Brewers working multiple fronts in first-base search
Club continues talks with Hart's agent, while exploring other possible options
LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. -- The Brewers continued their pursuit of free-agent first baseman Corey Hart on Day 1 of the Winter Meetings while preparing for the possibility he finds a more lucrative deal somewhere else.
It was in the interest of due diligence Monday that Brewers general manager Doug Melvin engaged in conversations with agent Jeff Berry of CAA Sports, who represents first-time free agent Hart, and with the Mets, who have a surplus of first basemen, including arbitration-eligible Ike Davis.
No deals were imminent, Melvin said.
Of his talk with Berry, Melvin said, "I think we just met with him and have an understanding of where they want to be, a bit more of an update as to where they're at and we want to go. We have to make decisions based off what we think they're looking for."
The Brewers prefer the free-agent route over a trade because it would not cost them a player. Hart carries risk because he had surgery on both knees in 2013 and missed the entire season, but he hit 30 home runs in 2012 and said in September he would take a discount to stay in Milwaukee. Hart made $10 million last season.
"[There is] nothing being pushed back and forth, but I think there's certain parameters that there's an understanding [of]," Melvin said.
Melvin declined to say how far apart those parameters were, or whether the Brewers would be willing to go beyond one year. He expects to meet again with Berry here.
"I think [Hart] was sincere in [saying he would re-sign for] less money, it's just how much less?" Melvin said. "Right now, our negotiations are in words, and not numbers."
According to Melvin, Berry and Hart made no promises about giving the Brewers a right of last refusal in the event another club makes a strong offer.
"If he has a deal he has to take, he has to do that," Melvin said. "I didn't tell them that, but I'd understand that."
A number of other clubs have shown some interest in Hart this winter, including the Rays, who are losing free agent James Loney ; the Red Sox, who since have re-signed Mike Napoli ; and the Rockies, who signed free agent Justin Morneau. In a brief chat Monday afternoon, Berry declined to say exactly how many teams are interested, or whether any have indicated a willingness to go beyond a one-year contract.
"I'm not going to get into any of that," Berry said. "Look, Corey is their longest-tenured player and there's a tremendous relationship between him and the Brewers. But I've said this all along, whatever happens has to make sense for both sides. The lines of communication [with the Brewers] are completely open."
Medically, Hart checks out. He received full clearance to participate in baseball drills last week, though he is still working though a rehab protocol, assistant general manager Gord Ash said.
"He's always been an excellent rehab patient," Ash said. "The video of him that we've seen [of Hart running through drills], his agility looks good. I know his weight is good -- probably the lowest it has been in some time. So, there are a lot of positive signs, but we don't have any real activity to measure it with."
The other top free-agent first basemen carry their own risks. Loney is trying to parlay a career year into a three-year contract. Michael Morse has power, but was limited to 102 games in 2012 and 88 games last season by injury. Kendrys Morales would cost the Brewers a Draft pick.
So if Hart signs somewhere else, the Brewers may pursue a trade. Melvin met Monday with Mets GM Sandy Alderson, renewing a discussion that began last month at the General Managers Meetings. The Mets have a surplus of first basemen, with arbitration-eligible Davis and Lucas Duda believed to be available, and even after trading Norichika Aoki to Kansas City, the Brewers still have some outfielders. Melvin and Alderson talked about an Aoki-for-Davis swap last month, "but we didn't want to do that," said Melvin, who got left-hander Will Smith from the Royals instead.
Melvin called his talk with Alderson, "Just conversation."
Davis will turn 27 in March after earning $3.125 million last season, and is projected to cost about $3.5 million in 2014, according to the website MLBTradeRumors.com. He has three years of arbitration eligibility remaining.
Davis, a left-handed hitter, belted 32 home runs with 90 RBIs in 2012 but slumped so badly in 2013 he was demoted to Triple-A for a stretch. He batted .205 for the Mets with a .326 on-base percentage, nine home runs and 30 RBIs in 103 games.
At the same time, Melvin is not completely ruling out Juan Francisco, whom the Brewers acquired from the Braves in a trade last June. Francisco, a third baseman by trade, struggled in the field, but showed flashes of his prodigious power, hitting 13 home runs in 240 Brewers at-bats.
Francisco has been working on adjustments to his batting stance while playing in the Dominican Winter League.
"He's inexperienced at playing first; we put him over there, and through his inexperience, he struggled defensively. But the power numbers intrigue you," Melvin said. "And if you look at what he's done in the at-bats that he's done it in, compared to a few of the players that are out there, it's not a huge difference."