Since the 2008 All-Star Game, no hitter for the Milwaukee Brewers has faced more scrutiny than outfielder Corey Hart.
Hart followed up a breakout 2007 season by winning the fans' ballot to become the final member of the National League All-Star team in 2008. Then he was unable to throw out Justin Morneau at home plate and Hart's downward spiral began.
Prior to the game, Hart was hitting .289 with 15 home runs. However, he finished the season hitting .268. He hit just five home runs in the final three months of the season, just as the Brewers made their playoff push in September.
His struggles continued in 2009, a season that he hit just .260 with 12 home runs and 47 RBI in 115 games. Hart further distanced himself from Brewer fans by continually speaking out against his home crowd to the local media.
The last straw for many fans came this past winter. Hart was given a substantial raise to $4.8 million for the 2010 season despite his previous struggles. However, Hart promised everyone he would prove his worth this season. To his credit, he has more than made up for the past season-and-a-half.
Hart leads the league in home runs (17), and he already has just one fewer RBI (47) than he had all of last year (48). He's also only eight home runs away from a career high in the category. His power surge is surprising since he only hit three homers in the first six weeks of the season.
Not only has Hart worked his way back into the good graces of the fan base and management, he may be hitting his way right out of the organization.
Hart's name has been linked recently to both the Mariners and Braves in possible trade scenarios. Each team, along with several others, is looking for a bat to bolster weak offenses. In exchange, Milwaukee would want pitching to bolster their rotation and bullpen, which have been mired in a season-long slump.
The most recent rumors have the Brewers and Mariners in discussions with a potential third team in a three-team deal that would see Hart sent to the Mariners for impending free agent pitcher Cliff Lee. The Brewers would then send Lee to a third team for young pitching that they could control for several years.
Although the idea of selling high on Hart is very tempting, management needs to resist the notion and keep Hart around as long as they can.
Prince Fielder will very likely be traded this coming winter. The Brewers will need to find a replacement for the slugging first baseman. Hart spent some time at first base in the minors and he could transition back to the infield with relative ease. Other options (Mat Gamel and Brett Lawrie) are both unproven prospects that the Brewers would be taking a giant risk on as they try to replace Fielder.
With Hart's move to first base, the Brewers could field Ryan Braun, Carlos Gomez, and top prospect Lorenzo Cain in the outfield. The team would lose Hart's power, but the overall team defense would improve greatly. Cain would immediately become one of the team's top base stealers.
Hart is under one more season of team control before becoming a free agent after the 2011 season. He's in line for another substantial raise after this season. This time it will be justified. Perhaps the Brewers could even sign him to a four or five-year contract extension this off-season. This would be a much better value than any contract Fielder would be seeking.
Hart's name wasn't on the All-Star ballot for the 2010 edition of the game, but could he come full circle and be named the winner of the fans' choice for a second time?
Regardless of another possible appearance in the Midsummer Classic, Corey Hart, Brewer fans, and management are all thrilled with his stunning turnaround back into a legitimate power threat. Now the only thing that remains is just how long Hart will remain with the Brewers.
To read more by Jesse Motiff, click here.
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