Attanasio: Talk of Melvin's job security 'ridiculous'

The Brewers don’t need a major overhaul to return to contention next season, and speculation about general manager Doug Melvin’s job security is “ridiculous,” the team’s principal owner said Wednesday.

“It seems like a cop-out to me to blow everything up and start from scratch,” said Mark Attanasio, who arrived at Wrigley Field this week for his first in-person look at the team in weeks. “We’ve built this team around a good core of players now for five years and we took a step back [this year]. We’d like to take two steps forward next year.”

sabathia.jpgThe Brewers won the National League Wild Card last season to earn their first postseason ticket in 26 years. This season has been just as successful at the gate — the Brewers will draw three million fans for the second straight season — but less so on the field. Entering play on Wednesday night, any combination of three Brewers losses and Cardinals wins would formally eliminate Milwaukee.  

“I try to take what I’ve learned from portfolio management and apply it to baseball, because investing is what I know,” Attanasio said. “There is a temptation when things are bad to change everything, right? But if, at the bottom of the market, you sold all of your beat-up stocks, you sold your financial services and home builders, those are the ones that have recovered the best.

“So we need to take a hard look of what we’ve got and not just see the bad. We have a lot of good here. We thought we had a team this year that was going to compete for the playoffs — and by the way, a lot of teams this year are surprised that they haven’t, including [the Cubs] — but we obviously didn’t have as good a team as we thought we had. But, we probably don’t have as bad a team as it may feel like we have now because we’re having some tough losses. I think we have to take a measured approach. Doug always takes a measured approach to things.

“If Doug were to end up deciding that he wanted to make significant changes, I would support that, but he’s certainly not getting any pressure from me to make significant changes because I do think that we have a pretty good core group of players.”

He also believes he has a pretty good GM. Last winter, he extended Melvin’s contract an additional three years, through 2012. On Wednesday, Attanasio squashed any speculation that he might consider a change considering the team’s disappointing showing in 2009.

“Ridiculous,” Attanasio said. “Doug is a very strong baseball guy and I believe that this year was an aberration. I’m encouraging him to continue to follow his instincts and not do anything different.”

Manager Ken Macha doesn’t have the same contractual cushion as Melvin. He signed a two-year contract prior to last season that runs only through 2010.

“I’m really leaving that to Doug,” Attanasio said. “I believe he’s said that he’s going to assess everything after the season. … I think Ken is a very strong baseball guy and he’s certainly put enormous effort into the team this season and we did sign him to a two-year contract, so I guess those are all facts. I will say that Doug is not getting any pressure from me to make a manager change, but he will make the decision.”

The more important decisions will be in player personnel, beginning with a pitching staff that entered Wednesday’s game next-to-last in the National League with a 4.79 ERA, including a starting rotation that ranked dead last at 5.19.

The only starter whose contractual situation is unclear for 2010 is right-hander Braden Looper, whose deal includes a mutual option. The Brewers will almost certainly exercise their half (it calls for a $6.5 million base salary) but it remains to be seen whether Looper seeks a better deal on the open market.

The Brewers’ other key free agents are closer Trevor Hoffman, center fielder Mike Cameron and catcher Jason Kendall. The Brewers figure to hold payroll relatively steady next season — it was just over $80 million at the start of 2009 but has crept up to about $87 million with midseason additions — and adding depth to the pitching staff within that framework will probably dominate the offseason agenda.

“Doug and his team have had numerous conversations to figure out what went wrong and how do we fix it, and it’s very, very complex,” Attanasio said. “There are various things that did not work out this year relative to the pitching and we’re examining all of those. … With an offense like ours, you really just need your pitching to be average, and unfortunately it wasn’t this year.”

One way to improve the pitching, of course, would be to put one of the team’s young stars on the trading block. The name mentioned most is Prince Fielder, who is under contract through next season and then has one more year of arbitration-eligibility before reaching free agency in the winter of 2011-12.

Asked whether the team would consider trading Fielder this winter, Attanasio did not seem interested.

“I think that would be a very easy way to cop-out,” he said. “We’re not going to do that. Again, Doug is very methodical and needs to assess everything at the end of the season when the data is in and you certainly reserve the right to go look at that. If we study something and it’s the right thing to do, of course we would consider doing it.”

But Attanasio made it clear that he believes the team can return to prominence next season without so drastic a move.

“It’s very disappointing that these games in September don’t mean anything, but guess what?” he said. “They don’t mean anything for the Chicago Cubs, either. That’s kind of a shock. Or the Cincinnati Reds, who have a similar payroll to us. The only team in our division that seems to have got it right this season is the Cardinals.

“I do believe that this is a fixable situation, but that doesn’t mean that it is easy to fix. We have to make a number of right moves.”

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