Brewers owner Mark Attanasio, a Bronx-raised Brentwood, Calif. resident, is thriving in Milwaukee, the NLCS defeat notwithstanding. And while some folks around baseball envision him as a potential savior of the Los Angeles Dodgers, he seems ingrained in Milwaukee and shows no inclination of wanting to switch teams to save the storied-yet-beleaguered Dodgers in his adopted hometown of Los Angeles.
Instead, Attanasio,a money manager who is said to have had a big year himself in business, has made Milwaukee his home. He has an apartment overlooking Lake Michigan, is part owner of the Milwaukee Admirals hockey team along with assistant GM Gord Ash and former Brewers pitcher Ben Sheets, and, most notably, has shown a determination to keep the Brewers on the baseball map.
So if the odds to keep star slugger Prince Fielder in Milwaukee beyond this season remain long, as appears to be the case, at least Attanasio seems committed to stay for the long haul.
This year had been seen as the Brewers' best chance for a title, since Fielder is still in Milwaukee. But even if he leaves, don't count on the franchise going south anytime soon -- not as long as Attanasio stays.
The owner revived baseball hopes in Milwaukee by giving GM Doug Melvin the go-ahead to acquire several established stars, such as Francisco Rodriguez, and run up the payroll to $94 million, a level previously unheard of for the franchise. That's very impressive for Milwaukee, which is easily the smallest market in MLB by population (it's ranked 39th, with 1.55 million people, 10 spots below Kansas City). The six-game NLCS defeat to the nemesis Cardinals stung (they also lost to St. Louis in their one World Series appearance, back in 1982), but the Brewers will return everyone they want, except set-up man Rodriguez, who'll get a closer job elsewhere, and possibly Fielder.
Fielder and fellow slugger Ryan Braun are key components who were drafted at the end of the Bud Selig family's four-decade reign, but Attanasio has invested wisely in baseball's smallest market and turned it into one of the country's great baseball towns. "He's like a rock star in Milwaukee,'' Attanasio's friend Dennis Gilbert, the White Sox executive and former superagent, said.
The Brewers drew more than three million fans to Miller Park this season, ranking seventh in the majors in attendance. Those fans came to see an exciting, young, star-filled team built around the Dartmouth-educated, number-crunching Attanasio's simple mathematical formula of 1 2, 3, 4, 7 and 9. The 1-2 is the pitching punch represented by starters Yovani Galardo and Zack Greinke, the 3-4 the power-hitting tandem of Braun and Fielder, and the 7, 8 and 9 are the back-end bullpen stars Takashi Saito, Rodriguez and John Axford, three closers who give Milwaukee the edge against just about anyone over the seventh, eighth and ninth innings. Melvin has done a terrific job himself, but Attanasio is heavily involved (he was the one who, with two weeks remaining in 2008, switched from manager Ned Yost to Dale Sveum, who then nudged the Brewers to their first postseason berth in 26 years).
He is also admired by competitors, one of whom calls him "straightforward, talented and smart enough to know what he should be involved in.'' Attanasio and his wife, Debbie, are the biggest cheerleaders in a city that's become engrossed by baseball. (Disclaimer: Debbie Attanasio, formerly Kaplan, and I grew up in the same hometown and attended the same schools, until she went to Harvard). Debbie says she's sometimes too nervous to watch, which may explain how in Game 4 of the NLCS she was conked on the shoulder by a foul ball off the bat of the Brewers' Mark Kotsay, who inscribed the baseball, "You should be mad at your Mark, not me,'' for Attanasio's failing to swat away the ball in time.
His wife's bruise notwithstanding, Attanasio looked jubilant following the Brewers' series-tying win that day, but after his team lost Game 5, he paced the hallways at Busch Stadium. But while he may have looked upset, he pointed out the calm team in the lunchroom off the hall in Busch's visitors clubhouse. "Look at how loose they are,'' Attanasio said about his team. "They never get too high or too low.''
Attanasio said he hasn't given up on keeping the cleanup man and spiritual leader Fielder, who sounded after Sunday's game as though he'd worn his Brewers uniform for the last time. While retaining Fielder may be a serious long shot, Attanasio will keep pitching to him. He signed Braun into the next decade with a $20-million-a-year deal, and while Fielder barely reacted to his own $20-million-a-year offer (it was for $120 million for six years with a three-year buyout) almost two years ago, Attanasio remains in contact with agent Scott Boras and hasn't given up the small chance that Fielder stays. With a typical small-market operator there would be no chance, but Attanasio hasn't lost all hope.
Fielder is seeking to make Mark Teixeira's $180 million, eight-year deal his baseline, and will sell himself as a better hitter with more power who is younger than Teixeira when he got that deal from the Yankees after the 2008 season. Lineup runningmate Braun, a leading NL MVP candidate, has opined what everyone believes, which is that Fielder will likely leave, but thanks partly to Attanasio, he says, "Of course there's always a chance... I know he loves it here. He's a great teammate and a great leader. But of course, there are 29 other teams that will want him.''
At least Attanasio so far doesn't seem offended by Fielder's asking price, and the sides remain in contact. Attanasio himself became a free agent of sorts in recent months, and is said to have made hundreds of millions of dollars when he sold his former L.A. money company and started up with a new one.
Attanasio's answer regarding keeping Fielder was short. "We're going to try,'' he said. And Prince's response to that comment was even shorter. "Sweet,'' he said in reply.
