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Saturday, 23 November 2013 04:41

Boston Red Sox Back Up Plan: Corey Hart

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Earlier this offseason, I wrote a piece that highlighted what I believed to be the Red Sox top priorities heading into the free agency. My first order of business: re-sign Mike Napoli. And why not? In his first season with Boston, the 30 year old first baseman became an instant fan favorite for his ability to hit the long ball and, perhaps more so, for his ability to grow one of the best beards any of us will ever see in our life time. When Napoli came to the Red Sox, the marriage between to two parties seemed to work out just like many people thought it would. Despite a speed bump in the initial contract negotiations due to a early onset degenerative hip condition, Boston and Napoli eventually inked an incentive laden 1 year deal. Subsequently, both sides agreed that in order to mitigate the stress on Napoli's hip, he would play first base exclusively and abandon his native spot behind the plate. As it turns out, Napoli didn't just thrive at the plate, but he unexpectedly thrived defensively as a full time first baseman as well. Now, after being a cog in the 2013 Red Sox machine, Napoli finds himself in arguably a better spot than he was in last season. Not only does the first baseman brandish the second most notable beard in the MLB(Brian Wilson still has a stranglehold on the pole position) but his productive regular season numbers has created a wide number of suitors vying for his services on the free agent market. While I still believe the Red Sox should bring Napoli back to Boston, and would go as high as 3 years to do so; the bidding for his service could become too rich for the Red Sox blood. Therefore, it would only be logical for Boston to have a plan B. Corey Hart has become a popular name over the past couple of days. No, the "Sunglasses at Night" guy hasn't made a comeback. Thank god. But Corey Hart the "right handed hitting first baseman/outfielder" is making a comeback and the Sox were reportedly interested. Hart underwent micro-fracture surgery on his knee in January of 2013. Subsequently, the 30 year old needed the entire 2013 season to heal and recover. As an impending free agent, a lost season couldn't have come at a worse time for Hart. For the past 6 years, Hart was a key hitter in the middle of the Milwaukee Brewers line up; hitting at a .277/.335/.495 clip. Highlighting his string of solid season was Hart's 2010 campaign in which he collected over 30 home runs and 100 RBI's with a .340 OBP. A year ago, in Hart's last full season, the 2 time all star played in a career high 149 games and posted a .270/.334/.507 slash. In hindsight, the 2013 offseason was the year the Corey Hart could have cashed in on the free agent market. Instead Hart enters the offseason riddled with risks and question marks. Obviously the first of which would be regarding the health of his knee. Losing an entire season to recover from any surgery certainly puts up a red flag for interested teams; but when it's the second surgery on the same part of the body, the concern is increased 10 fold. For Hart, the road to recovery this time around has had it's fair share of setbacks. Initially, the recovery time for Hart was set at 3-4 months after he underwent the micro fracture surgery in January. However Hart dealt with a rash of knee "flare ups" and other complications that forced his recovery time to move from June, to July, to December. Now 11 months since the surgery, Hart still has not been deemed "medically cleared" but could get the OK from his doctors as soon as early December.  Although the term "micro fracture surgery" is what doctors say Hart underwent, it doesn't mean much to the average person. So allow me to play doctor for a minute. From what I understand, micro fracture surgery addresses poorly grown and/or damaged cartilage in the knee. The operation itself is rather intriguing and has become quite popular across sports over the past few years. In essence, a surgeon creates micro fractures in the bone beneath the knee's cartilage. This prompts the body to repair. During the bodies natural respones to injury, blood clots release cartilage building cells that replace and repair the damaged area. In baseball we've seen players like Grady Sizemore and Victor Martinez undergo micro fracture surgery. This doesn't only illustrate the various player-types that may require micro fracture surgery at some point, but it also shows the dichotomy between a successful and unsuccessful return to play. Thus, while the end result of virtually any reconstructive surgery is subject to change, it seems that micro fracture surgery could be one extreme or the other. In addition to Hart's knee health, teams also have to wonder what kind of rust he'll have to knock off after missing 162 games. Granted, it would be foolish to not assume that Hart has done some batting cage work to stay fresh, but swinging against a pitching machine in some sports training complex certainly deviates from digging in against a major league hurler. For that reason, it begs to question if Hart can readjust his game back to the run producing level at which he was performing pre-2013. Of course, Spring Training offers the a good time for Hart to sharpen his skills, it shouldn't come as a surprise if he shows some residual effects from his stint on the shelf. Fortunately for Hart, it seems as though major league clubs aren't shying away from him because of his lost season. MLB Trade Rumors reported that the Red Sox, Rays, Rockies, Brewers, and other teams have expressed varying levels of interest in the 30 year old. For the Red Sox, Hart offers less of a commitment than Napoli and assuming he's healthy he has the ability to post similar numbers. This opens a few doors for Boston. Because the contractual commitment would be seemingly miniscule, there really is no risk. If Hart falters Boston always has Mike Carp and Daniel Nava to fall back on. Moreover, signing Hart could also mean that Ben Cherington has allocated money elsewhere--perhaps even to a big ticket free agent like Brian McCann or Carlos Beltran.

The avenues for Boston to take at first base are abound. While Mike Napoli still represents their first option, Corey Hart offers a solid back up plan. However with Napoli, the Red Sox know to expect a threatening bat and average-above average defense. Hart, on the other hand, could be those things too but he's much less of a sure thing than Napoli. Simply put: the Red Sox need to consider if a player that is one year removed from micro surgery and a lost season is what they want to bank on at first base during the 2014 season.