(Hart in his seaman/sailor/navigator uni with John Buck; AP Photo/Tony Gutierrez)
Back in October, I was all for the Brewers re-signing first baseman / outfielder / probable part-time DH Corey Hart to a new contract, for at least one year. I went so far as to call Hart “True Blue Brew Crew.” At the time I felt Corey Hart, though often injured, deserved a new contract with the Brewers and would help the team re-discover its offensive prowess in 2014. As we all know, Hart signed with the Seattle Mariners for more money than the Brewers were willing to give him.
This week reports have surfaced that Hart has revealed that not only was money a driving factor in his decision to head to the American League team in the Pacific Northwest, but he also felt somewhat snubbed by his former teammates in that they failed to make entreaties to him to stick around in Milwaukee. “I think it would have made the process a little harder, if those guys would have reached out and tried to persuade me. But these guys were persuading me enough, so that’s why I came here,” Hart told reporters, including Todd Rosiak of the Journal Sentinel.
Don’t get me wrong, I don’t blame Hart for taking more money in Seattle. I don’t blame him for venting, as I have no way of knowing if his sentiments were genuine or what the protocol is for ex-teammates calling free agents and attempting to persuade their return. I drafted Hart in the late rounds of my fantasy league, too, with the hope that he can be a useful bat. I still like Corey Hart and I don’t want to over-react to these comments.
However, as a Brewers fan, I don’t want to hear any more of this kind of talk from Hart from here on out. They paid him $10MM in 2013 to rehab his injuries, and they’ve paid him over $35MM to date in his career. He played well for the Brewers, for the most part, when he was able to take the field. But it comes off as sour grapes that Hart is dragging his former teammates into his current contractual status with another team. Just be glad you’re with the Mariners and move on, Hart.
If there’s a precedent for teammates being enlisted to persuade free agents to return, it’s one that’s not firm or well known. Sure, sometimes you hear about a player calling a free agent and doing a little recruiting job, but it’s not usually something that’s heavily publicized or widespread. To me, it’s not the jobs of the players or even the coaches, who reportedly did urge Hart to stay, to interfere with whatever the free agent player or the team may have going on in contract matters. The only way Hart’s ex-teammates would be “at fault” in any of this would be if GM Doug Melvin had asked a player to call and recruit Hart and that player had refused.
Of course this whole “controversy” is influenced by past events. Hart went to an arbitration hearing and beat the Brewers in that venue back in 2010, the first salary arbitration hearing in 12 years for Milwaukee. That didn’t go over well with the ticket-buying public. He’s had his issues with the fan base over the years, some of the criticism legitimate, some not.
Perhaps most weighty is the fact that late in the 2013 season in which he was unable to play at all, Hart said he’d be “very generous” to re-sign in Milwaukee after several injury-plagued seasons. Maybe he really believed that at the time. Fair or not, that led many in the fan base to think it was a cinch that Hart would be back to help a stumbling Brewers team in 2014 and on a very team-friendly deal.
His recent comments suggest that Hart both gets it and doesn’t. On Wednesday he reportedly said “They’ve got a high payroll, anyway,” but also said “It was one of those things where I would have liked to stay if it was close, but in the long run it wasn’t that close.” So was it about the money or not?
It’s a complicated issue, it’s emotional, but it’s also prickly, and probably not advisable to squawk to the media too much.
The Mariners guaranteed Hart $6MM for 2014, with up to $7MM possible in incentives, while the Brewers offered $4MM guaranteed with $2.5MM in incentives. So the money factor was significant, as Hart says, and he can’t be blamed for taking the money, especially when it’s unclear how many years he has left in the big leagues.
I understand getting some things “off your chest.” The Mariners’ matchup with Milwaukee Wednesday provided Hart with an opportunity to speak on the issue, and I’m sure he was prodded a bit by reporters. But as Adam McCalvy says on Brewers Beat, “Hart suggested that the Brewers could have made a much stronger emotional push to keep him.”
My question is: would that emotional plea have resulted in a deal with Hart and the Brewers? My guess is no. I’m sure that would have made Hart feel warm and fuzzy inside, but in the end it was a wise business decision for him to reunite with Jack Zduriencik out in Seattle. He’ll be able to DH some, and that will lead to less wear and tear on his body.
Back in December when he signed with Seattle, both Melvin and Hart said there were “no hard feelings” about his deal with the Mariners. That’s often lip service, and I don’t begrudge Hart his own point of view on how his dissolution from the Brewers took place. Still, it’s funny how much I really haven’t thought of Hart’s absence much this spring. There haven’t been many, if any, stories about what a huge vacancy has been left by Hart’s departure to Seattle. Maybe that’s why his feelings are a little bit hurt, because the Brewers moved on effectively without him.
Now that we’ve all hashed this out a little bit more, though, Hart would be wise to start his American League career by letting sleeping dogs lie and playing ball in Seattle without too many salty regrets.