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Pirates

Pirates sign Jung Ho Kang to one-year contract

Jerry DiPaola
| Thursday, Nov. 8, 2018, 10:12 a.m.
FILE - In this Friday, Sept. 16, 2016, file photo, Pittsburgh Pirates third baseman Jung Ho Kang misses a double hit by Cincinnati Reds' Adam Duvall during the first inning of a baseball game in Cincinnati. The Pirates expect Kang to join the club Friday, Sept. 28, and be active for a season-ending season at Cincinnati in what would be his first major league appearance in two years. (AP Photo/John Minchillo, File)
FILE - In this Friday, Sept. 16, 2016, file photo, Pittsburgh Pirates third baseman Jung Ho Kang misses a double hit by Cincinnati Reds' Adam Duvall during the first inning of a baseball game in Cincinnati. The Pirates expect Kang to join the club Friday, Sept. 28, and be active for a season-ending season at Cincinnati in what would be his first major league appearance in two years. (AP Photo/John Minchillo, File)

Only last week, the Pittsburgh Pirates declined to pick up the option on infielder Jung Ho Kang’s contract.

But that was done for the sole purpose of bringing Kang back to the team under new terms. That happened Thursday when Kang signed a one-year deal with the team.

Kang would have earned $5.5 million in salary if the Pirates had picked up the option, but ESPN reported he’ll receive a $3 million salary in 2019, with $2.5 million in incentives.

News of Kang’s return was not surprising after Pirates general manager Neal Huntington had hinted late in the season that he was impressed with Kang’s behavior following three DUI arrests. He also noted that Kang’s recovery from a wrist injury was progressing on schedule while he spent msot of this season in the minor leagues.

After Kang was reinstated from the MLB Restricted List and Disabled List, he returned to the Pirates in September for the final three-game series of the season. He had two hits in six at-bats against the Cincinnati Reds.

“We appreciate Jung Ho’s hard work to get back to being a productive Major League player, while continuing to handle himself appropriately off the field,” Huntington said Thursday in a statement. “We feel that bringing Jung Ho back in 2019 will make us better as he will have the ability to make a positive impact on our lineup. Competition and options are important to any organization and this signing provides us with both.”

Kang, 31, has played third base and shortstop with the Pirates and during his nine-year career in the Korean Baseball Organization (2006-2014). He signed a four-year deal, including an option, with the Pirates on January 16, 2015.

Bringing Kang back to the team gives the Pirates a right-handed hitting alternative in the infield, especially at third base where left-handed hitting Colin Moran hit .277 with 11 home runs and 58 RBIs in his rookie season.

Kang also is a potential home run threat, which is a missing piece in the Pirates’ lineup, especially with right fielder Gregory Polanco expected to miss the first two or three months of the season after shoulder surgery.

He finished third in the voting for National League Rookie-of-the-Year in 2015 after hitting .287 with 15 home runs and 58 RBI in 126 games. He hit .255 with 21 homers and 62 RBI in 103 games in 2016.

The Pirates’ infield will have a decidedly different look in 2019, with shortstop Jordy Mercer a free agent and second baseman Josh Harrison also off the roster after the team declined the option on his contract.

Jerry DiPaola is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Jerry at jdipaola@tribweb.com or via Twitter @JDiPaola_Trib.

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