Despite the Milwaukee Brewers‘ black hole at first base in 2013 and few quality MLB options remaining for the 2014 job, general manager Doug Melvin made the correct move to limit his offer to Corey Hart, ultimately losing him to the Seattle Mariners.
While Seattle didn’t give the free agent first baseman a much bigger base salary than what Milwaukee was committed to giving, the Mariners were willing to give him incentives that could escalate Hart’s salary to around $11 million. According to multiple reports, the Brewers were only prepared to hand over half that number in incentives. Keep in mind, the organization paid Hart $10 million to sit out the entire season last year, so I’m sure they weren’t keen on throwing too much more cash his way with the added risk.
Hart will return from two knee surgeries and will be 32 at the start of the new campaign, adding to the legitimacy that the Brewers would have been in a bind again should Hart go down thanks to either knee. In that scenario, Milwaukee would still be paying Hart about $5 million, have less coin to spread out elsewhere and be stuck with production well below replacement level. It would basically be a replay of the 2013 carousel that gave Milwaukee the awful output of Alex Gonzalez and Yuniesky Betancourt (among others) at first base.
Now, the extra cash and open spot at first allows Melvin to be creative in filling that gap, to diversify the Brewers’ limited funds and not worry about another lost season of Hart costing them on the field and financially.
In terms of production, a fully-recovered Hart would obviously have been valuable if he were to continue to play at a level comparable to his past three seasons. Hart hit his stride from 2010-12, posting an .857 OPS (on-base plus slugging) thanks to a .343 on-base percentage and .514 slugging percentage over the three-year span. His consistent offensive output each season was often overlooked in Milwaukee due to some truly horrendous stretches he endured at the plate. However, averaging 29 home runs, 83 RBI and 87 runs scored made Hart a key piece in the Brewers’ lineup.
With that said, Hart is set up for a sizable drop-off when considering his age, time missed and unsteady legs coming off the injuries. Without the benefit of the DH in Milwaukee, Hart would have been hard-pressed to play more than 110 games, forcing the Brewers to scramble once again. The potential for so many missed games, along with a reduction in overall production, caused Hart’s value to fall and gave Melvin more reason to wisely stick with his smaller offer.
Only time will tell if Hart can be the same player in Seattle; however, I guarantee if it uses him in right field he will not survive the season nor be anything close to the offensive threat it is hoping to see. His power numbers are certain to dip with shaky legs and playing half his games in spacious Safeco Field versus homer friendly Miller Park.
Melvin played his cards right by holding firm to a limited deal for Hart. Of course, the decision only becomes a true success if Melvin can solidify first base and avoid the catastrophe Milwaukee endured in its last season.