The declined to deal him at the deadline. At no point in the process though did either the club or the player indicate a long term extension was forthcoming. But that's precisely what Milwaukee did, signing Corey Hart to a three-year contract worth $26.5 million according to ESPN's Buster Olney.
Hart's season has been revelatory. In 382 plate appearances, he's posted a .288/.346/.565 slash line. His next home run will match his career high of 24 in a season. He set that mark in 140 games in 2007, and should beat that by at least 40 games this year. More impressively, he's putting up these numbers in an year that has frequently been dubbed "The Year of the Pitcher" as offensive numbers are down across the board in Major League Baseball.
Hart and the Brewers seemed an unlikely fit for a long term deal as recently as this April. He went all the way to a hearing with the club last year in his second year of arbitration eligibility, beating the club in what our own salary arbitration expert, Maury Brown termed at the time, "bit of a surprise" and added:
"He only played in 115 games and had 472 plate appearances in 2009, compared to the 157 and 657 PAs in 2008. His slash line was unimpressive as well, going .260/.335/.418 with 12 HRs, 48 RBIs, and 109 hits. Moreover, his filing figure of $4.8 million was the second highest of all outfielders with 4 years of service time behind only Shane Victorino."
The ultimate ignominy came after spring training when he lost his starting job, platooning with Jim Edmonds early on. Hart erased those doubts with a massive breakout season, elevating his trade value as contending clubs called to gauge Milwaukee's willingness to part with Hart. One oft bandied rumor had the Giants surrendering a young pitcher to add Hart for the stretch run and 2011, when he would have again been in the arbitration process. In the end, retaining a power bat to go along with the Brewers' key talent core of Prince Fielder, Ryan Braun and Rickie Weeks was seen to be too valuable to GM Doug Melvin.
Hart was considered a good prospect when he broke in with the Brew Crew in 2004, but took another two seasons to fully establish himself as Milwaukee's right fielder. Even then, despite a solid 2007 at age 25, his lackluster 2008 and 2009 armed more than a few critics who called for the Brewers to deal Hart.
Hart's breakout ended the platoon talk, but actually heightened the trade speculation as critics suggested that he would soon regress and that Melvin owed it to the franchise to cash in on his season before he returned to his previously established level of performance. This contract may not silence the critics but it should end trade speculation as it buys out his final year of arbitration eligibility as well as two years of free agency.
Joe Tetreault is Managing Editor of the Business of Sports Network, which includes The Biz of Baseball, The Biz of Football, The Biz of Basketball and The Biz of Hockey. He can be contacted here through The Biz of Baseball
Follow Joe Tetreault on Twitter
Follow The Biz of Baseball on Twitter
Follow the Business of Sports Network on Facebook