Attanasio disappointed, but encouraged by youth

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Tom Haudricourt, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel
Sunday, September 29, 2013

NEW YORK—Every year, Milwaukee Brewers principal owner Mark Attanasio addresses the players at the start of spring training and again during the final week of the season. Sort of his hello and goodbye to the troops.

On Thursday afternoon, when Attanasio looked around the visitors clubhouse at Citi Field and realized how many different faces there were from his spring-training address, it drove home just how turbulent the season had been.

“It was a striking visual,” Attanasio, who has been on hand for the Brewers’ season-ending series against the New York Mets, said Friday. “Looking around, I don’t think in nine seasons (as owner) we’ve ever had turnover like that.”

An avalanche of injuries as well as the suspension of Ryan Braun created a constant roster turnover, and the Brewers never got in the National League Central race. They were 15 games out at the end of a 6-22 May and had to battle just to avert a total meltdown.

“There’s probably a lot of words that come to mind. Unfortunately, the first word that comes to mind is ‘disappointing,’” Attanasio said. “I think we all know the reasons for that—there’s many reasons.

“That said, it did end up somewhat encouraging, both in terms of our wins and most importantly in terms of how all the young guys have played, the ones who came up these last two to three months.”

Asked if performances by the likes of rookies Scooter Gennett, Khris Davis and Tyler Thornburg changed the thinking about how much retooling needs to be done to make the team competitive again, Attanasio said, “It certainly is going to affect how we plan in the off-season. We did our full group staff meetings, and a lot of these guys are in the mix now, and I don’t know if you would have had any of them in the mix three to four months ago.

“We can never have enough pitching, so we’re always going to look at pitching. We’ve already been through the free-agent list. There’s not a lot of obvious candidates. Other than that, for a team that still ranks pretty low in terms of won-loss record, we have a lot of positions already filled for next year, and in fact, in some cases, overflow.

“The budget is fluid. It depends on opportunity. Trades can come up and you can increase budget through trades, too. You don’t only do it through free-agent signings.”

Obviously, one of the toughest issues the Brewers faced was the season-ending, 65-game suspension of Braun, their best player, who admitted using a banned substance after being caught in the Major League Baseball investigation of the Biogenesis clinic. Shortly afterward, Attanasio said he hoped to take an active role in the steps Braun would need to make toward forgiveness and redemption.

“It’s really guidance,” said Attanasio. “I think it’s important for Ryan that he works through this himself. And, importantly, he is taking the responsibility of working through this himself.

“The idea, for example, of calling season-ticket holders was his idea. By the way, also, his idea and not us screening those calls or calling ahead and saying, ‘Ryan Braun is going to be calling.’ I think a few season-ticket holders, when they got the call, thought it was a phony call.

“I would say so far, so good. It’s too early to make any judgments on where this is going. I think we all need to step back and see how this goes. He’s in the early innings.”

As for whether Braun will answer questions from reporters at some point, Attanasio said, “That’s his call. I don’t know what his thinking is on that. Ryan, as he’s doing things, he has passed them by me.

“But we don’t talk about, ‘Should I do this? Or should I do that?’ Because I do think it is important for him to work this out. There’s not an easy path here. There’s no silver-bullet solution. It’s a process. You have to work through the process.”

Attanasio did say he is “counting” on Braun being at the team’s “Brewers On Deck” fan fest in January.

Attanasio, who confirmed the team would pick up its $1.5 million option on rightfielder Norichika Aoki, talked about important positional decisions that have to be made by general manager Doug Melvin and his staff before next spring. How does he see first base playing out?

“Wide open,” he said. “Doug has made the point several times—first base is quite a difficult position to play well, more than meets the eye. There’s a lot of footwork involved, and if you’re not careful, you can get injured.”

And what do you do with second baseman Rickie Weeks, who has an $11 million salary next year, after Gennett has made such a favorable impression?

“Look, it’s all about performance,” said Attanasio. “This team has never made its decisions based on size of contract. It has made decisions based on historical performance and consistency of performance. So, generally, players who have bigger contracts, they have bigger contracts for a reason. They performed over the years.

“We’re mindful that while Scooter Gennett has done extremely well, he’s had 200 major league at-bats. We’re mindful that major-league pitchers are going to make adjustments to him. But, every night, he’s out there making plays and getting key hits. He’s certainly caught everyone’s attention.”

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