Usually, when a team signs an impact free agent during the offseason, it's seen as a high-risk, high-reward type of deal. Just this past offseason, big deals were handed out to the likes of Pablo Sandoval, Hanley Ramirez, Jon Lester and Max Scherzer. For some teams, it has panned out and they are getting a decent return on investment. For others, they're looking for the light at the end of the tunnel.
The process gets even more questionable when dealing with international free agents. The Boston Red Sox signed 19-year-old Yoan Moncada to a reported $31.5 million deal. The Los Angeles Dodgers spent $62.5 million on a six-year deal for 30-year-old Hector Olivera. Neither have played for the big league club yet, with Moncada still a couple years out and Olivera traded to the Atlanta Braves.
All of this uncertainty is why the Pittsburgh Pirates look like geniuses this season. In January, the team signed a four-year, $16 million deal (including the posting fee) with Korean infielder Jung Ho Kang.
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Last season, Kang slashed .365/.459/.739 with 40 home runs across 117 games in the Korean Baseball Organization. Though he hasn't put up quite the same production in his first season in MLB, the 28-year-old rookie has had a huge impact for the Pirates at a fraction of the cost.
With 2014 All-Star Josh Harrison and shortstop Jordy Mercer both missing some time this season, Kang has seen 525 1/3 innings at third base and 423 1/3 innings at shortstop through September 15. His versatility in the infield has made him extremely valuable to the Pirates. Additionally, at the plate, he is slashing .288/.357/.464, good for a total WAR of 4.2 according to Baseball Reference.
All of this has made him a favorite in Pittsburgh, as evidenced by the standing ovation he received as a pinch hitter.
Andrew McCutchen deservedly gets all the praise for being the most valuable player on his team, but Kang has been just as important to a team that sits three-games back of the first-place St. Louis Cardinals.