Pi­rates re­tain in­fielder Kang Jung-ho

The Korea Times - - SPORTS - (Yon­hap)

The Pitts­burgh Pi­rates have re-signed South Korean in­fielder Kang Jung-ho, barely a week af­ter mak­ing him a free agent.

The club an­nounced on Thurs­day (lo­cal time) that they inked Kang to a one-year deal, re­port­edly worth $3 mil­lion, plus $2.5 mil­lion in per­for­mance bonuses.

On Oct. 31, the Pi­rates de­clined to pick up Kang’s $5.5 mil­lion op­tion, af­ter his four-year, $11 mil­lion con­tract ex­pired. Kang was free to ex­plore the open mar­ket, though the Pi­rates were widely ex­pected to sign him for an­other go.

"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," Pi­rates’ gen­eral man­ager Neal Hunt­ing­ton told MLB.com. "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."

The new con­tract means a new base­ball life­line for a player who al­most took him­self out of the big leagues with off-field trou­ble.

The for­mer All-Star short­stop in the Korea Base­ball Or­ga­ni­za­tion (KBO) put up solid num­bers as a third base­man for the Pi­rates in 2015 and 2016. But le­gal is­sues and in­juries kept him off the field for the en­tire 2017 sea­son and most of this year.

In De­cem­ber 2016, Kang was charged with flee­ing the scene of an ac­ci­dent af­ter driv­ing un­der the in­flu­ence of al­co­hol in Seoul and re­ceived a sus­pended jail term three months later. The DUI ar­rest came only months af­ter Kang was in­ves­ti­gated by Chicago po­lice over a sex­ual as­sault al­le­ga­tion.

He was later de­nied a U.S. work visa, which pre­vented him from join­ing the Pi­rates.

Kang went to play in the Do­mini­can Win­ter League to try to stay sharp but was re­leased early.

Kang got his work per­mit in April this year and be­gan play­ing in the mi­nor leagues in June. Then he suf­fered a left wrist in­jury later that month and un­der­went surgery on Aug. 3, which threat­ened to end his come­back bid.

But Kang was called up for the Pi­rates’ fi­nal reg­u­lar sea­son se­ries against the Cincin­nati Reds and bat­ted 2-for-6 in three games.

Kang fin­ished third in the Na­tional League Rookie of the Year vot­ing in 2015 af­ter bat­ting .287/.355/.461 with 15 home runs and 58 RBIs in 126 games. In 2016, he had 21 homers and 62 RBIs, with a .255/.354/.513 line in 103 games. In Kang’s ab­sence this past reg­u­lar sea­son, rookie Colin Mo­ran served as the pri­mary third base­man. Mo­ran bat­ted .277/.340/.407 with 11 homers and 58 RBIs in 144 games — solid num­bers but with­out the kind of power that Kang dis­played in his first two sea­sons.

AP-Yon­hap

Kang Jung-ho of the Pitts­burgh Pi­rates hits a sin­gle against the Cincin­nati Reds in the top of the sixth in­ning of a Ma­jor League Base­ball reg­u­lar sea­son game at the Great Amer­i­can Ball Park in Cincin­nati, in this Septem­ber 2018 file photo.

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