Jung Ho Kang has missed the entire 2017 campaign with the Pittsburgh Pirates due to personal downfalls. He might be back in 2018. He might not be. What will the team do at third base if he is not able to return?
Whether you want Jung Ho Kang back in 2018 is a matter of personal opinion. However, it is a near fact that the Pittsburgh Pirates would take him back in a heartbeat.
If he were to be able to return form, the power Kang possesses with the bat would help tremendously in 2018. The Pirates desperately need a power boost as they currently rank second to last in the MLB in home runs and slugging percentage. Baseball is trending towards power numbers ruling the roost once again, and the club is dangerously close to being left out.
On the other hand, many see Kang as a lost cause. There’s no doubt he’s been a problem. His absence this season has arguably been the biggest contributor to the team’s overall failure. The reasons for his absence add another layer of despair. Can he get past his personal issues and earn the trust of both his teammates and fans? Does he deserve that chance? Furthermore, how much production can we realistically expect of Kang in 2018 after a missing an entire season?
Personally, I would like to see him get that chance. As cold as it sounds, the Pittsburgh Pirates need his production. Badly. That being said, he may never get that chance. If Kang is unable to obtain a working visa in the United States, what is the backup plan? David Freese was the backup plan this season, if you want to call it that. His production this year didn’t come close to that of Kang in 2016. The days of Freese being able to man a position regularly are long gone. This leaves the Pirates with just a few options.
Option one: Stand pat with what they’ve got
In reality, the Pittsburgh Pirates really don’t have to do anything. They could easily roll with Freese for another year, provided they do not repeat the same mistake by over-playing him. He has one year left on his current contract. If the Pirates want Freese to be strictly a bench piece in 2018, they could shift Josh Harrison over to third base and have someone like Adam Frazier, Max Moroff, or Sean Rodriguez take the reigns as the everyday second baseman.
Perhaps Jose Osuna gets enough reps at third base in the offseason and is ready to play there consistently in 2018. In all honesty, none of these “moves” make the Pirates better in 2018. They would essentially be betting on the progression of their younger players. How big of a step forward do we really expect from the likes of Osuna, Moroff, and Frazier? I really don’t see them progressing enough to make a major impact in improving the offense in 2018.
Sadly, this may be the most realistic route.
Option two: Sign a free agent
Looking at the free agent market for third basemen, a few names stick out. Mike Moustakas, Todd Frazier, and Eduardo Nunez will all be free agents in the winter. Nunez and Frazier will most likely be fairly cheap options, though Frazier may be able to command more with his power stroke.
Nunez has been productive this year hitting .312/.340/.458 with 12 home runs in 489 plate appearances. He also plays multiple positions. Frazier provides a bit of pop with 24 home runs but he’s only hitting .211/.340/.421. At 31 years old, Frazier may be a bit past his prime. He could also be due for a bounce back. His more productive years came at a time when he played in the National League.
The prime third base target of the offseason with be Moustakas. The Moose has emerged as a premier power threat this season as he’s hitting .273/.315/.531 with 36 home runs. He will be expensive but not as expensive as one may think. With an fWAR of 2.2, Moustakas is somewhat suspect with his glove. He has -7 defensive runs saved and an ultimate zone rating of -2.8. That paired with the slight inability to get on base consistently will lessen his value. I expect him to get an Edwin Encarnacion-like contract (3 years/$60 million + option) this winter. As we know, that is well out of the Pirates’ price range.
Option three: Make a trade
It is impossible to predict MLB trades so I’m not even going to try. That being said, the Pirates do possess some young talent that may hold value. Young players like Frazier, Moroff, Osuna, Trevor Williams, Chad Kuhl, and Steven Brault could all be expendable. A package holding one or two of those players paired with a prospect or two could haul a decent return.
Once again, price is the biggest issue. Finding a match under the Pirates’ budget may be difficult. Their best chance may be swapping one of their young, controllable, MLB ready pitchers listed above for a young, controllable, MLB ready third baseman. Whether that would be an upgrade or not is a valid concern.
Of the options listed above, I would expect the Pittsburgh Pirates to stand pat.
Other than Moustakas, who is too expensive, no other free agent is a major upgrade. A trade is possible, sure, but what pieces do the Pirates realistically hold to be able to trade for a major upgrade?
The Pirates will need a stroke of luck. They need Kang back. The sad ironic truth is that Kang would have flourished this season. With juiced baseballs, he could’ve easily hit 40 home runs.
If Kang is unable to return, the Pittsburgh Pirates will be in a real bind. At that point, they will most likely cross their fingers and hope someone emerges…
…kind of like they did this year.
Image Credit – Daniel Decker Photography