First, Corey Hart thought he was going to return to the lineup in late April. Then, he was placed on the 60-day disabled list and his return was delayed to the beginning of June. Doug Melvin subsequently announced Hart’s rehab hasn’t progressed as quickly as expected, and he wouldn’t be back until the All-Star Break.
It’s been a depressing, drawn-out timeline filled to the brim with disappointment, and it’s only getting worse. Tom Haudricourt tweeted on Tuesday afternoon that Hart is now experiencing pain in his other knee.
More bad news on #Brewers Corey Hart. Now his other knee is bothering him. Going for a second opinion.
— Tom (@Haudricourt) June 25, 2013
Perhaps this is inferring too much from a simple tweet, but it certainly sounds as if one doctor recommended surgery on his left knee and he’s now seeking a second opinion in hopes of avoiding surgery. Further knee surgery could prevent him from ever stepping on the field this season for the Brewers.
Hart’s trade value had already been eliminated due to multiple setbacks with his first knee injury. That’s not the negative fallout of this latest news. Instead, the Brewers must be concerned about two key points:
(1) Any additional time on the disabled list is more potential playing time for Yuniesky Betancourt, who is hitting a laughable .164/.196/.237 since the beginning of May. Furthermore, he’s accumulated -1.1 WAR this season. That suggests the Brewers would have been better off with Blake Lalli, Sean Halton or even someone like Blake Davis on the major-league roster, rather than continuously pencil Betancourt into the starting lineup on a regular basis.
(2) At this point, the Brewers may not receive any compensation for losing Corey Hart to free agency this winter. He possesses no trade value, and now, his injury concerns have escalated to the point where the organization must sincerely question whether Hart is worth a qualifying offer this upcoming offseason. With no trade and no qualifying offer, the Brewers may watch the 31-year-old homegrown product simply walk away to free agency. Quite a sobering thought, considering his trade value last summer when the organization opted to hold onto Hart, rather than move him at the trade deadline.
On that last point, the Brewers must consider a comparable case. Lance Berkman dealt with knee injuries in 2012 and only appeared in 32 games with the St. Louis Cardinals. Still, he signed a one-year, $11M deal with the Rangers that included a $12M club option ($1M buyout), so it’s not inconceivable that Hart can still make money this winter. He’s hit at least 26 home runs in each of the last three seasons in which he was healthy, and he’s essentially been a three-win player.
Someone will pay for that.
Of course, the real question is whether it’s prudent for Hart to subject himself to the whims of the market. One could easily argue it makes more financial sense to accept a qualifying offer from the Brewers (if one is offered). After all, a qualifying offer was $13.3M last season, which is more than Berkman made on the free agent market. Being five years younger than Berkman was this past winter, however, is significant, and it could motivate an American League club to guarantee a multi-year deal.
Granted, we’re now talking about two injured knees, instead of one.
The hypothetical downside to this thought-experiment would be that Milwaukee extends a qualifying offer to Corey Hart, and he accepts the offer. The Brewers would then be saddled with an injury-prone first baseman on an expensive one-year deal — during a year in which they don’t project to be frontrunners in the NL Central.
Then again, would having Hart return to Milwaukee on a one-year deal be a negative for the Brewers? He would be an attractive buy-low option if he played anywhere else — much like the Berkman move was celebrated last winter — and if he regained his form, he would upgrade the Brewers’ first base position and become a very valuable trade chip in the process.
Potentially losing Corey Hart for the remainder of the 2013 season is disheartening — not because it has any affect on the Brewers’ postseason chances, but because it means the Brewers will likely continue to trot out Betancourt on a regular basis against left-handed pitchers. It also makes the offseason decision on Hart more difficult — though I still lean toward extending a qualifying offer. If he accepts, the Brewers have an injury-prone, power-hitting first baseman on a one-year deal, and if he declines to test the market, the Brewers will receive a compensation draft pick in the 2014 Draft.
It’s not the greatest silver lining in the world. Heck, it’s not even a good one. Ultimately, though, I’m not sure Hart’s latest knee injury (unless unexpectedly ultra-serious) changes the organization’s offseason plan too much, and I guess that’s something the organization can hang its hat on.