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Weekend wrap: Pirates' options to replace Kang

Jung Ho Kang was denied a U.S. visa and may not play for the Pirates in 2017. Justin K. Aller/Getty Images

CLEARWATER, Fla. -- Veteran third baseman David Freese hit third for the Pittsburgh Pirates in Sunday’s 6-3 road loss to the Philadelphia Phillies, and while that isn’t likely to be the ultimate lineup spot he’s in next week, he should be a regular regardless. That’s because Jung Ho Kang, the power-hitting South Korean infielder who figured to start at third base and has proven his power over two big league seasons, hasn’t behaved properly off the field and was surprisingly denied a work visa by the United States, meaning he’s not likely to play for the Pirates this season. Freese doesn’t suddenly become a must-own in fantasy, but Kang has already been chosen in a bunch of my leagues and for now, it appears a wasted pick.

Oh, it’s certainly possible that at some point this unique situation will get worked out and Kang will be permitted into the U.S., but for now, there isn’t any reason to click on his name in an ESPN standard mixed league. In an National League-only format he’s probably worth a dollar or two just in case something changes -- and Kang was chosen in the NL version of Tout Wars this weekend -- but this is probably the biggest story of the fantasy baseball weekend, that a guy with an exceptional home run rate might see his big league career derailed and perhaps ended due to off-field behavior. Kang hit 21 home runs in 318 at-bats last year, and has 36 with 120 RBIs over 739 at-bats in two seasons.

While Freese has become an annual provider of double-digit home runs but hardly enough to satiate mixed league owners, it’s worth noting that the Pirates do have other options that could matter in deeper formats. The reason I secured Freese in the NL-only LABR was due to a lack of confidence in Kang’s situation but also in young first baseman Josh Bell, who hasn’t shown much power and so far this spring hasn’t shown much of anything; Sunday’s 1-for-5 performance actually raised his batting average from .074 to .094. It would take a lot for Bell to lose the job, but there are several other names to think about.