The St. Louis Cardinals could use (1) a starting right fielder, and (2) a bench bat (optimally, as a complement to first baseman Matt Adams). General manager John Mozeliak has begun making inquiries and laying the groundwork for such additions. Could free agent hitter Corey Hart be a Cardinals' Hot Stove acquisition target?
The Cardinals and their faithful are familiar with Hart, who debuted with the Milwaukee Brewers in the Year of Our MV3. Hart played nine seasons with the Brew Crew, notching 945 games while hitting for a .276 BA, .334 OBP, .491 SLG, and .824 OPS. That works out to a virile .355 wOBA and, playing his home games in Miller Park, a 117 wRC+. During that time span, Hart played the vast majority of his innings in the outfield; in particular, right field.
The red flag with Hart? His knees.
- Before the 2012 season, Hart underwent surgery on his right knee to repair damaged cartilage, according to the AP. Baseball Prospectus lists the injury more specifically as to Hart's meniscus, described by the Mayo Clinic as "a C-shaped piece of tough, rubbery cartilage that acts as a shock absorber between your shinbone and your thighbone." Hart showed little ill effects after the meniscus surgery, hitting .270/.334/.507 (.358 wOBA, 122 wRC+) in 622 PAs over 149 games over the course of the subsequent season.
- During the 2012-13 Hot Stove, Hart's right knee began to swell, per the AP. An MRI revealed a torn meniscus. Corrective surgery was the prescription and Hart went under the knife in January 2013.
- Hart was rehabilitating his surgically-repaired right knee during the 2013 season and injured his left knee "while overcompensating during rehab," according to CBS Sports. Hart underwent left-knee microfracture surgery. The left-knee surgery ended Hart's 2013 season.
Cardinals Hot Stove
Hart signed a one-year deal with the Mariners for 2014 worth $6 million. Hart didn't hit well over limited opportunities. He played in just 68 games, tallying 255 PAs. Seattle used Hart primarily as a DH—he played just eight games in the outfield and two at first base. Hart's 2014 line was unsightly: .203/.271/.319 (.266 wOBA, 70 wRC+).
Some of that underwhelming production is due to Hart's career-low .244 BABIP and how much of that is, in turn, due to Hart's knee injuries is unknowable. That is to say that BABIP fluctuates wildly from one year to the next. Throw in the additional variable of Hart's knee health, including the fact that it might improve with another winter, and Hart's likely 2015 production is hard to predict.
Hart is a buy-low candidate not unlike Lance Berkman during the 2010-11 Hot Stove. Of course, Hart pre-knee problems was not the hitter that Berkman was prior to his knee issues. While not in the league of Berk, Hart owns a career .208 Isolated Power (ISO) that is enticing for the power-starved Cardinals. Of course that ISO was posted primarily while healthy and playing at hitter-friendly Miller Park, so it may not transfer to Busch Stadium, a ballpark that, like Hart's 2014 home of SafeCo, stifles righthanded pop.
Hart's injury history and poor 2014 may make him a bench bat both in playing-time expectation and salary—a first base platoon partner and fifth outfielder filling the type of role on the St. Louis bench could use if he shows his knee problems haven't turned him into a Ty Wigginton sort. To sign Hart is to wager that the righthanded batsman can return to something resembling his pre-double-knee-injury days. Acquiring a right-field Plan A via free agency or trade and signing Hart as a bench bat, first-base Plan B, and right-field Plan C (or even D) would seem to fit the Cardinals' Hot Stove roster plans and modus operandi of layering depth onto the roster.