MILWAUKEE — Corey Hart wants to return to the Milwaukee Brewers and he’s willing to work with the organization to make it happen.
Hart, who has missed the entire season after having surgery on both knees, is a free agent after the season and could generate interest around the league if he can prove he’s healthy. But the two-time All-Star’s first choice is to be Milwaukee’s first baseman next season.
“We’ve not really had any discussions, but I’ve told them numerous times obviously I’ll be healthy and I’d like to stay a Brewer and help this team out,” Hart said. “They have a lot of good young players, but this team needs a veteran presence and I’d like to be one of those guys. I’ve told them, and I think they want me.
“I just don’t know where that’s at. They’ve hinted, but it’s early, and coming out of knee surgery, I’m sure they want to see me run first before they actually talk to me.”
Hart had surgery on his right knee to debride the joint surface and repair a small meniscus tear in January and then suffered a similar injury in his left knee while trying to return from the first surgery. Dr. Neal ElAttrache performed the left knee surgery on July 3 and was supposed to meet with Hart last week to clear him to run. Hart’s flight was canceled due to the tragic shooting in Washington D.C. and he will instead visit the doctor Monday.
What kind of contract is Hart looking for? He’s confident he can return to form, but also feels he has a debt to pay to the Brewers.
“I’ve told them I would be very generous to stay here,” Hart said. “I wouldn’t sit there and ask for anything that is outlandish. I would take a discount to stay here because I think I owe it to them to stay here and be a cheaper player, because — nobody wants to play for free — but I’ve basically sat there and watched all season. I think I owe it to them and the fans to come back.
“That’s kind of what we’re hoping for, but at the same time, you don’t know what’s going to happen.”
Doctors have told Hart that his knees should allow him to play another five or six years in the big leagues if he chooses. Turning 32 years old in March, Hart hit .270 with 30 home runs and 83 RBI in 2012 and successfully transitioned from right field to first base.
“Obviously I’m not going to be a speed guy anymore, but I haven’t been a speed guy in a while,” Hart said. “I need to know my limitations though and save the bullets when I can. I don’t need to go out there and bust after everything and fly balls I know are outs I don’t have to get to second. I need to save those for when they count.”
Originally, Hart and the Brewers expected a return sometime in May. It became clear an early season return was unrealistic, even though Hart was pushing hard to get back on the field as soon as possible.
The left knee injury came about because Hart rushed to return to the lineup. Doctors feel Hart had injured his left knee earlier in his career and aggravated the injury by putting so much pressure on it while rehabbing the right knee.
“They said it looked like I had done it before and it had healed,” Hart said. “I was running kind of early trying to get back so I was ramping up stuff. I couldn’t really stop on my right side so I was jarring my left side. After about two or three weeks of that, whatever had healed when I was younger must have just broke free.”
Hart said the left knee surgery was very similar to the one he had on his right knee, but he feels the right knee took longer to heal because he had already had two scopes and more arthritis in that knee.
Though it’s hard to know exactly, Hart figures he was still two to four weeks away from returning from the right knee surgery when the second injury occurred. He might have been able to play in October if the Brewers were in the race, but he didn’t push things knowing the season was lost.
While admitting missing the season has been frustrating, Hart also appreciated the time he was able to spend a full summer with his family, something a player usually doesn’t get to do until retirement.
“I probably could have tried, but realistically I don’t know if I would have been able to come back,” Hart said of coming back from the first surgery. “Maybe I might have been able to keep pushing and came back in August.
“I thought I could play this year so that was the reason to rush. Hindsight, what can you do? I’ll come back fresh next year.”
Now the question lies in where next year will be for Hart. The Brewers have tried many different first baseman this season and have struggled to get any production out of the position. A one-year, incentive-laden contract makes sense to both parties and one is already onboard.
Hart recognized this could be his final time in Milwaukee’s clubhouse, but wasn’t thinking about it too much.
“If it’s up to me, I would stay here,” Hart said. “I think we’re leaving it up to them if it’s something they want.
“I’m pretty optimistic I’ll be back. That’s what we’re hoping for. If I’m not, I’ll see these guys again, but at the same time, I’m kind of going forward as I’ll be healthy and I’ll be back.”