Pirates third baseman Jung Ho Kang’s status for 2017 remains in question as a result of his December arrest in South Korea on charges of driving under the influence and leaving the scene of an accident. Kang, who admitted guilt in February, earned a suspended eight-month prison sentence March 3 and has been waiting since then to obtain a visa to return to the United States.
According to a report from Naver Sports in Korea, Kang’s visa application has been denied. If true, that would put Kang’s chances of playing this season in jeopardy, though the 29-year-old has appealed his sentence in hopes of receiving lesser punishment and making it easier to obtain a visa. A decision on that appeal will likely come in the next few weeks, according to The Korea Times (via Rob Biertempfel of the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review). The Pirates, like Kang, are awaiting an answer on the player’s fate; as a result, they’re unsure whether they’ll receive any contributions from Kang this year.
“Your information is about the same as what I’ve got,” manager Clint Hurdle told MLB Network Radio on Friday. “We are staying in contact with Jung Ho and in contract with his interpreter. We’re focusing on the men we have here. That’s the best I can tell you. We’d love to have him back (but) we don’t have him back. We’re going to adapt and continue to pull … (and see) if this can come to some type of conclusion that’s profitable for both sides down the road.”
While Kang has a history of off-field troubles, including three DUI convictions in Korea and an ongoing investigation stemming from an alleged sexual assault in Chicago last July, his absence would be difficult for the Pirates to deal with on the field. The Bucs do have a quality fallback option at third base in David Freese, but his production hasn’t approached Kang’s dating back to the latter’s emigration from Korea in 2015. Kang has been a bargain since joining the Pirates on a four-year deal worth a guaranteed $11MM, having slashed .273/.355/.483 with 36 home runs in 837 plate appearances.