LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. -- In September, Corey Hart said he would take a hometown discount. In December, he found an offer too rich to refuse.
Hart's 13-year run with the Brewers organization came to an end when he agreed in principle to a more lucrative one-year deal with the Mariners, giving Seattle a bat to protect fellow free-agent acquisition Robinson Cano and leaving the Brewers to move on in their search for a first baseman.
The Mariners' offer topped the Brewers' in terms of both guaranteed money and total value, said Milwaukee general manager Doug Melvin, who made clear he did not blame Hart for moving on. A source said Hart would earn a base salary in the neighborhood of $6 million from Seattle, with $7 million more in incentives, for a total of $13 million. The Brewers' offer was believed to top out at about half that total, including incentives.
"I can't get into specifics right now," Hart said in a text message, "but this was a family decision based on a lot of factors. The Mariners showed they were sincerely interested and made a strong push. And I get a chance to DH some while still having Spring Training in Arizona near home.
"I have no hard feelings toward the Brewers and certainly have great appreciation for the team and its fans. This was just the best thing to do for me and my family."
Hart had been the Brewers' longest-tenured player, drafted in 2000 as a first baseman, subsequently moved to right field and then moved back to first base in '12, when Milwaukee was beset by injuries at the position. He underwent double knee surgery in '13 and missed the entire season, but was given full medical clearance last week and was Milwaukee's top target at the Winter Meetings.
The Brewers made what amounted to their best offer on Tuesday and waited deep into the night for a decision from Hart and agent Jeff Berry. On Wednesday morning, Melvin and Berry met in the Brewers' Winter Meetings suite, and Berry asked whether the Brewers wanted to sweeten their offer.
"I said, 'We're too far apart to go back and forth, and it's too late in the process,'" Melvin said. "We have a good relationship. There's no animosity. We were very upfront. There was not a whole lot of negotiating going on. They didn't take our offer for leverage. On any player, we have a certain level we can go to. Our level of risk with players on performance and players with injuries is different than others.
"It shouldn't be painted as a bad picture that Corey left because he said that [about taking a discount]. Because we said the same thing -- we said we wanted to have him back. When it comes down to it, you have to look at the numbers, you have to look at the situation and weigh everything into it."
Several factors worked in Seattle's favor. The Mariners, like the Brewers, have Spring Training in west Phoenix, near Hart's home. Hart has familiarity with Mariners GM Jack Zduriencik, who drafted Hart in 2000, when Zduriencik was Milwaukee's amateur scouting director. And in the American League, Hart can occasionally serve as the designated hitter -- an opportunity to rest his surgically repaired knees while still pursuing those contract incentives.
Zduriencik told reporters that Hart and newly acquired Logan Morrison (picked up Wednesday in a trade with the Marlins) would play some outfield in addition to first base and DH.
"The talent pool for National League clubs [is smaller]," Melvin said. "And this isn't crying or whining or anything, it's just the way it is. Sometimes you can get an additional 25 or 30 games in a DH role."
A two-time National League All-Star, Hart will turn 32 just before Opening Day. In 945 games over parts of nine seasons with the Brewers, he was a .276/.334/.491 hitter with 154 home runs and 508 RBIs. He topped 20 home runs in five of the six seasons before his injury-plagued 2013.
With Hart gone, the Brewers' longest-tenured player is second baseman Rickie Weeks, the second overall pick in the 2003 Draft, whose own future is in doubt because Scooter Gennett has taken over at second base. After Weeks comes '04 Draft pick Yovani Gallardo.
Asked where this left the Brewers at first base, Melvin said, "Still looking."
He had "a few things working" as of Wednesday afternoon, but does not expect the search to end before the Brewers contingent heads home Thursday. Melvin met with representatives for free agent James Loney, who reportedly wants a three-year deal, and also has had some trade talks this week with the Mets, who are listening to offers for Ike Davis. Other potential trade targets include Justin Smoak of the Mariners (though Zduriencik insisted Smoak was still part of the M's plan) and Mitch Moreland of the Rangers.
"Whatever is the best fit, giving up the least," said Melvin. "Giving up players is always hard. If you give up a player and have to fill that hole, we'd like to try to avoid that. If you make a trade, you do it from depth you have at certain positions."
Loney, he said, "Is still out there. As long as players are still out there, they're all viable options."