Hart will be earning just $6.5 million next season, which seems extremely cheap considering what he could have received in arbitration. The salary will increase to $9 million in 2012 and $10 million in 2013, buying out his first two years of free agency. Some might say that this is Doug Melvin buying high on his own player. They might even throw out the name of Bill Hall. Others may worry that this will prevent the team from re-signing Rickie Weeks. All of these arguments are pretty far from the truth.
FanGraphs has Hart’s dollar value for this season at $8.5 million, and that’s if his season ended today. This seems to confirm my suspicion that Hart would have asked for $8 to $9 million in arbitration this winter, and considering he won his case last year when everyone seemed to think he was going to lose, it’s a very real possibility that the Brewers actually saved a couple million dollars of payroll for next season by inking him to this deal. Jack Moore has a lot more on Hart’s value over at Disciples of Uecker. Melvin isn’t buying high on Hart — if anything, Hart is underselling his own value if he keeps hitting like this. If he falls back to career norms, he’ll be paid like the slightly above average player he is.
Comparing this contract to the Hall situation is comparing apples to oranges. Hart’s pay distribution is relatively even over three years. Hall’s was obscenely back-loaded ($3M to $4.8M to $6.8M to $8.4M, with a $9.25M option) over four years. Just like when comparing Randy Wolf‘s deal to Jeff Suppan‘s, the most recent deal is the better one, if only because it doesn’t include that added risk of a fourth year. Hall’s quick decline upon signing the deal is enough to make anyone trigger shy, but even if Hart reverts back to his 2009 numbers (which were really skewed by a bad September following his return from an appendectomy), he’ll be better than Hall was the year following his extension. When healthy, Hart has proven to be a much better (and consistent) bat than Hall was.
As for this signing preventing a Weeks extension from being done, that already doesn’t seem to be the case — Doug Melvin is saying he’s been talking to Weeks’ agent about a deal. With the Suppan and Hall deals expiring, among others, the Brewers already had a ton of money to play with this offseason. If you trade Prince Fielder this offseason, you’re also probably going to be saving anywhere between $10 and $15 million, depending on how much he would fetch in arbitration and the salaries of the players you’d get back. There’s plenty of cash available to lock up both Hart and Weeks, and move forward with a core of Braun-Gallardo-Hart-Weeks.
The only other possible explanation as to why people wouldn’t like this deal is that they’ve just become so anti-Doug Melvin that they can’t bring themselves to support any move he makes. Is this a steal? No. But it’s not going to be a deal that weighs the club down financially, it’s shorter and cheaper than any deal he would have gotten on the open market, they save money for next year by avoiding arbitration, and it shows that when a player actually wants to stay here (something that seems extremely rare these days) the team will accommodate that player.
The only negative I can think of? It just makes getting good pitching in any potential Prince Fielder deal that much more important. That’s it. Otherwise, this is a pretty solid deal.