Brewers, Hart avoid arbitration
Right fielder agrees to one-year, $3.25 million deal on eve of hearing
PHOENIX -- It wasn't exactly the 11th hour, but it was getting pretty late for the Brewers and right fielder Corey Hart when they finally struck a deal.On the eve of an arbitration hearing that would have kept Hart from the Brewers' first full-squad workout, he agreed to terms on a $3.25 million, one-year deal on Tuesday. The 26-year-old father of three settled right at the midpoint of figures filed last month.
He celebrated with an "adult night," which meant a steak dinner with his wife and two of the couple's friends. Hart will celebrate with his teammates on Wednesday."It's pretty special, having come from nothing and now to be a part of this group of young players," Hart said. "I wasn't a big 'bonus guy,' and it's nice that we have a bunch of guys signing our first big deals together." Hart's deal kept alive general manager Doug Melvin's streak of avoiding arbitration hearings during his Brewers tenure. Brewers assistant general manager Gord Ash and director of special projects Teddy Werner handled negotiations with Hart's agent, Jeff Berry. "It came down to the wire this time, didn't it?" Ash said. Hart earned $444,000 last season and was seeking $3.8 million in his first year of arbitration eligibility. The team offered $2.7 million, and had the sides not settled, the case would have gone before a panel of judges at a Phoenix hotel early Wednesday afternoon. Hart did not want it to go that far because it would have meant missing the team's first full-squad workout, including manager Ken Macha's first team address. Hart's new deal includes the usual incentives for awards, including $50,000 if he makes the National League All-Star team for the second straight season. It was a straightforward compromise fueled by a similar one struck between the Dodgers and outfielder Andre Ethier earlier in the day. The Dodgers faced the same $1.1 million gap with Ethier as the Brewers did with Hart. The sides settled for just less than the midpoint, but Ethier's deal does include $100,000 in incentives that would push the value of his contract precisely to that point. Ethier and Hart have posted comparable statistics over their three seasons, though Hart has more home runs and RBIs (55 and 212 to 44 and 196) while Either has the superior career batting average and on-base percentage (.299 and .364 to .277 and .323). "The Ethier signing earlier [Tuesday] gave some real clarity as to where this thing should head," Ash said. "After that was done, ours came together very quickly. You never know what to expect, but you hope that's the way it will be resolved."
Hart said he met with Players Association officials earlier this week and was told that Either's outcome would almost certainly affect his own. He was happy when the Brewers increased their offer to the midpoint.
"That was always the goal, to get to that spot," Hart said. "It feels pretty good."
Hart batted .268 last season with 20 home runs and 91 RBIs. He has at least 20 homers, 20 steals and 80 RBIs in each of his first two full Major League seasons.Now the Brewers may approach Hart again about a multiyear extension. There were some overtures in that direction last year with several players, but only left fielder Ryan Braun bit. Braun signed a new eight-year deal worth at least $45 million. Brewers officials and Berry apparently had very brief discussions about an extension last year, but "it didn't turn into anything," according to Hart. It remains to be seen whether that changes this time. "I definitely would be pro-multiyear contract," Hart said. "I would like to be in Milwaukee my whole career if they let me. That's why I reported to camp [before the contract was finalized], because I didn't want to miss any days with those guys. I want to be a part of the team. "We haven't talked about [a multiyear deal] but when it comes up, I will definitely listen." Ash said the Brewers had work to do before deciding about which players to approach. A number of pre-arbitration players still need to be signed for 2009, including pitchers Yovani Gallardo, Manny Parra, Carlos Villanueva and Chase Wright, catchers Mike Rivera and Vinny Rottino, infielder Hernan Iribarren and outfielder Tony Gwynn Jr. Three other so-called "zero- to three-year players" -- those without the requisite three years of big league service to qualify for arbitration -- signed one-year deals on Tuesday: Mark DiFelice, Eduardo Morlan and Taylor Green.
Adam McCalvy is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.