Pirates decline 2019 options on Josh Harrison, Jung Ho Kang
Before the Pittsburgh Pirates can begin retooling their roster for 2019, they needed to discard some parts that once were useful but now cost too much.
The Pirates officially declined to pick up the 2019 options on the contracts of infielders Josh Harrison and Jung Ho Kang on Wednesday, saving $16 million in salary. Both players immediately became free agents.
The Pirates could decide to re-sign Kang, who would have been due $5.5 million, but all that’s left of the Harrison story is where he will play next season.
Harrison, who was due $10.5 million, had been a member of the team since coming over in a trade-deadline deal with the Chicago Cubs in 2009.
He was a utility player through most of his Pirates career, playing seven of the 10 positions, including designated hitter in American League parks in 2012 and ’13. All but pitcher, catcher, first base and center field, which was the domain of his good buddy, Andrew McCutchen, for most of Harrison’s time in Pittsburgh. He spent most of last season as the team’s starting second baseman.
Harrison was not happy when McCutchen and pitcher Gerrit Cole were traded during the 2018 offseason. He spoke his mind publicly before training camp, questioning the direction of Pirates management and saying he would prefer to be traded if the front office wasn’t serious about building a contending team.
Harrison was the Pirates’ most tenured player, but it’s time to move on now with the emergence of Adam Frazier and young infielders Kevin Kramer and Kevin Newman nearly ready for the majors.
Harrison, 31, played in 97 games last season, but only seven in September while dealing with a lingering hamstring injury. He hit .250 with eight home runs and 37 RBIs.
He hit .277 in eight seasons in Pittsburgh, with 52 home runs and 269 RBIs. He had his best home run season in 2017 (16) and a career-high in RBIs in 2016 (590). He will attract interest in free agency.
“They made the place better,” manager Clint Hurdle said when Harrison and shortstop Jordy Mercer, also a free agent, played their final game at PNC Park on Sept. 23. “There’ll be a day when you walk out, for every one of us. And one of the things you want to hold onto and strive for while you’re here is to make it better than when you came in. They both made it better than when they came in.”
Hurdle replaced both men in the middle of the eighth inning so they could trot off the field and say goodbye to the cheering fans.
“It was kind of cool for me and him to see it through with each other,” Harrison said at the time.
Kang’s story could develop on a different course.
Near the end of the season, Pirates general manager Neal Huntington was asked about Kang’s future and didn’t close the door on a return to Pittsburgh.
“Still to be determined. We’re still working through exactly where he fits,” he said. A week earlier, he told MLB.com, “We like the player. We like the upside. He’s worked hard. He’s done everything that he can do, and he’s still continuing to keep the foot on the gas.”
The Pirates are in the process of determining where Kang might fit in the major-league free agency market and, possibly, with the team. He could be a right-handed hitting alternative to Colin Moran at third base. Kang hit 36 home runs and drove in 120 runs while playing in 229 games for the Pirates in 2015 and ’16.
Kang, who will turn 32 at the outset of next season, missed the entire 2017 season after his work visa was revoked when he was charged with a third DUI in his native South Korea. He received a new work visa in April and spent part of the 2018 season with the Pirates’ minor-league clubs in Bradenton, Fla., and Indianapolis. In 39 at-bats with Indianapolis, he hit .235 with no home runs and five RBIs.