The Brewers agreed Monday to a $26.5 million, three-year contract extension through 2013, rewarding the outfielder for a turnaround season that included a trip to the All-Star game.
It was a somewhat surprising turn of events, given how often Hart was the subject of trade rumors in recent weeks. The Brewers listened to offers but nothing came together. And even before non-waiver trade deadline arrived, assistant general manager Gord Ash and agent Jeff Berry had been working on a deal.
"When Corey reached out and said he wanted to stay here, I told Gord to go see what they're looking for," Brewers general manager Doug Melvin said.
The 28-year-old Hart is batting .288 with 23 home runs and 72 RBIs in 92 games this season, a sharp rebound for a player whose production had dipped since the middle of the 2008 season. He also had a wretched spring training performance.
"I've been trying to turn things around since early this year and this has been a goal of mine to stay in Milwaukee long term," Hart said. "They're very accommodating to let me do that."
Hart appears to have a much clearer view of his future after the Brewers bought out a year of arbitration and two years of potential free agency.
"I've always wanted to be able to play and prove I'm a guy who can be long-term," he said. "I've been pushing for that and being able to do it takes a lot of pressure off me."
Hart is making $4.8 million this year after winning in arbitration. The extension gives him a $1 million signing bonus and salaries of $6.5 million in 2011, $9 million in 2012 and $10 million in 2013.
Hart can select 15 teams he cannot be traded to without his consent.
"Hopefully I start the train and other guys lock up," Hart said. "We have a good team so more guys want to stay here."
It doesn't sound like anything is in the works for Prince Fielder, who is a little more than a year away from free agency and is represented by Scott Boras.
"It takes two sides to make a deal in that regard," Melvin said.
For Hart, the sudden shot of stability is a marked change in what has been a productive but tumultuous year.
In February, Hart became the first player to go to arbitration in Melvin's tenure with the Brewers. He was awarded a raise from $3.25 million to $4.8 million, instead of the Brewers' offer of $4.15 million.
Melvin said Monday that he called Hart right after the decision and challenged him to prove that he was worth the money.
"I don't think I congratulated him," Melvin quipped.
The proof would come, but not right away.
After struggling late in the 2008 season and for most of 2009, Hart had a disappointing spring training. He bristled when he wasn't in the team's starting lineup on opening day.
"I got out of a meeting late in the spring with the front office and those guys and they were panicking because I had a bad spring," Hart said last month. "But I wasn't really thinking about it, I assumed I would be the right fielder and then I realized, 'These guys don't like me right now.' "
They certainly do now.
Melvin said he believes this year's production is an accurate representation of Hart's ability.
"I think last year was probably more of an aberration, if you look at what he's done," Melvin said.