Off-season Targets: Jung-Ho Kang

With so many players in the last year of their deals and Mike Rizzo being a GM that likes to think more about the year after next than simply next year this could be an interesting off-season for the Nationals. With the potential for it to go in so many directions and for it to be quite unpredictable I am going to highlight a few of the players the Nats could go after starting with an international free agent who is going to be posted this November. Jung-Ho Kang is a shortstop by trade and has won the KBO equivalent of the gold glove but there are questions about both his bat and his glove, and how they translate to the major leagues.

Those questions exist about every international free agent or hot prospect for that matter. Until a player does it at the major league level there are going to be questions. There were questions about Yu Darvish, Masahiro Tanaka, Yoenis Cespedes, Yasiel Puig, and Jose Abreu as well and so far they have all had success in the major leagues, but that doesn’t mean the questions are unfounded. Jung-Ho Kang could be a flop, and there isn’t as much track record for KBO hitters as there is for Cuban hitters or Japanese pitchers. Teams should be wary, but they should also recognize this as a way to get talent that doesn’t cost prospects with a larger upside reward than regular free agency.

Despite being only one year younger than Asdrubal Cabrera there is the potential for greatness for Kang whereas what Cabrera is is known and he is going to be right around a league average second baseman from the left and right side of the plate. Cabrera is also becoming a free agent at the right time with the Dodgers, Yankees, and Tigers all in the market for a shortstop. All three of those teams could be in the market for Kang or could want to go the safer route with a domestic free agent.

While upside does offer some advantage so does certainty and that is what domestic free agents offer. While Cabrera, Lowrie, and Drew won’t provide anything spectacular the downside is far less than with Kang. The recent success of international free agents has to mean something, and it is a way to add talent that the Nationals haven’t used much. Their biggest international free agent to this point is Yunesky Maya and that may have them a little gun shy on any others and why they haven’t made any serious bids.

With the Nats needing a second baseman for this season and possibly a shortstop for after 2015 if Desmond departs via free agency Kang makes a lot of sense. With 38 homers last season in the KBO and an OBP over .400 Kang fits in well with a Nats line-up full of patient 20 homer bats. That type of power from a middle infielder is elite and if Kang can even hit for half that much power in the majors then he is going to be quite a threat. Having him in hand and at second also give the Nats another advantage when it comes to finding their replacement shortstop. If the doubts are right and Kang can’t play short in the majors then the Nats will get to see first hand, and at least they’ll have upgraded one of their middle infield positions before having to start the search for the shortstop of the future.

As far as what Kang can do on the field why don’t you look for yourself. Here is a YouTube highlight package that comes close to rivaling Cespedes’ that we saw a couple seasons ago.

And if it doesn’t workout for the best for the Nationals then…

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