It sounds like the Major League career of Pittsburgh Pirates infielder Jung Ho Kang might be over.
Last offseason, Kang was arrested in his native South Korea and charged with his third DUI since 2009. As a result of the arrest, South Korea denied him a work visa, causing him to miss the entire 2017 season. On Sunday, Pirates general manager Neal Huntington said the team is moving forward as if the 30-year-old will never be back.
“That’s been an unfortunate reality from the outset that he may never get a visa again,” Huntington said Sunday. “We worked the process, worked the process again and have not gotten a different result. We’ll attack it in different ways again the next time through and hope there is a different outcome. We do need to begin to prepare as if he’s not coming back.”
Baseball players’ careers end for many, many reasons, but it’s not often solid Major-League regulars are forced out of the league because they aren’t allowed to return to the United States.
Huntington’s comments about the third baseman are newsworthy not only because the situation is unusual but also because Kang is a very good baseball player. In two Major-League seasons, he has hit .273/.355/.483 with 36 home runs, numbers that are good for any Major-Leaguer but especially useful for a third baseman with a solid glove. The Pirates, who are only 4.5 games out in the NL Central despite a 54-57 record, would have loved that kind of production this season. Pittsburgh has mostly plugged its hole at third base by Josh Harrison over from second, leaving a ragtag group of under-qualified youngsters to man the keystone.
Huntington said the Kang dilemma was part of the reason the team traded for utility infielder and former Pirate Sean Rodriguez. The problem is that Rodriguez is a far inferior player to Kang, who has been worth nearly twice as much WAR (6.4, per Baseball-Reference) over his two seasons with the Pirates, as Rodriguez has been worth over the past six seasons (3.5).
The DUIs are not Kang’s only brush with the law. Last summer he was investigated by Chicago police over an alleged sexual assault.