Pirates place Jung Ho Kang on restricted list
SARASOTA, Fla. — Pirates president Frank Coonelly said the organization's decision to put Jung Ho Kang on the restricted list "is neither a statement of pessimism or optimism" that the third baseman will be ready to play by opening day.
"It's really a procedural matter to put him on the restricted list at this point," Coonelly said before the Pirates played the Orioles in spring training game Saturday afternoon. "He's beyond the point of the mandatory reporting date of spring training. It provides us with some flexibility."
Kang remains in his native South Korea while issues associated with acquiring a visa to get to the United States are resolved. The delay is a result of an 8-month suspended prison sentence given to Kang on March 3 for fleeing the scene of a DUI incident Dec. 2. The Seoul Central District Court suspended Kang's penalty for two years.
An industry source said Kang is "hopeful" issues with getting visa approval can be resolved next week. Coonelly would not indicate a timetable.
"It's become complicated as a result of the criminal matter," Coonelly said. "So (there's) no further update on that topic, and no firm date by which we know that he can travel to the United States. We're still working cooperatively with Jung Ho, his (agent) and his legal representatives, trying to secure the visa to travel into the States."
Opening day for the Pirates is April 3 in Boston. The Pirates are operating as if veteran David Freese is the starting third baseman in Kang's absence. Manager Clint Hurdle declined to offer a "drop-dead" date for Kang to report in order to be on the opening day roster.
"It's a hypothetical situation, so I just wait and be like everybody else and wait and see how this all plays itself out," Hurdle said. "We haven't seen the man. I know he's working hard. How hard he can work over there to prepare for a date that we don't even know is going to happen?
"I'm with the men we have here. We've got men here that we are working on and planning on walking into the season with. If something changes on his end, we will change as well."
The 29-year-old Kang, who frequently batted in the cleanup spot, had 21 home runs last season in just 370 plate appearances. Only Andrew McCutchen (24) and Gregory Polanco (22) had more home runs for the Pirates last season.
His DUI arrest was his third in Korea. Coonelly on Saturday reiterated his position expressed that the organization would withhold judgment on any discipline it might or might not levy on Kang.
"Still no conclusions," Coonelly said. "We still want to sit down and talk with Jung Ho, face-to-face, before making any determinations on discipline."
Placing a player on the restricted list is not, in itself, a punitive measure. Coonelly said those on the list during the regular season are not paid (no players collect salary during spring training).
Putting Kang on the restricted list could signal the Pirates are preparing to add a veteran player. It cleared a roster spot — players on the restricted list do not count on either the 25- or 40-man rosters — and the Pirates do not have a true fourth outfielder on their roster.
Chris Adamski is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org or via Twitter @C_AdamskiTrib.