On September 5, 2006, Corey Hart staked his name among Brewers fans with two home runs against the Los Angeles Dodgers in front
of a sparse crowd of 13,427 at Miller Park. After spending the large part of 2005 and 2006 between the bench and the minors, Hart’s seventh and eighth career homers validated his position at the big league level with the Brewers—one that the team hoped Hart would fill for years to come.
Drafted in the 11th round in 2000 by Milwaukee, Hart was a part of the team’s early-to-mid decade growth that saw Rickie Weeks, JJ Hardy, Prince Fielder, Bill Hall, and Hart all make the jump to the Majors and have success, with Yovani Gallardo and Ryan Braun joining that club in the latter years. This “homegrown” talent led Milwaukee to its first winning season in 15 years and its first postseason appearance in 26.
All was well and the window was open for these young stars to go out and bring home the championship the franchise had yet to win.
Now, seven years after Hart “stole” (read: Was featured as the main story on the Journal-Sentinel sports page) the headlines, that window is nearly shut. Hardy leads all American League shortstops in All Star voting, Fielder serves as protection for the world’s greatest hitter in Detroit, and Hall has played for five organizations since leaving Milwaukee in 2009.
Hart and Weeks are the only two remaining from that group of players.
The next “window” the franchise is attempting to open centers around Braun, Carlos Gomez, Jean Segura and another replenishing of the farm system.
Next time Corey Hart steps onto the field at Miller Park for a game, he will be 32 and, possibly in the Brewers’ best interest, wearing a different uniform. After offseason surgery to his right knee that resulted in an expected return timetable around mid-to-late May, it was confirmed Friday that the two-time All Star will miss the entire season after surgery on his left knee.
Coming into the 2013 season, it seemed likely that Hart’s days in the outfield were all but done. Not even halfway into the season, it’s likely (and in the Brewers’ best interest) that Hart’s days with Milwaukee are done.
Following the end of the season, Hart, who ranks sixth in franchise history in OPS (.824) and eleventh in home runs (154) will become a free agent. The price will surely be lower than expected back in February after two knee surgeries and playing no games in 2013, but Hart will still come with one of the best track records and the ability to still hit well above replacement value at first base.
However, for a team whose window that Hart helped create is all but closed, is it worth it to sign the injury-plagued first baseman?
How much are the Brewers willing to spend on Hart? Even if the asking price is low, it’s in the best interest to let Hart walk after a very good career in Milwaukee. How much should they be willing to pay for a player who has been shelved by injuries far too often in his career and is, in all likelihood, past his prime?
If the Brewers offer Hart a qualifying offer and he declines and signs elsewhere, the team receives a compensatory pick in the 2014 MLB amateur draft.
Last season, the team may have had the chance to trade Hart at a fairly high value. The returns may not have been adequate or the Brewers may have simply decided to keep him and he finished out the last two months of 2012 as a Milwaukee Brewer—possibly the final two months as a Brewer in his career.
Certainly the writing is not on the wall. We’re not discussing a washed up player with one or two seasons left. However, for the remainder of Hart’s career, his mobility and speed (which had already declined significantly) will never be the same. Can he still hit 30 homers and hold a .350 OBP? The answer is most likely a no.
The Brewers may have called up the entire Nashville Sounds roster at this point in the season, but one top farmhand remains—Hart’s future replacement at first, Hunter Morris. Hiram Burgos, Tyler Thornburg, Johnny Hellweg, among others, may have been rushed to the Majors, but the team, as they should, remains hesitant on calling up Morris. After tearing up Double-A pitching last season, Morris owns a .241/.344/.482 line through 73 games with Nashville. If he finishes strong, it could very well be the end of the Corey Hart era in Milwaukee.
Following his second knee injury, any chances of trading Hart at the trade deadline are gone; the only return now would come in the form of a draft pick.
For years, Hart was a staple in the middle of the Brewers lineup. From Ned Yost to Dale Sveum. From Ken Macha to Ron Roenicke. Few have been as productive and done as much for the team on the field in franchise history as Hart has. Never did he create off-the-field issues (even the knee injury fiasco of this year reflects more upon luck than on Hart’s character). His awkward high five, hip shake celebration following base hits pretty much sums up Corey Hart.
We may have, however, seen the end of Hart’s hip shakes as a Milwaukee Brewers.