Yankees Free Agent Targets: Jung-Ho Kang
By Matt Mirro
The Yankees need a shortstop. That much we know. Derek Jeter is gone and as sad as that is business is business and the show must go on. So where do the Yankees turn to replace the legend? Stephen Drew or Jed Lowrie? Asdrubal Cabrera or Hanley Ramirez? While all have their strengths and weaknesses there’s another player who may be the most enticing of them all.
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Jung-Ho Kang is a 27-year old shortstop coming out of the Korean Baseball Organization (KBO). In 2014, Kang batted .354 with 39 home runs and 115 RBI. He previously won the the KBO’s equivalent to the Gold Glove although there are questions about his defense. Being young, athletic and obviously talented Kang would appear to be the perfect fit for the Yankees once he is posted later this month. On the surface it may be an obvious fit there are some major unknowns surrounding him.
The KBO is a notorious hitter’s league. Pitchers are punching bags over there. Take Felix Pie for example (Yes, that Felix Pie. The former Baltimore Oriole). In 2014 he played for Korea’s Hanwha Eagles, batted for a .326 average, hit 17 home runs and drove in 92 runs. That’s far better than his career .246 average, 17 total home runs (Over 6 years!) and 99 lifetime RBI. Yeah, that tells you quite a bit. But that’s not fair at all to Kang who may a real talent and shouldn’t be judged entirely by the league’s reputation. But, the KBO is a hitter’s dream and that needs to be taken into account.
Only one player has ever made a successful transition from the KBO to the Major League Baseball. That would be Hyun-jin Ryu, the pitcher who has been a great number three starter for the Los Angeles Dodgers since coming over in 2013. No position player has ever made that jump. He has a wacky swing with a leg kick that takes far too long to land on the ground. It could cause holes in his swing here in the big leagues where the pitchers throw harder and boast far better breaking stuff. The Yankees, and other teams who chose to pursue Kang, will have to determine whether this will be too big of a problem to take a risk on.
Kang has a future ahead of him in Major League Baseball whether it is with the Yankees or elsewhere. The KBO still works under the old posting season (Think the Yu Darvish and Daisuke Matsuzaka posting system.) and the Yankees will have to win the bid with his old team, the Nexen Heroes, in order to even negotiate with him.
Will they be willing to wait that long to take a chance at maybe signing Kang or just go ahead and sign a proven shortstop. Is Kang worth the risk? That’s up to the Brian Cashman and the rest of the front office to decide.
Personally, I’m intrigued by the possibility of having an unknown rookie looking to make his name in the bigs. Someone with a future instead of a past to take over for Jeter is an interesting notion. What his future holds will be a major storyline for the 2014 season. Will the Yankees jump in and sign the hopeful star? We’ll find out soon.