By all appearances, Corey Hart is headed to salary arbitration. He is this year's candidate to break the Brewers and Doug Melvin's streak of never having gone to a hearing.
Corey Hart is asking for $4.8M and the Brewers are offering him $4.15M. The midpoint of those two numbers, which is important to know, is $4.475M. This number is important because the arbitrator must decide if Corey Hart is worth more than or less than that number. If he feels Hart is worth more, then he wins and gets his $4.8M. If he feels he's worth less, the Brewers win and pay him $4.15M.
I have no inside knowledge of exactly how arbitration hearings work, but I would assume that the arbitrator tries to assess Corey Hart's value by comparing him to other similar players. When you get your house assessed it kind of works like this too. The assessor looks at what other similar houses in your neighborhood have recently sold for, averages them up, and then tries to tease apart the details that make your house different than the others and adjust the average by a little bit one way or another. Let's do that with Corey Hart. I'll be the assessor. Here are Corey Hart's money stats:
By two different means, similarity scores on baseball-reference.com and my database of 2009 player salaries, I have identified four players that can be compared to Corey Hart.
One of the stats-based comparisons is Josh Willingham; the left fielder for the Washington Nationals. He just signed a 1-year deal for $4.6M for 2010.
An interesting note is that two of Willingham's 24 home runs in 2009 were grand slams in the same game against the Brewers on July 27. Willingham has had a very similar to career path to Corey Hart's, but clearly outperformed him in 2009. The fact that his contract is only slightly more that Hart's midopint ($125K) would seem to favor the Brewers.
Another statistical comparable is Jason Kubel; outfielder for the Minnesota Twins. He is in the second year of a 2+-year deal which pays him $4.1M in 2010.
Kubel's career stats compare favorably to Hart's. He too, clearly outperformed Corey in 2009. At the time he signed his contract, he didn't have that 28 home run season under his belt. I think it's safe to assume that if he were negotiating this year he could demand more. How much more? Who knows? But probably at least $375K more which would make his comparison favorable for Corey Hart. Interestingly, Kubel currently is not even projected as a starter for the Twins.
There are two very interesting comparison to player's whose salaries are similar to what Corey Hart is asking for. J.J. Hardy just avoided arbitration with the Twins by signing a 1-year, $5.1M deal.
While Hart is the slightly better hitter, Hardy's value increases because he is a shortstop. He too had a down season in 2009 but was still able to negotiate a very favorable deal with the Twins. Advantage Hart.
Finally, Grady Sizemore; center fielder for the Indians. He is in the middle of a 6-year deal which pays him $5.6M in 2010.
While Sizemore clearly has a reputation for being a much better player than Corey Hart, the statistical differences are not all that large. You could argue that they are not large enough to justify the $1.125M diffence between Sizemore's contract and Hart's midpoint.
Whenever I do these types of analysis, I am always amazed at how tough they are to call. I'm troubled by the fact that Corey Hart has had two straight downturn seasons and I still have a sour taste in my mouth over comments he made last year about prefering to play on the road. But based on this evidence, I don't think Corey Hart's asking price is unreasonable. The average salaries of these four comparable players is $4.85M - almost exactly what Hart is asking for. I think the Brewers might have aimed a little low. I would rule in Hart's favor.
(Brewers team negotiator Teddy Werner seems so confident that the Brewers will win their case that he has pulled the team's current offer off the table. That makes you think there is more to the story. Maybe Corey Hart's basement leaks or something.)