Posted on March 3, 2017, by Bryan Zarpentine
The Pittsburgh Pirates have received some good news with regard to the legal troubles of infielder Jung Ho Kang. On Thursday, a South Korean court sentenced Kang to an eight-month prison sentence. However, the sentence has been suspended for two years, which is akin to being on probation. This will allow Kang to avoid prison time as long as he stays out of legal trouble for the next two years. It will also allow Kang to leave Korea and report to spring training with the Pirates, giving him a month to prepare himself for opening day.
The sentence stems from an incident in December in which Kang was driving under the influence and then fled the scene of an accident after his car crashed into a guardrail. It was his third DUI arrest since 2009, with the first two coming prior to him signing with the Pirates in 2015.
Kang pled guilty to the DUI charges and was contrite when speaking with reporters afterward. “I am sorry, and I am repenting a lot,” Kang said.
Last month, Kang agreed to enter an alcohol treatment program following a recommendation by an MLB Treatment Board. His decision to seek treatment could help Kang receive leniency with regard to any punishment handed down by MLB or the Pirates.
Friday morning, Pirates president Frank Coonelly released the following statement regarding Kang:
“Now that Jung Ho’s legal case in Korea has concluded, we will continue to work with him and his representatives in an effort to secure his work visa so that he may resume his career as a member of the Pittsburgh Pirates. We look forward to meeting with Jung Ho as soon as he is able to travel to the United States and having a serious discussion with him on this issue and how he has and will change those behaviors that led to the very serious punishment that has been levied against him in Korea.
“We will withhold judgment on what Club discipline, if any, is appropriate until we have had an opportunity to have that discussion. We will also withhold from further comment until we have an opportunity to meet with Jung Ho. Regardless of our decision on the disciplinary issue, we will do everything that we can as an organization to assist Jung Ho as he works to change his behavior and grow into the man that we know he can be.”
Coonelly’s statement mentions that punishment from the team is possible, but not until the club can speak with Kang personally. It’s unclear when exactly Kang will be able to travel the United States and join the Pirates in camp. It’s been previously reported that visa issues are possible for Kang because of his most recent DUI arrest. Of course, Kang has had no difficulty receiving a work visa the past two years, even with two previous DUI arrests on his record.
Aside from what punishment he may face from his club or the league, the next question with Kang is how quickly he can get himself ready for the season. He will not play with the Korean team during the WBC, as he was removed from the roster following the arrest. However, by the time he gets to camp and gets settled, Kang will have just a few weeks before opening day.
On the field, the Pirates are counting on Kang to replicate the 21 home runs and .867 OPS he produced for them last season. David Freese is expected to be Kang’s primary replacement at third base if he misses time at the start of the season or is forced to serve a suspension at some point. While Kang may have received a favorable result in legal proceedings on Thursday, questions about his 2017 season with the Pirates remain.