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No progress in contract talks with Hart

No progress in contract talks with Hart

PHOENIX -- Asked whether there was anything new to report on negotiations between the Brewers and arbitration-eligible outfielder Corey Hart, one of the team's top officials gave a short-and-sweet response.

"Not a thing," assistant general manager Gord Ash said on Friday afternoon.

That's not a good sign for the Brewers, who have not gone to an arbitration hearing with a player since general manager Doug Melvin took over in the fall of 2002. That could change on Wednesday, when the team faces a hearing with Hart.

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According to the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, the Brewers made their latest offer to Hart and his agent, Jeff Berry, on Friday and it was rejected. Hart, who is arbitration-eligible for the first time, is seeking $3.8 million for 2009 and the Brewers countered at $2.7 million.

Ash said there was more communication between the Brewers and Berry on Saturday, but no real progress to speak of. Asked if it appears the camps are headed for a hearing, Ash responded, "It's looking that way, unfortunately."

If the sides cannot reach a compromise, Hart's arbitration hearing is scheduled for Wednesday, a few miles away from the site of the Brewers' first full-squad workout at Maryvale Baseball Park. If his case goes to a hearing, Hart would miss that annual rite of spring.

Hart is the lone Brewer whose 2009 salary remains unresolved. The team was unable to strike a deal with him last year as well, and renewed his contract for $444,000. Hart finished the year with a .268 batting average, 20 home runs and 91 RBIs. He has at least 20 homers, 20 steals and 80 RBIs in each of his first two full Major League seasons.

Speaking to reporters before a fan event in Milwaukee last month, Hart admitted he was daunted by the relatively large gap between the sides' filings. He expressed a preference to settle somewhere in the middle, but both sides have said they will go to a hearing if necessary.

It's looking increasingly necessary.

"From our angle, [the gap] has been [closed] but there's been little movement on their side," Ash told the Journal Sentinel. "Obviously, our track record is to settle and our preference is to settle. But you can't settle where there's not a willingness to settle."

Brewers director of special projects Teddy Werner, the team's arbitration guru, would present the team's case at a hearing. Three judges would listen to arguments and then choose one salary or the other.

An interesting test case could be heard on Tuesday, when the Dodgers and outfielder Andre Ethier are scheduled for a hearing. The Dodgers face the same $1.1 million gap with Ethier as the Brewers do with Hart, and Ethier is somewhat comparable to Hart, with a better career batting average but slightly lower home run and RBI totals.

Ethier asked for $3.75 million and the club offered $2.65 million.

Adam McCalvy is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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