Attanasio on Brewers: ‘They’re better than this and they didn’t show it’

The highlights will be distilled into a story at Brewers.com as soon as possible, but here is the entirely of what principal owner Mark Attanasio and general manager Doug Melvin told reporters in a passionate question and answer session this evening. The bolded sections stood out to me; let me know in the comments what stood out to you:

Melvin began by jumping the inevitable questions about the job status of manager Ron Roenicke and his coaching staff, saying. “I think what you guys want to address is the manager and coaches. We have a process of going through that at the end of the year. This year has been a little different because of us playing the way we have here, and hoping to get in the playoffs late. Those are coming a little bit later, our interviews.

There’s nothing I can answer in regard to the manager and coaches at this time. We’ll talk about the team and the performance of the team.”

When Attanasio was asked about Roenicke’s performance, he turned to Melvin, who said, “I think he’s disappointed.  We’re all disappointed in a lot of our responsibilities to the club. I can look back at myself and say, with some of the decisions we made, did we make the right ones?

“We played very well for a period of time. I would hope that Ron and the coaches, and would hope the players also feel there’s a responsibility for them because we thought we had a good enough team to go to the postseason. When we started out the way we did, we thought we did.

“My biggest concern about the entire season is these losing streaks. Why did we go 2-11 before the All-Star break? We went 6-22 last May. In the end, we’re going to be 81, 82 or 83 wins. That’s probably six or seven wins away from making the playoffs. Over the course of 162 games, it seems like a small amount. What makes it tougher is identifying the issues and the problems because we’ve got a small difference in games winning to go to the postseason. If we won 65 games, it would be easy to identify the problem. You probably stunk in every category doing that. We did have some issues in a lot of categories. You can’t pinpoint anything specifically. If I had to, we’d probably say the offense in the second half of the year was the biggest problem. We’re wondering why did we perform well offensively in the first half of the year and not the second half.

“The old cliché, you want to get off to good start. Well, we did. We didn’t finish strong. I don’t know if next year we’ll be hearing, ‘You guys have to finish stronger.’ There’s a lot of areas we didn’t perform up to expectations. For short periods of time and short spurts. The extended losing streaks are my big concern.”

Asked about Melvin’s job status, Attanasio said, Doug’s standing here so obviously he’s coming back.” 

More Attanasio: “On Aug. 25 I was in San Diego. We won the game, 10-1. The clubhouse was buoyant; the team had an unmistakable swagger on the field. So much so that the Padres owners were coming by and saying, ‘You guys are so big, so strong. Everybody can hit the ball out of the park. How did you guys put this team together?’ From that day, we’ve kind of gone backwards. It’s a mystery in sports.

The short answer is I haven’t handled it well. Honestly, I haven’t slept. Going into September, Doug and I were still working on everything we could to get the team to the playoffs. We [traded for] Jonathan Broxton. That was upwards of an $11 million commitment at the time, if you look at increasing the buyout with his trade option with what he’s owed this year and next year. We thought we were making the playoffs at that point in time. Frankly, even into mid-September I believed in this team and thought they were going to turn it around. They just didn’t. And, so, you can pick the adjectives — frustrated, disappointed, catatonic. Very disappointed.

“In fact, I’m disappointed in the team, disappointed in the guys. They’re better than this and they didn’t show it.

What will he say to the team?

“We talk about team meetings, typically, team meetings aren’t effective in major-league baseball,” Attanasio said. “One of the reasons I’m going to deal with it is this is going to be the first year I don’t address the team as a team at the end of the year. This will be the first time I don’t because I’m just too unhappy, and what’s the point of another meeting to dwell on things? I’m going to talk to some players individually. I’ve started that already and I’ll finish that today”.

Does the team lack heart?

Attanasio: “Again, there’s a lot of euphemisms. We’ve heard heart, we’ve heard leadership, we’ve heard urgency. Just didn’t get the job done. There was a job that needed to get done and it didn’t get done. I actually think what Doug said is accurate — it started with not hitting. The one thing I’ll say that the athletes always say, ‘It is what it is.’  I think they played hard; I don’t think that was the issue.

Was it a lack of focus? 

