Should the St. Louis Cardinals Sign the Next Jung Ho Kang?


Korean Slugger Could Play First Base for the St. Louis Cardinals

A new frontier beckons for the St. Louis Cardinals and the rest of the baseball world. This morning, Craig Calcaterra reported that the Nexen Heroes and the Korean Baseball Organization are posting slugging first baseman Byung-ho Park.

A year ago, I would have been tepid on any player coming out of Korea. Today? I’m a little warmer. At

around this time last year, the Pittsburgh Pirates signed Jung Ho Kang to a 4-year, $11 million deal in January to the collective shrug of everyone else in baseball. Heck, even Pirates general manager Neal Huntington expected Kang to be a complementary player.

But then Kang went off after the All-Star break, batting .310 with a .913 OPS, 11 homers and 29 RBI. He was the most important Pirate not named McCutcheon down the stretch, until this happened. Yes, Cubbies Crib, that was a dirty slide — and so was Chase Utley‘s.

Park was a teammate of Kang’s at Nexen, where Park was the better hitter. Over the last two seasons, in fact, the 29-year-old has hit 102 homers, including 52 in 2014, the season Kang hit 40.

According to Calcaterra’s report, Park will be posted on November 2 and the bidding will be open for four days. The winning bidder will then be subject to Nexen’s approval, and only then will it have 30 days to work out a deal with Park.

Even at that point there are no guarantees. Last December, for instance, the San Diego Padres put in the winning bid for Kim Kwang-Hyun, a then 26-year-old lefthander who was considered South Korea’s best pitcher. The Friars couldn’t get the dead done, and Kim returned to the KBO.

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  • Thanks to Kang’s success with the Pirates, Park won’t come nearly as cheaply as the former. And as we all know, that makes the St. Louis Cardinals an unlikely suitor.

    Remember in the early aughts? While other Major League teams were raiding the Nippon Professional Baseball league of the likes of Hideki Matsui (New York Yankees World Series hero), Ichiro Suzuki (Seattle Mariners batting champ) and Kazuhiro Sasaki (Seattle Mariners closer) and Shigetoshi Hasegawa (Los Angeles Angels bullpen staple), the Cardinals signed punch-and-judy outfielder So Taguchi.

    But you never know.

    What we do know is that the KBO is relatively young (founded in 1982), hitter-friendly league, which brings into question any gaudy offensive numbers. Translation: Park will probably not be hitting 50 bombs for whichever big league team signs him.

    For one thing, there’s Mokdong Baseball Stadium, where Park played his home games. It is, ahem, cozy:

    Left Field – 322 ft.
    Left-Center – 371 ft.
    Center Field – 387 ft.
    Right-Center – 371 ft.
    Right Field – 322 ft.
    Outfield Wall Height – 7 ft.

    Heck, even Taguchi could have had a 20-homer season in that bandbox.

    Then there’s the pitching. Yes, KBO alum Hyun-Jin Ryu has had some success with the Los Angeles

    Pittsburgh Pirates third baseman Jung Ho Kang just made Korean baseball players a tad more expensive for everyone else. Thanks a lot. Credit: Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

    Dodgers, but the oft-injured southpaw has yet to break 200 innings and post and ERA under 3.00. He’s been good when healthy, but not the stud he was in South Korea.

    That said, few other KBO hurlers have come over here and had success. Remember Chan Ho Park? Rangers fans do, ruefully. How about Byung-Hyun Kim, Arizona Diamondbacks fans? Too soon?

    The point is, even after Kang’s successful 2015 campaign, Park is no lock to becoming Korea’s version of Cuban slugger Jose Abreu, the 2014 American League Rookie of the Year who’s currently wasting his talents on the Southside of Chicago. The bottom line? South Korea isn’t the kind of talent source Cuba is. Not yet, anyway.

    Then again, if Park comes into the league like Kang did, I may have to change my mind.

    Next: Is Carlos Martinez the St. Louis Cardinals' Latest Ace?

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