By Jared Lankes
It’s been reported that Pirates third baseman Jung-Ho Kang has been denied a work visa to come to the United States. In turn, his status for whether he will be on the Pirates at any point in the 2017 season remains uncertain. While there are obvious off-field repercussions of this, there are plenty on-field consequences that will impact the Pirates as they break camp to go north in less than two weeks.
While the Pirates have probably been preparing for life without Kang for weeks, maybe even months, a lot of things about this ball club change as a result of Kang’s sudden absence. The Pirates will have to adjust to the situation and utilize the players they have in order to fill the gap that Kang leaves.
The most obvious thing that changes is third base. It is clear as day that David Freese will now be the everyday third baseman until further notice. And the Pirates are in a situation where he can play there everyday with no need for a platoon first base role as Josh Bell, being a switch-hitter, is his own platoon partner.
But now that third base changes, an extra bench spot opens up that was occupied by Freese. While John Jaso, Adam Frazier, Chris Stewart, and Freese were guaranteed bench spots, the final spot was up for grabs between basically Phil Gosselin and Alen Hanson, with Jose Osuna having a very outside chance. Now, instead of choosing between the more proven Gosselin with options and the less proven but “use him or lose him” situation regarding Hanson, the team no longer has to choose as both will assumedly on the roster. Osuna will likely not be on the roster despite his amazing spring training.
The other thing this effects is the lineup. Kang was destined to be the cleanup hitter for the Pirates, but that now won’t happen. The Pirates need to re-structure how their lineup will look. The best idea might be to put Gregory Polanco in the cleanup spot, meaning Andrew McCutchen hits third, Polanco fourth and Starling Marte fifth, and I think this will be the look the Pirates employ while Kang isn’t present.
Overall, the Pirates are a different team without Jung-Ho Kang in so many ways. His presence makes more of a difference than people realize. Not having him is going to hurt the club, but the team will simply have to adjust and have the players to do so.