The Brewers’ Hart Problem
Milwaukee Brewers Right Fielder Corey Hart leads the National League in Home Runs. He tied a club record by homering on three consecutive at bats, two of which drove in six runs in a win over the Mets last night. That performance earned him a curtain call from delighted fans at Miller Park. After the game, excited bloggers were urging General Manager Doug Melvin to trade Hart.
It’s not that I don’t get this line of thought. In fact, there is a part of me that agrees–Hart’s value will probably never be higher. With the team’s need for quality pitching, particularly young arms with potential who are at or near being “Major League Ready,” the Brewers are going to have to be creative in swinging some deals. That makes Hart, a plus player with an escalating salary, a prime trade candidate.
I get all that. What I don’t understand is the lingering hard feelings about Hart. I suppose some fans are still miffed that he won his arbitration hearing in March, coming as it did on the heels of a rather flaccid 2009 performance. I think others will never forgive him for speaking the truth in September 2008 about how the club was booed at home during its playoff run. Still others point to Hart’s horrific offensive performance that month as evidence that he is a bum.
Certainly, Hart has some baggage. But there is a mythology that has grown up around Hart that has labeled him a declining or disappointing player, a perception that seems to focus on a mediocre 140 game, 517 at bat stretch between September 2008 and the end of the 2009 season, while ignoring his first 1314 at bats over the initial 381 games of his career. That larger sample size combined with his play this season tells me that Corey Hart, who at 28 is entering the prime years of his career, is an ascending player and asset to the Brewers. I think Hart’s critics are focusing too much on the .694 OPS he posted in the sour 140 stretch and forgetting the strong .835 OPS he racked up over the prior 381 games.
I think the Brewers would be wise to consider keeping Hart. He wants to be in Milwaukee and is competitively priced. Rather than breaking the bank on Prince Fielder, whose price will be astronomical, perhaps an idea is to deal Fielder and move Hart to first base, his original minor league position. Fielder would bring much more in trade and give the team far greater salary relief; dealing Prince would also create a hole at first, a gap that does not seem to have a ready solution in the team’s minor league system. Meanwhile, back-filling for Hart in right is a much easier problem to solve with the likes of Lo Cain and Mat Gamel.
So if I was encouraging Doug Melvin to think about anything in the wake of Corey Hart’s recent torrent, I would urge him to take a broader, more circumspect approach.