The Problem With Corey Hart | Disciples of Uecker

Disciples of Uecker

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The Problem With Corey Hart

By on August 23, 2012

As Corey Hart’s third straight successful season winds to a close, his thoughts have begun to turn towards the future:

Corey Hart asked agent Jeff Berry to communicate to general manager Doug Melvin that Hart was open to a permanent switch to first base, a position he adopted out of need this season, or a move back to right field, his position on Opening Day. Hart hoped that olive branch might spur discussions about an extension beyond his current contract, which expires after 2013.

“Hopefully, it will overlap and start something,” Hart said. “I’ve never been in this position, so I don’t know what their plan is. They could obviously trade me in the offseason, but I want to stay around. Hopefully, they want me to stay around for more than next year.”

Hart is certainly saying all the right things about wanting to be a Brewer past the 2013 season, but of course, when matters turn to money, talk is generally pretty cheap. The big question facing both parties here is whether or not there is a number out there that both parties can agree to. It’s impossible to know if such a number exists looking in from the outside, but there are a few basic things that can be learned from looking at comparable situations.

Even though Hart has made the transition to first base, it’s hard to find real solid comps for him at that position. He clearly doesn’t possess the sort of track record of a Prince Fielder, Albert Pujols, or Adrian Gonzalez. At the same time, his history is better than the latest 1B to get a multi-year extension, Edwin Encarnacion. The best comp for Hart among players to recently sign extensions comes at his old position of right field in Andre Ethier. They are virtually the same age, Hart trails Either by less than 200 career plate appearances (3,832 to 3,687) and by less than a point and a half of Fangraphs WAR (18.7 to 17.4). Both are starting to show signs of decline offensively, with OPS+ numbers down double digits this year from where they were 2 years ago, but neither seems on the verge of total collapse. It’s not a perfect match, but it does at least provide a starting point to look at.

If Hart and his agent are indeed looking at Ethier as an example of the sort of money that the free agent market could bestow on Hart after the 2013 season, the Brewers are going to have their work cut out for them to try and come up with a deal like his 5 year, 85 million dollar signed back in June. Yes, one can argue the Ethier contract is a case of a new ownership group, flush with cash, trying to sell it’s fan base on the notion that they’re not like their penny-pinching predecessors, and that “Ethier money” won’t necessarily be there for Hart on the open market. That may be true, but given that another Hart/Ethier comparable Nick Swisher is supposedly talking about wanting Jayson Werth-like money this off-season, it’s hard to imagine the market collapsing, either. Swisher’s situation should go a long ways towards clearing up just how truly representative of the market that Ethier deal really was.

If Hart is seeking that sort of money, the question shifts to just what the Brewers can realistically afford to pay him. Depending on how the deal would be structured, giving Hart “Either money” would mean something like an average of 17 million a year. After 2015, Ryan Braun‘s annual salary jumps to 19 million a year, which would mean the Brewers would be spending 30+ million a year on the salaries of two players. Could the team afford that, and also hope to bring back starter Yovani Gallardo, who can become a free agent after 2015? Doing that would probably mean committing close to 50 million a year in average salary to 3 players, at least until Hart’s deal runs out. Considering that 22 other players would still need to be paid, and paying them the major league minimum would already put the team at something like 60 million annually, it becomes almost unfathomable that the team could do it. In practicality, giving Hart an extension pretty much makes it impossible to bring back Gallardo past his current deal if he’s anything like he is now.

There is also the not so small matter of Hart’s age and already declining skills with the bat. At 30 years old, Hart is already well past the general “peak” baseball playing years of 26-28. This decline is already starting to show up in some of Hart’s stats. His OPS is currently.829, down from .865 and .866 in 2010 and 2011, respectively.  Perhaps even more alarming, this year has seen Hart’s strikeout rate increase to 25.8%, which is more than 5% more than his career 20.5% mark. Also, at a time when veteran sluggers often see rises in their BB%, Hart has actually dipped below his solid-but-unspectacular 7.0% career mark down to 6.7%. None of these things are definite signs of permanent and irreversible decline, but they should definitely sound off warning bells for any team considering giving a player a long-term deal taking him well into his mid-30′s.

