The Milwaukee Brewers are one game into Spring Training and already have their first casualty. Today, it's come out that outfielder Corey Hart has a torn meniscus (right knee) that was discovered in an MRI this weekend. Hart is going to require arthroscopic surgery, and will likely miss 3-4 weeks. This means that the Brewers are likely to begin the season without Hart, who was slated to play right field and hit fifth behind Ryan Braun and Aramis Ramirez.
To put it lightly, this wasn't quite the way the Brewers wanted to start camp. Hart doesn't figure to miss a lot of regular-season time, but the club already was dealing with a lot of roster turnover going into camp, and Hart's injury leaves them with another lineup hole to plug, at least temporarily. Right now, it looks like NPB signee Norichika Aoki will replace Hart at least on a part-time basis. We still haven't seen enough of Aoki against big-league pitching to even speculate as to how he will fare in Hart's absence, and while initial reports on him have been very favorable, it's still safe to say the Brewers will be significantly worse off without Hart, who has quietly put up outstanding numbers in the shadow of Ryan Braun and Prince Fielder. (Hart's .510 slugging percentage was good for 24th in the major leagues last year, but only third on his own team.) Hart's injury also probably means that either Caleb Gindl or Logan Schafer will break camp with the Brewers, and look to get some at-bats as well. As with Aoki, both offer some promise (with Gindl likely profiling best to replace Hart's bat), but what they will do at the major-league level is still very much an unknown.
As a result of this, the Brewers will likely begin the season not quite at full strength, but things really could have been a lot worse. The club has already dealt with a number of close calls this year that could have greatly exacerbated the hopefully brief loss of Hart:
-- Initially, it looked like Hart's knee might require a procedure more invasive than the arthroscopic surgery he will have. Hart doesn't figure to miss a ton of time due to his current injury, but this operation would have knocked him out for a significant chunk of the season.
-- In addition to being without Hart, the Brewers could be trying to replace Ryan Braun right now if he didn't win his appeal.
-- If the report of Braun's positive test never leaked out, Norichika Aoki probably wouldn't be a Brewer right now, making the fallout of the loss of Hart more chaotic if nothing else.
-- We could have a situation like with Zack Greinke last year, where a player who is better than Hart missed a greater chunk of time with a much more preventable injury.
-- Speaking of last year, the Brewers could still have Yuniesky Betancourt.
See, things aren't quite so bad after all. At least for the moment.