By Jason Shetler
It was revealed late Thursday night that Jung-Ho Kang will be out 6-8 months after having surgery on both his torn MCL and fractured tibia. The Pirates for the remainder of the season will have Aramis Ramirez and Josh Harrison as options to replace him. Ramirez is expected to retire at the end of the season while Harrison will be back in the starting lineup next year at third base. Perhaps the biggest thing to consider is how Kang’s injury could determine whether or not Neil Walker returns to the Pirates in 2016.
Walker came off a career year in 2014, and was given $8 million in arbitration for this season. The 30-year-old switch-hitter isn’t having as good a season as last year, but has still put up decent numbers with a .331 on base percentage along with a .751 OPS. His 13 home runs lead all National League second baseman while his 30 doubles are second most behind only Daniel Murphy of the New York Mets. Walker enters this offseason in his final year of being arbitration eligible. It’ll certainly be a tougher decision now for the Pirates with the injury to Kang. Walker’s salary projection is likely to hover around $10 million, and while it could be too much on a player who’s defense is on a decline, his offensive numbers are still very much above league average for the second base position. The Pirates will need to find a way to get production for next season in Kang’s absence. Even if that means bringing back Walker for one last time.