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Back when Corey Hart was going to arbitration hearings with the Milwaukee Brewers and the perception was that he was greedy and antagonistic toward the franchise, I never thought I’d say this: Bowling Green, Kentucky native Corey Hart is True Blue Brew Crew. He’s the franchise’s longest-tenured player at this point, drafted in 2000 as a first baseman. In the post-Fielder and post-Braun Lied eras, Corey Hart is a fond sight for sore eyes in turbulent times. The Cardinals are in the World Series again, and when the shit hits the fan (you better be ready!) you look to your friends and loved ones for support. Hart wants to stick around, so he says, and I think the Brewers should make that happen as long as Hart can be signed to a reasonable contract. That reasonable contract would be a platform that allows Hart to prove he’s healthy, pays him good compensation for performance marks accomplished but doesn’t leave the organization hamstrung in terms of needing to patch other holes. After all, the Brewers paid Hart $10MM this season to recover and rebound from multiple knee surgeries.
As the ‘free agent profile’ recently written by Steve Adams of MLBTR notes, using uncanny stats like ISO (Isolated Power) and wRC+ (Weighted Runs Created Plus), Hart has real power. Not the ‘pop’ you sometimes read about, but actual true muscled thump. He’s a lanky guy that never quite filled out the way some of us thought he would, but he has a home run swing that drives the ball far and deep when it connects. The Brewers missed Hart in 2013, scoring over 100 fewer runs (776 in 2012, 640 in 2013). They hit only 157 home runs this year compared to last year’s 202. Corey Hart’s 30 bombs from last year make up 2/3 of that gap.
In many respects, Hart’s difficulty with staying on the field has benefitted the Brewers, at least for the coming season. Since he was unable to play this year, there’s no talk about a potential ‘qualifying offer’, which would be a staggering $14MM+. If he had played up to his usual productive standards this year, Brewers fans would have to sit idly by while some other team signed Hart to a multi-year deal, because I don’t see the Brewers signing Hart long-term right now or possibly ever, given their financial situation. The list of free-agent first basemen is not particularly glowing or affordable: Yuni B (joking), Paul Konerko, James Loney, Casey McGehee (half-joking), Kendrys Morales, Justin Morneau, Mike Napoli, Carlos Pena, Mark Reynolds, Kevin Youkilis, etc. There are some intriguing names but they’re not as intriguing when one thinks about the money some of those guys will make and the multi-year commitments they may demand. The Brewers also have a completely underwhelming array of first base options in house. Mat Gamel’s gone to Wrigleyville and so we’re left with Fat Juan Francisco, who’s fine at first base as long as you’re OK with losing games. Jonathan Lucroy can play some first base but isn’t he more of a catcher? Can we stick Braun at first…who knows? Will Hunter Morris make it to the majors? It’s all as clear as a muddy lake.
MLBTR says that Hart graded out as a poor defender at first base in his one true season there (2012), but I was pretty impressed by the plays Hart was able to make there. He’s not a great first baseman, but he hadn’t played there in forever when he took the job. He’s tall and able to stretch to reach throws that other players can’t. He seemed pretty nimble over there and that assessment is coming from a guy who regularly gagged at the way Hart played right field.
I’m not saying Corey Hart doesn’t have his flaws. He strikes out too much, his swing has all kinds of holes in it and he’s dealt with A LOT of injury issues that have caused him to miss really important chunks of important seasons for the Milwaukee Brewers. But considering the fog of uncertainty that currently hangs over first base for the Brew Crew, and taking into account not only what Hart’s presence means for his teammates and the fans but also the Milwaukee community at large, bringing back Hart for one more go of it seems like the right thing to do. Hart debuted nearly 10 years ago for the Brewers, as a pinch hitter in a 5-3 loss to the Dodgers at Miller Park on Tuesday, May 25, 2004. He’s been through the battles so far in a very eventful and formative time for the Brewers franchise. J.J. Hardy is gone. Prince is gone. Rickie Weeks may be heading out the door soon. I say let’s keep Corey Hart around for one more year; he can help this team. If the Brewers end up out of the race yet again, he can be traded. At worst, he gets injured again or doesn’t perform, and in that case, well, it was only a one-year incentive-laden make-good contract, anyway. Invest in Hart, Doug. He’d be a nice chip to have when the stakes are rising.