Hart missed the entire 2013 season while recovering from surgery on each of his knees, but he averaged 29 home runs and 83 RBIs over the three previous seasons, including a 30-homer, 83 RBI performance in 2012 while making the transition from right field back to first base, Hart's original position when the Brewers made him an 11th-round Draft pick in 2000. Melvin told MLB.com last week that he'd been sent video of Hart "moving around" in a workout, and on Tuesday, Hart's representatives at CAA Sports posted part of a similar video online.
He will turn 32 before Opening Day, but would be appealing to the Brewers if healthy and still willing, as Hart said in September, to re-sign with Milwaukee at a discount. Barring winter trades, the Brewers have only modest financial flexibility this winter because their six highest-paid players -- Ryan Braun, Yovani Gallardo, Kyle Lohse, Rickie Weeks and Aramis Ramirez -- will draw nearly $63 million in 2014 salaries. The Brewers could trade Weeks because Scooter Gennett is ready to take over second base, but would have to eat a significant portion of Weeks' salary and might not get much in return because he is still recovering from hamstring surgery.
Hart is represented by agent Jeff Berry, who also worked with Melvin on Hart's three-year, $26.5 million contract extension in the summer of 2010.
If Berry finds interest in Hart from other clubs that drives up the price, Melvin's most likely Plan B is the trade market. He recently characterized the free-agent list of first basemen as Justin Morneau, James Loney, "and it pretty well stops at that point." The Brewers did not seem interested in Mike Napoli even before he rejected a qualifying offer from the Red Sox, meaning he would now require a forfeiture of Milwaukee's first-round Draft pick (12th overall). That won't happen after the Brewers surrendered their first-round pick last year to sign Lohse.
If Melvin shifts toward trades, one potential partner is the New York Mets. He downplayed recent rumors connecting the clubs, but acknowledged they each have some pieces in place (Norichika Aoki and other Major League-ready outfielders on the Milwaukee side, first baseman Ike Davis and outfielder/first baseman Lucas Duda in New York) to at least continue discussions.
Davis hit 32 home runs with 90 RBIs in 2012 but slumped so badly in 2013 he was demoted to Triple-A for a stretch. He batted .205 for the Mets with a .326 on-base percentage, nine home runs and 33 RBIs in 103 games. Duda batted .223 with a .352 OBP, 15 home runs and 33 RBIs in 100 games. Both are left-handed hitters, as are the Brewers' top two internal options -- Juan Francisco and prospect Hunter Morris.
Davis will turn 27 in March after earning $3.125 million last season and has three years of arbitration eligibility remaining. Duda will turn 28 in February and is arbitration-eligible for the first time as a "Super Two" player.
"They've indicated that they have extra first basemen, and we have a need," Melvin said. "Again, it's all about keeping your options open. ... Nothing imminent, and I don't anticipate anything imminent. But first base is one of our needs, they have excess first basemen, so you can tie two and two together -- and come up with three."
Sometimes, it seems baseball's Hot Stove season works that way. For example, Melvin said the Brewers and Mets did not have any trade talks during the season, refuting a recent report.
Asked whether he and New York GM Sandy Alderson had talked this week during the GM Meetings, Melvin said, "Well, you talk to everybody down here."
The Mets are not the only team with potentially available first basemen. The White Sox could move slugger Adam Dunn if Paul Konerko decides to play another season, and Aoki might be intriguing as a leadoff man and center fielder. The Rangers have Mitch Moreland and some interest in outfielders. The Angels have Mark Trumbo, but his price would be steep and would involve parting with the type of young pitcher the Brewers are trying to build around. A more realistic target could be a player like the Angels' Kole Calhoun or the Phillies' Darin Ruf, a right-handed hitter with some power who is feeling squeezed after the Phillies signed Marlon Byrd.
Among the topics discussed by baseball's GMs during their actual meetings in Orlando included instant replay and potential changes to the system of September callups, long a point of contention for Melvin. But he said he did not expect any near-term changes to that system.