Corey Hart signed a three year extension today, believed to be worth $26.5 million over the next three years.
Given the fact that Hart is in a career year and was assumed to be moved at the trading deadline, the easy reaction to this deal is that it’s an overreaction and an overpayment. That’s just not the case, though. The distribution of money for this deal is probably going to be something like 6.5-10-10, meaning that the Brewers probably save some money on next year, and then they pay Hart like an average (or slightly below average, depending on how salary inflation goes, which is kind of a grey area given the economy) player for the next two years after.
Hart should be good enough to make this contract worth it and even a slight win for Milwaukee. CHONE’s updated August projection projects Hart as a 2.4 WAR player over 150 games. ZiPS projects Hart as a better hitter – about +20 runs (.359 wOBA) over the course of a season. Using his average UZR of -4 runs per season, that would make Hart about a 2.8 WAR player. Either way, unless the economy tanks again, this is probably a win for the Brewers.
Don’t forget that these projections are certainly taking into account the poor years Hart put together in 2008 and 2009, where over a combined 1100+ plate appearances, Hart was only worth 1.8 WAR. He’s already eclipsed that in 2010 – 2.1 WAR – despite a -8 small sample UZR which I think is a bit extreme and will go down as the season continues – he’s not a statue out there, he’s just not great.
That said, there is obviously a chance for this deal to fail. If the power this year is a complete mirage and his discipline – which has improved markedly since 2008 – falls back to his early career levels, then yes, this deal will be a gross overpayment. I think the chances of that occurring are low, however. He has turned from a ground ball heavy hitter to a fly ball heavy hitter, and that means that even if his mammoth 18% HR/FB drops to his career average of 12%, he should still hit more home runs simply because he’s hitting more balls in the air. His increase in walk rate – 9.1% in 2009, 7.9% in 2010 after 4.1% in 2008 – is probably real, as that tends to stabilize after 200 plate appearances and we’ve now seen about 900 between 2009 and 2010.
So, all-in-all, between the chances of bust and the chances that he continues his solid year this year and everything in between, the Brewers probably come up even or slightly ahead on this contract. It should help for next season, actually, as Hart would probably have gotten a larger arbitration reward than this contract will call for in year one if I’m correct about the distribution. The Brewers locked up a decent outfielder for a few years. Yes, there might not be room for a long term Prince Fielder contract now, but I don’t think that is an issue for this front office, nor should it be. Corey Hart is a good player, and he should help this team in the short term. The money should still be there in the offseason to get pitching. Overall, I don’t love this deal for Milwaukee, but I do like it.