Posted on February 5, 2017 by Bryan Zarpentine
On the heels of his DUI arrest in December, his third such arrest, Pittsburgh Pirates infielder Jung Ho Kang is being admitted to an alcohol treatment program. The announcement was made by Kang’s agent, Alan Nero, on Saturday. Details about the program or how it may affect Kang’s availability during spring training or the upcoming season are unknown at this time.
An MLB Treatment Board has recommended that Kang enter a rehab program. According to baseball’s Collective Bargaining Agreement, any player arrested for reasons related to drinking and driving must appear in front of a joint treatment board. That player is not required to follow the board’s recommendation. However, adhering to the recommendation can result in leniency should Commissioner Rob Manfred choose to punish Kang.
Following his arrest in December in his native South Korea, Kang’s blood-alcohol level was 0.084, which is higher than the American limit of .08 and much higher than Korea’s limit of .05. To make matters worse, he fled the scene after his car crashed into a guard rail. There are also reports that he initially lied to police in telling them that the passenger in his car at the time was actually driving, not him. However, the car’s black box indicated that Kang was indeed the driver. Officials in South Korea are still considering an indictment for the arrest.
Unfortunately, this DUI is not Kang’s only legal matter at the moment. He’s also being investigated by Chicago police for an alleged sexual assault that occurred last June. According to reports, the alleged victim in that case is not cooperating with police, making it difficult to proceed with the investigation. Kang has not been punished by the Pirates or MLB for either the sexual assault allegations or his most recent DUI, although it is possible he’s punished for either incident at some point. Kang, however, was removed from Korea’s roster for the World Baseball Classic following his DUI.
Kang may also have difficulty getting a work visa for the 2017 season. It’s possible that his DUI could make him ineligible for a visa, although he had previous DUIs in 2009 and 2011, and those did not prevent him from obtaining a work visa each of the past two seasons. The Pirates say they had no knowledge of Kang’s previous DUIs when they first signed him. Kang is two years into a four-year, $11 million deal he signed prior to the 2015 season.
As of right now, the Pirates are expecting Kang to be with the team at the start of spring training later this month, although they acknowledge an issue could present itself. “Still working through the process,” Pirates GM Neal Huntington said earlier this week. “The expectation is that [Kang] will arrive and be ready to go. But until that happens, there’s always a chance that we could hit a snag.”
Kang is pencilled in to be Pittsburgh’s primary third baseman this season. If he’s unavailable, David Freese is a suitable backup, although he may be needed at first base with Josh Bell expected to get a late start this spring following knee surgery earlier this week.
Between the alcohol treatment program, a potential indictment in Korea, possible visa issues, and a possible suspension handed down from MLB, Kang’s status with the Pirates in 2017 is quickly becoming a huge question mark. It may be time for the Pirates to start planning as if Kang will not be with the team at the start of the season, as there are many factors that could hinder his availability.