Ya Gotta Have Hart, Right? But Does Milwaukee Need Him?

By: Big Rygg

Corey Hart apparently has a pretty high opinion of himself.

I mean…he’d have to, right? Hart’s numbers have gone down each of the last two years (the second of which was his first year of arbitration eligibility) after a very good 2007 in which he posted a line of .295/.353/.539 with 24 home runs, 81 RBI, 23 stolen bases, 86 runs scored, all in 505 at-bats. Coupled with the first half of 2008, and a strong voting campaign courtesy of the Milwaukee Brewers, Hart was rewarded with a trip to the All-Star Game in Yankee Stadium.

Certain numbers did go up in 2008 (strikeouts, double plays grounded into) but the full season line ended up as .268/.300/.459 with only 20 home runs, a drop of four. In 107 more at-bats in 2008, Hart somehow walked nine fewer times (36 to 27) than the year before. He also scored 10 fewer runs (76) and didn’t increase his stolen bases at all.

Despite all of that information and more, Hart was still handsomely rewarded in his first year of arbitration to the tune of $3.25 million. It made sense that Hart would receive a big raise. After all, that’s how the arbitration process works; specifically assuring a player gets a significant jump in pay in their first year of eligibility is the unwritten rule.

If one were to go back and look at some of the details, however, one could notice a bad omen. Hart took until the 11th hour to agree to a one-year deal and avoid the dreaded arbitration hearing. It would have been the first for Doug Melvin’s staff since he was handed the general manager reigns of the Brewers.

Instead, a $1.1 million gap was bridged and a deal was struck between Hart and the front office at the middle of the exchanged figures of $3.8 million and $2.7 million. The Brewers’ starting right fielder reported to spring training and got to work. The $3.8 million figure that was submitted by Hart’s team was questionable at the time but eventually both sides decided that meeting halfway made the most sense (as it usually does).

Given that a $1.1 million gap was able to be figured out, it would stand to reason that a smaller difference would be easier to compromise on. That hasn’t been the case at all so far this offseason. The $650 thousand gap between the $4.8 million submitted by Hart and the $4.15 million turned in by the Brewers this year seems relatively simple. Compromise at or near $4.475 million and get on with the business of playing ball.

By all accounts, however, the current expanse appears more Grand Canyon-esque than before.

Teddy Werner is dealing with the Hart impasse as the Brewers’ negotiator. He has said that at some point you just have to start preparing your case because the efforts to get an agreement signed have failed. Werner has gone on record as saying that “barring a drastic change in the landscape, we’re probably going down to Tampa in a few weeks.” Tampa is where the arbitration hearings are being held this year.

Any fan that has heard discussion about arbitration hearings knows that they are rumored to be quite nasty. The player’s representation pumps the him up and attempts to make him look like the next coming of Albert Pujols. The team, conversely, basically points out every flaw, blemish, hiccup, zit, pock mark, scar…heck, they’d probably point out his razor burn if they thought it would get the panel of arbiters to rule in favor of the organization.

And Corey Hart? He has his fair share of issues to point out.

What I want to get to in this article, though, is whether Hart is worth it. I don’t just mean whether he’s worth $4.8 million, though I’ll get to that as well (hint: he’s not). I mean whether or not a guy with good upside that has shown his ability to put it all together in the past is worth this hassle.

Is it worth the team’s time and Hart’s time away from the rest of the team to fly to Tampa, Florida to argue? Does it make sense for the team to tear down a young and still potentially important piece to the franchise’s success?

Hart’s production declined again from 2008 to 2009. There was some time missed for an emergency appendectomy, but Hart really wasn’t ever hitting the ball all that well to begin with. With as poorly as he played, I didn’t even expect the figure that the team submitted to begin with a four. When the team put a $4.125 million number on record, I thought it extremely fair. I also think that the team only went that high after it had gotten the impression that Hart felt he was much closer to $5 million in value than $4 million.

They didn’t want to lose all chance at winning by coming in too low. That’s an unfortunate reality with the structure of the system that the Brewers were trying to head off at the pass. Also with some of Hart’s comparables getting around or above the same $4.8 million amount which Hart’s team submitted, it’s not a stretch to think that even though Hart played as poorly as he did that he’d actually win this case.

His team is playing hardball, plain and simple.

This all goes back to the observation at the beginning of this article. If Hart didn’t think so highly of his supposed talent, assumed ability and potential rebound, there’s no way he would let a relatively palatable gap blow his relationship with the Brewers sky high.

Then again, it was Hart that ripped on Milwaukee fans in the media and then feebily tried to backtrack by clarifying the intent behind his words. His plan could very well be to maximize his earnings during arbitration because he’s just going to bolt town when the time comes anyway. My contention is that if he’s not careful, he might be buying his way out of town before he’s contractually allowed to leave on his own.

I say that plainly because Corey Hart isn’t worth it.

Care for some reasons I feel that way? Alright.

  1. We can get similar production from a veteran for less money which adds to flexibility in payroll and there are plenty of veterans available to choose from.
  2. Hart has trade value and could be moved either alone or as part of a package to bring back a player that the Brewers couldn’t as easily replace with a veteran free agent or from within. Something like a starting pitcher leaps to mind.
  3. There are a couple of good outfield prospects in our system that might be ready to break into the majors. With an available spot on the 25-man roster, they might get that opportunity sooner thereby contributing to the success of the parent club sooner.

The bottom line in this situation is that unless Hart rebounds in a big way in terms of production, he isn’t worth the money that he’s going to make next year or in his final year of arbitration.

I’ll say this: His value is down right now, but if he plays well enough over the first half of 2010, I wouldn’t be shocked at all to see him moved at the deadline as the Brewers bring in some help for the balance of the season.

After all, value is in the eye of the beholder. Hart’s eye is delivering a bit more slanted of a view right now. If the Brewers can find another GM that feels the same way, why not maxmize the return on your investment by getting a player back that may help out more down the road than Corey Hart will be capable of doing in 2011.

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