Pirates GM Neal Huntington Addresses the Media on Jung Ho Kang

PITTSBURGH — Pirates general manager Neal Huntington addressed the assembled Pittsburgh media on Friday in regards to the return to the United States of third baseman Jung Ho Kang.

The following is an unedited transcript of his comments. The questions have been paraphrased. Video of the entire briefing is available below.

On Jung Ho Kang’s status:

“He has a lot of work to do. He’s paid a heavy price for the things he’s done. He’s working to get back and he’s grateful for this opportunity not only from the Pirates but from the fans and the Pirates family for their support and the United States government for the opportunity. He’s got a lot of work to do to get back to where he was as a player. More importantly, he’s got a lot of work to do to continue grow as a person. He’s on the right track.”

Is there a timeframe for Kang’s return to Pittsburgh?

“Most of that will be decided once we get him to Bradenton and once we have the opportunity to assess where he is. He has been working out this winter. He spent most of the winter in the Santiago region in the Dominican Republic. He’s been working out. He hasn’t faced live competition. A lot of that will be determined once we get our hands on him and get the assessment and get a feel for where he is physically.”

Was this a surprise?

“There was always the chance. Obviously, the information we had initially was more positive. The information we had over the last several months was much more pessimistic. But there was always the chance. We became aware that he had put this round of attempts to get the waiver in place and it became official and real once he landed on the ground in the United States and got through immigration. He’s ready to go through the next step in his process and eventually join our organization down in Bradenton.”

Any concerns with how this will be perceived by fans?

“Our concern is to do everything we can, as long as someone is a Pirate, to help them be the best person they can be off the field, out of their profession, and that’s our focus with him. Our focus is helping Jung Ho continue to take the right steps, continue to do the right things, continue to make the right decisions off the field to put himself in a position to do other things. That’s the priority. Once we get there, and we’re at a comfort level there based on the approval of the waiver, based upon the things that we’ve heard at this point in time, the next step becomes getting him back to where he was as a player. That isn’t our focus. Our focus is on helping him and every Pirate and every person that’s a member of the Pirates organization be the best person that they can be as long as they want help and as long as they’re willing to go down that direction. We have every indication, and his statement is clear, that he is remorseful. His statement is clear that he accepts that this behavior is not going to be tolerable again and he does not want to let people down again.”

Will there be any behavioral conditions placed upon him?

“He has a treatment program that I’m not at liberty to discuss that the union and Major League Baseball put in place. That’s their treatment program. Obviously, the expectations from us continue to be high. This is our chance to help. This is his second opportunity with us. This is his second chance with us. He knows that there is a lot at stake.”

So, no conditions beyond the union treatment?

“The treatment plan and the requirements of the treatment plan are very strong, and he’s going to do everything and we’re going to do everything in our power to make sure we help him abide by those requirements. A big part of it just comes back to good decisions, being the person that he’s working to become off the field and put himself back in a position to get on the baseball field. That first part has to be taken care of.”

Any concerns about the response in the clubhouse?

“One, we’re a long ways away from him coming back to the major leagues and there is an if part of that statement. Two, we’re currently carrying 13 pitchers and 12 position players. The idea, despite essentially becoming an industry norm, is that we probably will rebalance at some point in time.

“We are pleased with what Colin Moran has done in the first month of his rookie season at the Major League level. David Freese continues to show that he’s a quality Major League player. Sean Rodriguez continues to show that he’s an incredible asset defensively anywhere you want to put him, and what Adam Frazier has shown his teammates in the past and some of them think he’s going to win batting championships.

“So, we’re a long ways away from anybody taking anyone’s job, and we are pleased with the guys we have in house right now. Kang is going to have to do a lot more if he gets back to that. If he takes care of what he needs to off the field and can get back to that level, we’ll have an interesting decision to make, and again, I need to make clear, we are very comfortable with Colin Moran and David Freese as our options right now.”

Were the Pirates involved at all in this legal process?

“We were more in a supporting role. Here to help. Here to provide information. Here to provide guidance. Kang, his representation, both legal and agents, as Kang thanked in his statement, they carried the majority of the load.”

