I was surprised, like many of you, when I woke up and read the news.
The Milwaukee Brewers signed Corey Hart to a three year deal that will keep him in Milwaukee through 2013. The pact is reportedly worth $26.25 million.
Hart, 28, is having a career season for the Brewers. After going yard Sunday, Hart now sits with 23 home runs. He is hitting .288/.346/.565/.911 in 347 at bats. Pretty incredible numbers for a player many wanted cut earlier this season. It hasn't been all perfect for Hart though. He has struggled in right field this season posting a -12.8 UZR/150, easily his worst season defensively in his career. Despite those very poor fielding numbers, Hart has still registered as a 2.1 WAR player this season.
My favorite part of this contract is the length. Seeing as Hart was still under team control for one more season, the deal really only extends him for two additional seasons. Based on projections, Hart was likely going to make around $7-9 million dollars in his final season of arbitration, so the deal doesn't seem to unreasonable. Many who dislike this deal cite a possibility of Hart regressing back to his struggling form. Even if that happens, the length of this contract really won't hurt the Brewers future plans too bad.
Taking the final year of arbitration into account, Hart's deal breaks down to two years, somewhere in the range of $17-19 million. Not cheap, but not too bad considering just how well Hart has hit this season. With the going market rate of $4 million per 1.0 WAR, the deal seems fair. I don't think there are many people out there who don't think Hart can realistically accumulate a 7.0 WAR over the next three seasons.
What I take from this deal is what it means to the future of the organization. The two other players scheduled to hit free agency with Hart were Prince Fielder and Rickie Weeks. After the extension, the writing is now on the wall for both players.
Hart will be scheduled to make around $10 million in 2013, the final year of the deal. Combine that with the other players signed through that date (Ryan Braun, Yovani Gallardo), the Brewers now have $ 27 million already committed that season. If the Brewers were really serious about signing Prince Fielder long term, Hart would not have been offered an extension. If Fielder were to sign after this deal, the Brewers would have nearly 60% of their payroll committed to four players that season. In a small market like Milwaukee, that just can't happen.
However, with Weeks, the Brewers can now shift their focus to him. I have to say, I'm disappointed Hart's extension was given precedence over Weeks. I've said all along I think Weeks could be an absolute steal.
Looking around the league, second basemen are severely underpaid. The only second basemen making over $10 million per season are Chase Utley and Brian Roberts. Roberts has been injured this season, but has still racked up 13.0 WAR combined over the last three seasons. In Utley, the Phillies have been just spoiled. Over the last three years, Utley has a combined WAR of over 22.0. Those numbers are unheard of. At fair market value, he should fetch $28-30 million a season, or $18 million more than his current contract.
The best part about extending Weeks is the Brewers wouldn't even need to sniff that pay range. I think a five year deal worth $35-40 million would get the job done. Considering Weeks is swinging the bat better than ever and is already a 4+ WAR player this season, that's very reasonable.
In short, the Corey Hart signing was a decent deal for the Brewers. Hopefully Hart is able to keep up his current torrid bat and start playing better defense. If he does both, the deal could be incredible for the Brewers, If not, they are only on the hook until 2013. It's the type of low risk, high reward deal fans like to see. If they are able to fetch some decent players for Fielder this offseason, the future doesn't seem so bad. It's tough to imagine how quickly these negotiations progressed. In the span of 48 hours, Corey Hart went from possibly being dealt to signed long term. Like they say, baseball is a game of inches.