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Milwaukee's Daily Magazine for Wednesday, April 16, 2014

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In Sports Commentary

With Corey Hart, right, out of the picture early will Mat Gamel re-establish himself? (PHOTO: David Bernacchi )

Who's on first for the Brewers?


The Milwaukee Brewers were thrown for a loop last week when it was discovered that Corey Hart would have to undergo right knee surgery to clean up some damaged tissue on the joint and repair a tear in his meniscus. He is having the surgery Tuesday and is expected to miss anywhere from three to four months.

Even if he heals properly, and quickly, Hart may not be truly ready to play until close to June. While the organization expects a full recovery, what has to disconcerting is that Hart – who also missed time last season with a partially torn plantar fascia in his left foot – had a procedure on the same knee to repair a meniscal tear last March.

With one year remaining on his contract, this has to put some serious doubt into the mind of general manager Doug Melvin and owner Mark Attanasio about giving Hart a multi-year, high dollar extension. He will be 31 in March, and his legs are starting to show the wear and tear of nearly 1,000 Major League games.

It's a major question for the organization, but one that doesn't need to be addressed until after the season however, and this gives them the latitude to tell Hart and his representation that talks should be put on hold until then.

The immediate focus now shifts to Mat Gamel, a fourth-round draft pick in 2005 who earned the starting first base job out of spring last year but was lost to the season 21 games in with a torn ACL.

That injury forced Hart to first, and Hart's improving play in the field and potent bat essentially relegated Gamel to a reserve role in 2013. He was even taking fly balls and ground balls at third this offseason preparing as a swing guy off the bench.

Now, the left-handed hitting 27-year-old (28 in July) gets another shot to stake his claim at first. Before he was injured making a play on a foul ball, he was hitting .246/.293/.641 with just one home run and six RBI in 21 games. His WAR was an unremarkable 0.0.

In 269 Major League plate appearances over five years, he has hit .229/.305/.671 with a -0.2 WAR.

Because Gamel hasn't quite clicked at the plate, many outside the organization will pine for Southern League Most Valuable Player Hunter Morris, who hit .303/.357/.920 with 28 homers and 113 RBI at Class AA Huntsville.

The Brewers at least have options – including signing a veteran free agent between now and the start of camp – but what is unenviable about the situation for the Brewers is that a once rock solid lineup now has a hole in it.

Gamel may prove worthy of the Brewers' faith in him last summer with hot start, but it cannot be counted on. His left-handed bat provides some balance, but he is nothing more than a bottom-of-the-order stick right now.

The Brewers could come out on top if Gamel breaks out, however. Should he play well leading up to Hart's return, it will give Melvin and Ron Roenicke some flexibility with the roster, or even in the trade market.

At this point, it's safe to say Hart's days in the outfield are over (at least they should be). So if Gamel is playing well and if Norichika Aoki or Carlos Gomez have regressed, it's possible he can move to right field while Hart moves back to first.

If Gamel is playing so well that it's impossible to bench him, it opens up the trade market for both he and Hart.

The Brewers are excited to be starting the season after a strong finish to 2012 and as a whole, they have high expectations for 2013. Much of that was based on their continuity, and the production in the lineup from top down. There were very few questions heading into the start of camp, but now there is large one that needs to be answered.


Talkbacks

brewguru | Jan. 21, 2013 at 12:38 p.m. (report)

"..this has to put some serious doubt into the mind of general manager Doug Melvin and owner Mark Attanasio about giving Hart a multi-year, high dollar extension..." I have news for you. The Brewers were never planning to offer a contract extension to Hart. The injury has nothing to do with it. And as much as I like Corey, teams like the Brewers can't afford to be signing 31-year olds to multi-year contracts.

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