By Jason Shetler
Last offseason, the Pirates surprised many by winning the rights to negotiate with Jung-Ho Kang. A deal was reached in January, as Kang signed a four-year contract worth $11 million, making him the first Korean born player ever to sign with the Pirates. Kang played a vital role in the Pirates contending again in 2015, posting an .816 OPS along with a 4.0 WAR in 126 games before suffering a torn MCL and fractured tibia the final month of the regular season.
With the success Kang was able to have in his first big league season coming over from a different country, should the Pirates try the international route for a starting pitcher this offseason? – Aside from Gerrit Cole and Francisco Liriano, the Pirates rotation does present some question marks. A.J. Burnett won’t be returning while bringing back J.A. Happ isn’t a guarantee. Although Charlie Morton is under contract for next season, he appears to be too inconsistent as far as being a #3 starter. With most starting pitchers being overpaid now more than ever in free agency, I don’t think it would hurt the Pirates to try and bid for an international pitcher who has upside, yet can be signed for a reasonable amount.
The Baltimore Orioles, who are a small market club like the Pirates, signed Wei-Yin Chen out of Taiwan on a three-year deal for just around $11.3 million along with a team option prior to the 2012 season. Not only did Chen make the Orioles rotation better, but he was their most consistent starter during the entire length of his contract. It’s been well-documented that the Pirates have brought in starting pitchers who are reclamation projects. I would expect that trend to continue, especially if it’s for the back end of the rotation, but perhaps being creative again in an effort to land a legitimate international starter to go along with Cole and Liriano is something to consider.