Ultimately, unless the Brewers plan to take their payroll flying past 120 or 130 million annually, or somehow can conjure up a farm system spilling over with massive amounts of cheap talent for those years, it’s hard to see how the Brewers can pay Hart anything like what he’s worth and still field a competitive team in a few years. So, really, what this is going to be about is who is willing to set aside their own best interest to continue this relationship past next season. How much, monetarily, is Hart’s professed love of Milwaukee worth to him? Are the Brewers willing to concede that bringing back Hart is more important than fielding the best team possible down the road? If someone doesn’t set aside their own long-term best interest monetarily, and in a big way, it’s almost impossible to see Corey Hart as a Brewer on opening day 2014.

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Comments

Tell us what do you think.

  1. Doug says: August 23, 2012

    I would think adding a couple of years onto his current deal at $10 to $12 million per might be an ok idea. He does provide some decent defense at first and a decent bat. Anything above and beyond that is an overcommitment. If Hunter Morris continues to develop you would have to imagine he plays next year at Nashville and will be ready for the majors by 2014.

    • Bob says: August 23, 2012

      I agree that $12 million per year would be a good price for Hart. However, if he thinks he is worth Either money – $17 million per year – he wouldn’t take it. That two year extension would be both significantly shorter and significantly less money.

    • Ryan Topp says: August 23, 2012

      Adding a couple of years at 10-12 per would be FANTASTIC for the Brewers, but you’re talking about asking Hart to pass on what, at the least 40 and maybe as much as 60 or 70 million dollars there? Hart’s love of playing for the Brewers would have to be pretty deep to do that, right?

      As for Morris, I remain unconvinced that he’s ever going to be able to produce offensively well enough at the big league level to be a guy you want starting everyday at first. I could be wrong about that, but the ceiling just doesn’t seem that high.

      • Doug says: August 23, 2012

        If some other team is willing to commit $40 to 60 million to Hart in past his age 31 season – well it’s been nice knowing you Corey!

        I didn’t have high hopes prior to this year for Morris either – but he seems to be performing quite well at Huntsville and is only 22. If he can follow that up with a monster year at Nashville next year maybe the Brewers have something.

        Otherwise – long, long term I imagine that Coulter might be their first baseman of the future.

        Regardless, the long term first base situation is something the Brewers will have to address either this offseason or next. And I don’t have any faith that Gamel is the answer there.

  2. Brian says: August 23, 2012

    I just gotta say that I just discovered this website and I am truly impressed with the high level of articles. I did not know anyone covered the Brewers with as much depth than you guys. It so much better than the mostly TMZish articles on espn.

    Oh yea and I severely doubt the Brewers will give Hart an extension. It seems like he never pulls through in the clutch (you could probably find some numbers on that), I’ve never been excited with his fielding as he seems like he is in slow motion when running down balls in the outfield. And I just see him as being a steady hitter in a slow decline for the remainder of his career. The Brewers could probably find a bigger and more consistent hitter on the first base spot.

    • Ross B says: August 24, 2012

      I don’t know the specifics on Hart and don’t care to look them up, but the idea of a “clutch” hitter was mostly dispelled by Baseball Prospectus a few years back. It boils down to this, good hitters are good hitters whether it is the first or ninth inning. Plus, sample sizes in the “clutch” situations are way too small to draw meaningful conclusions.

  3. Ryan Topp says: August 24, 2012

    I fear that I’m coming off as too negative about Hart here, because I was trying to build a case against the Brewers giving him a big, long extension.

    The fact of the matter is, that right now, Hart is among the best power hitting first basemen in the game today. He is currently tied for 4th in home runs for those who qualify at first, 5th in isolated power and 6th in slugging. Those are some pretty elite numbers, and he has a track record of them, which is why I think he can command big money on the open market from someone looking for that power. Of course, whoever does that will have to overlook the fact that he’s not an elite OBP guy (14th among qualified 1B) and those signs of decline I talked about in the article itself.

    So yeah, I think Hart is currently a pretty valuable player. The problem is more about what he’ll be in a few years and how much that’s going to cost. Hope that clears things up.

  4. Chris K in Sheboygan says: August 24, 2012

    That 2yr extension won’t happen unless it went for that 17+mil a year. Read the article. He’s aged, signs of decline. Players like him will be looking to lock in 5-6years. He does a 2yr deal all that does is add to his age, if he declines even a little more his value when that 2years is up decreases even more. He won’t risk that. A minimum extension will go 4years with added incentives/bonuses or a 5th ye after next seasonar player option not team option.

    Let him go free agency after next season. If Brewers don’t succeed he will be great trade deal. If they do you work off what he does next season for a contract. Gives Tue farm players another season to access how they look towards Brewers future. Doing something now, this off-season wouldn’t be smart on Brewers part. Wait this one out!

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