Attanasio: “One of the things Doug’s going to do over the next couple of weeks — and he’s already started on this — is he’s evaluating everything that got us to this point. There were some good things this season, too, so we’re going to try not to forget those. When you have a 162-game season, it’s a marathon, so at Mile 21 we were in the lead and looked strong. So we want to make sure we want to embrace what got us through those first 21 miles and change out what happened the last five.”

Melvin, asked whether the Brewers’ 150-day stint in first place was a mirage: “At the end it’s going to be 8-9 games difference. Doesn’t matter when you win or how your streaks are. You have two good months, three bad months, two good months. Same as hitting streaks ­– it’s the end; what’s the difference? In the end we’re probably going to fall 7-8 games short. I hear that, I buy that but again, it goes back to, ‘You get off to a good start and finish strong.’

“We went into that San Diego series 13-8 for the month of August and lost six in a row. I thought for sure if we split in San Francisco and the Cubs, you’re still going to have a good winning streak and we didn’t. So, again, I go back to those individual streaks — that prevented us from having a good month. We’re going to take a good look and analyze our ballclub. Offense is down in all of baseball, but I know I just felt when we were successful we had an offensive swagger to us. We hit a lot of home runs. This is the fewest home runs we’ve hit since 2004. But we’ve lost talented players that hit home runs — Rickie Weeks was hitting 21 homers, Corey Hart was hitting 30 and Ryan (Braun) was hitting 41. Home runs are down in baseball, but we had an offensive swagger and teams would come in here and hate to play us in our ballpark.

“Then people like to do different things, ‘We’ve got to run more and all this stuff,’ and we got away from, ‘We only win games when we hit home runs.’ Well, that’s a nice thing. ‘We only win games when we hit home runs.’ I’d like to do that again, ‘We only win games when we hit home runs.’ That’s something that we haven’t done in the last two years. We’re giving up more home runs than we hit. We played the Marlins here; we gave up seven homers and we hit three. So we’ve got to take a hard look at the kind of club you want to be. And that can change. Your personnel forces you to change sometimes. Your philosophy sometimes might force you to change it.

“But I’m a big believer in how you play in your ballpark. The Kansas City Royals are going to the playoffs and they had the fewest walks and the fewest home runs in major-league baseball because they have good pitching, they have an athletic outfield and the largest square footage of outfield in baseball. But they’ve got Dyson, Gordon and Lorenzo Cain who run and catch everything and prevent doubles and the ballpark prevents home runs. So, they win in that ballpark. The Yankees in the past have always built with left-handed pitching and left-handed hitting. So it’s something we’ve really got to sit and think about with our ballclub, what we want to do for our ballpark.”

Could the Brewers be in for more of an offseason shakeup than many expect?

Melvin: “First off, I want to find out who cares about winning and losing in the clubhouse. If there are guys in there that don’t care about winning then they probably won’t be there. As far as shakeup, it could be. We might turn the roster over a little bit. We might have to do that. It’s too early to say that. We haven’t even finished the season. Sometimes you can’t force yourself. There was a particular team that shook everybody up and now they had to shake their front office up. You have to be careful with what you do and think through the process. We’ve had a lot of changes here recently. If you look back at what your team looked like four years ago — teams are altogether different. Your roster, just through the natural causes of the system that we are in with arbitration and free agency, changes quite a bit anyways.”

Was he suggesting some players didn’t care?

Melvin: “I’m not saying that. We’ll find out. I think guys care. Our guys work hard. Maybe they put too much pressure on themselves through the streak. I’m just saying that in general it is a tough business. We’ve had guys in there on winning teams even, even our own players. You have to find out that guys want to be here. Most of them want to be here, but I want to make sure that it is not too comfortable though. We’ve got a nice ballpark and a great fan base, but it can’t be comfortable. Losing and not going to the postseason can’t be comfortable.”

