for 2019.
While his contract and yearly salary (set to make $2.75M in 2017) is not massive by MLB standards, I’m wondering what the Pirates options are with Kang’s contract. Do they have the right to terminate his contract considering he might miss the entire season and considering they knew nothing of his previous two DUIs when signing him? If that’s the case, they could void the contract and be done with him. If they can’t terminate a guaranteed MLB contract, they have the option of just releasing him if they feel he’s become too much of a headache and as a PR move. Or they can hold onto him, leave him on the restricted list and even if he misses this season, they could have him back for next season and 2019. But if that were the case, what kind of shape would he be in if he didn’t play baseball for a year? Could he play in the KBO this year while still under the contract to the Bucs?
Kang has appealed his sentence in Korea, which if reduced, it could open the door for Kang’s visa to be approved. But knowing the legal system, that will all take time. The decision on his appeal isn’t supposed to come down for a couple weeks and the visa process would begin again.
So many questions still remain in what has become a major headache this offseason for the Pirates. One thing is for certain, Kang will not be on the team on Opening Day and the Bucs have to move on with Gosselin, David Freese, John Jaso or Adam Frazier playing third base for the time being.