Steps for baseball rehab?

“So much if it just depends on what we find out this week, where he is physical and what his reaction times are and what his conditioning level, first and foremost, and his baseball conditioning on top of that. We have a lot of work to do to get him Major League competition ready. All his teammates have gone through a 45-day program and they came in in really good shape. We don’t know where he is conditioning-wise. He’s been working out, so there’s some level, but we have to work very hard to get with him through the equivalent of a Spring Training to get him ready to compete at the Major League level and that is going to take time.”

What was he doing in the Dominican Republic?

“Just the standard offseason: running, lifting, ground balls, coach batting practice, but very limited competition since he was in the Dominican Winter League.”

Do you have to temper expectations?

“I think it’s more about being realistic. We certainly hope that we get the Kang that was very helpful to us and was a very good player, but we also need to be realistic. He’s paid a heavy price. He’s been a year-plus away from the game. He’s been a year-plus from taking any money, and while we’re glad to have him back and we’re going to do whatever we can off the field to be able to help him on the field, there is a lot of work to be done.”

Will he work at other positions?

“We’ll see where he is this week, but that is the expectation, as we’ve done with a lot of our guys and as he did the first time through. I would anticipate this first work will be at third base. That’s the position that he’s most comfortable with. He’s had a ton of work in his life at shortstop, but most importantly, we need to see where he is, we need to get him back on track to get him back to the equivalent of a Major League Spring Training so that he’s able to compete at the highest level.”

When will he report to Bradenton?

“The tentative plan is that he’ll be headed down there and we’ll be able to get our hands on him Monday. He may be arriving earlier, but our first real work day will be Monday.”

His contract status is unchanged, correct?


How did you evaluate his time in winter ball?

“He showed that he hand’t played competitively in a year. This is a hard game. This is the elite of the elite. He showed that he’d been away from the game for a year. In batting practice, someone is throwing 65 MPH right down the middle. It’s very different than when they start to throw breaking balls, when the start to change speeds, when they start to throw much harder and much better.

“We’re pleased that he’s back. We’re going to work with him to make sure that he’s where he needs to be off the field to help him get back to wherever he’s going to be able to be on the field. We’re optimistic, but we also need to be realistic.”

How long can he stay on the restricted list?

“At this point, the rules allow us to keep him on the restricted list as long as he’s going through a conditioning period, until he gets to a point in time where we feel he’s ready to compete at the highest level.

“You look at a Major League Spring Training, or something short of that, that will be determined by where he starts and how quickly he progresses. That is essentially to be determined. It’s important to recognize that Spring Training is the length of Spring Training for a reason. It takes those guys a pretty good length of time to be ready to compete at the highest level and they’re coming in at a conditioning level that’s at Point A. We need to find out Kang’s conditioning level.”

What if he never gets ready for MLB action this year?

“That’s a bridge we’ll cross when we get to it. Our hope is that we’re going to be able to get him back to where he can help us win at the Major League level, whether it’s in a role in some form or fashion, he can help us win games. If we get to that point where it doesn’t look like it is real, then we’ll have some decisions to make. He is option-able, but our hope is that within that Spring Training time period, well be able to get him back to a point in time where he can help us, as a Major League club, win games.”

Is discipline from MLB possible?

“From what we understand, MLB will not discipline further in this matter and we as a club have chosen not to discipline him further in this matter. I come back to, he’s already lost a year plus six, almost seven months of Major League service, Major League salary, Major League time and now he has a long road to work back to where hopefully can get his physical abilities back to where they were before the essential suspension. He wasn’t suspended. He couldn’t get into the country, he couldn’t report for work, but essentially he’s been suspended for over a year-plus and has paid a heavy price.”

“We need him to continue to make good decisions and we need to continue to help him make good decisions to put him in a position to be the best person he can as well as seeing if we can get him back to being a real good player again.”

Does he have to re-gain the trust of the organization?

“I think he acknowledges that he’s let people down and he acknowledges that he has work to do. He has a lot of trust to regain, not just from management, but from the industry and teammates and fans, the people that are standing around this table right now. Everything we have is that he is committed to doing that and going about it the right way.”