Now that the Pittsburgh Pirates have officially welcomed Jung Ho Kang back for 2019, what does that mean for the rest of the offseason?
The Pittsburgh Pirates, like every single other team in MLB, have a shopping list in place as they hit the offseason.
Even though the team has crossed off what was likely the first item on its list, will be it be enough to jump-start their lineup?
In and of itself, the answer is a resounding, definite, concrete, no-doubt-about-it “probably not.”
Not only are the expectations for Kang cloudy at best, the team is full of question marks around the rest of the diamond as well.
We know that Gregory Polanco is going to miss significant time, with the threat of additional time needed to find himself again. We are also aware that the club’s middle infield — as currently constructed — is anemic at best (apologies to Adam Frazier..even though he will spend considerable time in right field).
With considerable questions at the corner infield spots even before Kang’s return was set in stone, the charge for a robust run creation attack rests on the shoulders of Corey Dickerson, Starling Marte and Francisco Cervelli...all players with their own set of question marks (though to be fair, theirs are mainly consistency concerns) even if each had above-average seasons by wRC+.
So, while there is talent all around the Pirates’ lineup, Kang’s return is not necessarily a cure-all. And the reasons why have nothing to do with the inherent unpredictability in bringing him back.
If we assume that the team’s budget for free agents/trade acquisitions this year falls in the $15 million range (and that’s being generous), That leaves the club with about $12 million to spend...on a left-handed reliever, a defensive-minded shortstop and then possibly a productive bat.
Can the club meet all of its needs in that tight of a budget? Well, sure, but the margin of error is frighteningly slim. Signing an aging veteran to a short-term contract to build value? Better bet on the right-side of probability. Bringing in a left-handed reliever? Better not over-commit and fall prey to relief pitching volatility.
While the Pittsburgh Pirates certainly set their off-season off on the right foot in bringing Kang back, there is still plenty of work to do, and it will only get harder from here.