More Melvin: “Power hitters and power pitchers are all very expensive. [Offense is] down in the Minor Leagues, too. The game has changed a little bit. The ERA that was first in the major leagues in 2008 was 18th in the major leagues this year. Hitting is really down. There are trends in the game that you have to be on top of.  There are enough statistical numbers in there that we will take a look at everything. We didn’t play good defense either this year. Our defense disappointed us at times. We’ll take a hard look at everything. We look at players individually, we’ll look at the coaching staff, we’ll look at Ron, I’ll look at myself to see if we can put things together to come back here and get into the postseason. It’s a tough division to play in, and the Cubs are going to get better, the Pirates will be there, the Cardinals are always tough and the Reds will get healthy. I still think it is one of the toughest divisions in baseball. That’s a challenge that we are all faced with.”

Attanasio was asked about accountability: “It’s always important to be accountable, and obviously that gets sharpened in a situation like this. It’s a very difficult circumstance. It hasn’t happened that often. It’s happened with more frequency though, teams that were in first place for 150 days and then have slipped. There was one back in ’69 with the Cubs, but then in ’07 and ’08 and ’09, so it happens a little more. Does the nature of the game have to do with that or not?

It’s not that easy to really understand what happened here. If it were, we would have a quick response today. it’s not like we’re delaying the decision because it’s uncomfortable. We are delaying the decision because we need to do the work to sort through what happened. Some the things Doug said to you all, relative to things we’re looking at, it doesn’t mean we had a problem in those areas, but we are going to look at everything. We are going to look at players and there performance. We are going to look at players’ motivations. We are going to look at field staff. Doug is going to examine what he’s done.

“And frankly, there’s nothing to do about it this season, but if you go back to the four things that I’ve always stressed since I bought the team, No. 1 is being perennially competitive. Always being competitive. The good news is we have been, and frankly, I went back and looked a couple days ago no. This is little solace to me, much less anyone else who is a fan, we actually were 11th during those 10 years in wins. Actually, more wins at that point earlier this week than the San Francisco Giants. We were tied with the Rays at that point, one less loss. Now, that means we never draft low. I’m not making excuses for where we are. Never have. The Pirates had 20 years of losing, a lot of low draft picks, now they are killing it. And I respect that. I always said, ‘We gotta win, we gotta win, we gotta win.’ And we’ve got 2.8 million fans here supporting the team, we we better damn well win. Maybe that wasn’t the right approach. Maybe I should have directed that we take a step back here, which we never have. I am certainly not looking to do that now, by the way. But I do have to examine from the top, is it the right thing? 

“I’ve always felt that trying to compete — trying to provide these fans, that I do believe we put them through a lot these last couple of years. By the way, this year, for me, was as tough as last year. I know last year was misery with everything that went on, this was as difficult to disappear like this at the end of the year. is it the right thing to always try to compete? Again, I think the answer is always going to be yes, because we have 2.8 million reasons to say that. We have 2.8 million reasons to spent $110 million. But you see teams that occasionally retrench, and they seem to be doing a little better right now. We’ll look at all of that.”

What needs to happen to get the fans back next season?

“I think we need to give the fans a reason to come back,” Attanasio said. “That means we have to identify what went wrong, we have to have a good explanation for how we’re fixing it, and if we’re not making any changes, we’d better have a damn good reason for why. And I mean changes broadly speaking — same roster, same manager and coaches, same everything — we’d better say, ‘Well, it was this, and that’s why we’re not changing.’ And that’s an option. One of the things we really tried hard to do this year is build a club that we can bring everybody back. If we spent $110 million, we can being everybody back next year, including Gerardo Parra, including Jonathan Broxton. So even guys we traded for, we can bring back. The question is whether Doug and his group will recommend that we do that.

“I wouldn’t say we’re quite at a crossroads, but we’re at [the point] where you can take a path in the woods, and you take one direction or the other. We do have a lot of talent, we have experienced players. We need to identify what’s missing. Is it more power hitters? Is it more players with an edge? Is it, I don’t know. Whatever it was, it worked like gangbusters the first half of the year, and didn’t work in the second half.”

Any changes to the offseason process?

“One of the things you need to do is bring the same — if you have a good process, you have a good result,” Attanasio said. “Our processes are good. There is no issue at all with our decision-making process, and we’re just going to follow through on it. I think we take an appropriate level of risk. We have very few if any — I don’t think we have any bad player contracts. There’s a lot of things we’ve done well as a result of our process.”

*

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