Healthy Hart ready to test free-agent waters
Former Brewers first baseman/outfielder cleared for full baseball activities
MILWAUKEE -- With baseball's Hot Stove at a full boil and the Winter Meetings looming next week, free-agent first baseman/outfielder Corey Hart finally got the good news on Tuesday that he had eagerly been anticipating.
"Cleared!" Hart wrote in a text message to MLB.com, indicating he had been medically cleared for full baseball activities by the surgeon who performed the second of Hart's two knee surgeries this year.
Hart, 31, is a free agent for the first time after sitting out the entire 2013 season, having undergone right knee surgery in January and then left knee surgery in July. He had been rehabbing in recent weeks by running and participating in agility drills, but Hart's formal foray into the open market was on hold while he awaited the go-ahead from Dr. Neal ElAttrache. The two met Tuesday in Los Angeles.
With his medical clearance in hand, Hart is ready to begin fielding offers from interested clubs. He said last month that a number of teams, including the Brewers, Rays, Red Sox and Rockies, had called to check in, but clubs were not willing to discuss contract parameters until Hart was fully functional.
As of Tuesday afternoon, Hart had yet to receive any offers. Asked earlier this week whether Hart would have an offer in hand from the Brewers before the start of next week's Winter Meetings, Milwaukee general manager Doug Melvin said, "There's a possibility he will."
The Brewers and Hart have mutual interest. In the wake of his injury, Milwaukee ranked last in the Major Leagues last season in OPS from first basemen, and the position is "wide open," Melvin said Monday. Hart could be a one-year bridge to a Brewers prospect like Hunter Morris or Jason Rogers, the organization's last two Minor League Players of the Year.
Hart has been open about his desire to return to Milwaukee, even at a discount, suggesting he felt a sense of obligation to an organization that drafted him in 2000 and paid him $10 million last season to rehab his knees. The Brewers' Spring Training is in west Phoenix, near the Hart family home, and Miller Park is an excellent venue for a slugger seeking to rebuild his value before another dip into free agency.
Interested clubs will surely examine Hart's medical records, but five seasons of at least 20 home runs, including his 30-homer effort in 2012 while moving from right field to first base, will help Hart's case, as will the potential for defensive versatility. Hart insisted in a radio interview last month that he was mobile enough to consider moving back to the outfield.
One potential suitor may have fallen off the board Tuesday, as the Rockies were reportedly moving toward a two-year deal with first baseman Justin Morneau.