Even if Fielder departs, the Brewers will bring back a lot of terrific pieces, including 1, 2, 3, 7 and 9 in Attanasio's formula. "Everyone's back except Prince [and K-Rod],'' Attanasio noted.
And presumably, so is Attanasio, who could save the sad-sack Dodgers, but has clearly made Milwaukee his adopted baseball hometown instead.
• Credit relatively new Cubs owner Tom Ricketts for signing Theo Epstein to save the team hoping to break its 103-year championship drought. As reports suggest, Epstein will try to import Josh Byrnes, who helped build the Boston championships with him, from San Diego. The Red Sox, who have balked so far at also letting Epstein bring with him his favorite holdover execs from Boston, will elevate Ben Cherington to replace Epstein.
• No one should blame Cherington and Co. for holding out for a "significant'' minor league piece back in compensation for Epstein. After all, Ricketts thought so much of Epstein that he gave him $18.5 million for five years, up from his $2.7 million Boston salary. The Red Sox would have liked top Cubs prospect Brett Jackson, but Carrie Muskat of MLB.com reported that the Cubs won't part with Jackson, which is no surprise. The Cubs are "very thin'' in the minor league ranks, which might explain why it's taking awhile. They do have young pitchers Casey Coleman and Andrew Cashner and outfield prospect Matt Szczur.
• Red Sox owner John Henry didn't need to say on 98.5 The Sports HUB (WBZ-fm) that he was "personally opposed'' to the Carl Crawford signing. That doesn't put him in any better light (as owner he can always reject any idea or deal), nor can it make Crawford feel any better. Without Epstein there, this could be a tipoff that Henry will inject himself more into the public arena. But a PR person would tell him that he needs to talk about their great future and not dwell on the disaster of a September. More importantly, he has devalued Crawford. "He's painted Carl Crawford as their walking, talking mistake. He just threw $60 million into the air,'' one high-ranking baseball person said about Henry's comments. Hey, at least it made for good ratings.
• Rangers people have suggested that they will make sure to try their best to re-sign the players who brought them two straight World Series appearances, so the idea that they would throw a "boatload'' of money at CC Sabathia doesn't really fit with that. They say that they will try to bring back their own free-agent lefty ace, C.J. Wilson, though their people don't seem overly optimistic about that. People connected to the team also suggest that Japanese League star Yu Darvish is a possibility for them if they can win the posting competition. And as Danny Knobler (@DKnobler) of CBSsports.com reported, they might use both Neftali Feliz and Alexi Ogando in the rotation next year.
• The non-trade of Michael Young was one of the best non-deals of the year. The Rangers had a preliminary agreement with the Rockies on a trade for Eric Young and another player, whereby they would still pay more than half of Young's $16 million salary. But Texas was "never enthused about'' that deal before Young said he would stay to DH fulltime, and the Rockies kindly let them out of the trade with the stipulation that they could resurrect it if the Rangers changed their mind about dealing Young. Instead, Young stayed right where he'd always been and batted .338 before driving in seven runs in Texas' six-game ALCS win.
• Rangers president Nolan Ryan is impressing baseball folks with his acumen. He was one of the driving forces behind the signing of Adrian Beltre in Texas. The since-deposed Chuck Greenberg was fixated on Cliff Lee, who didn't do too badly with Philly this year but is sitting home now.
• One competing agent said that Albert Pujols should shoot for $40 million over six years, under the assumption that baseball's best player is 31. "And it should not be St. Louis. It should be an American League team,'' that person said, so Pujols could DH. Nonetheless, the Cardinals, who offered nine years for just north of $200 million, are seen as the early favorite to retain their iconic player, especially after the good feeling of their postseason.
• Tony La Russa spoke enthusiastically about 2012, giving many folks the belief that e plans to return as Cardinals manager. Superb pitching coach Dave Duncan, his sidekick for all these years, has a more personal decision. His wife is battling cancer.
• The White Sox are expected to try to bring starting pitcher Mark Buehrle back on a two-year deal, and he may be one of the many veterans loyal to owner Jerry Reinsdorf who stays for less. If he leaves, most would expect it to be for his hometown St. Louis Cardinals.
• Good for Miguel Cabrera, who had a terrific season after starting spring training with a scary DUI in which he pulled over on the side of the road in rural Florida on the way to Lakeland. Cabrera was excellent this year in every way, a credit to the organization and him. After the ALCS was over, he revealed that he hurt his shoulder trying to bowl over Rangers catcher Mike Napoli in Game 4, but seemed hopeful that he didn't suffer any structural damage. It obviously didn't affect his swing. He had two home runs in Detroit's season-ending Game 6 loss.
• The Tigers were beat up, but manager Jim Leyland was correct to say that the Rangers earned it. Nice year for Leyland and Co., though.
• The Giants are expected to go hard for Carlos Beltran, who they obviously love (they gave up top pitching prospect Zach Wheeler to get him from the Mets).
• The Padres have offered Heath Bell $15-to-16 million for two years, according to Bill Center of the San Diego Union-Tribune (up from the $14 million reported here). But if he doesn't sign he will be offered arbitration, and he said he would accept. Assuming he stays in San Diego either way, that would leave three great closers on the free-agent market. There's Jonathan Papelbon and Ryan Madson in addition to K-Rod. The Red Sox would seem likely to try hard to keep Papelbon now, after his terrific year and their rough one. The Nationals are a candidate for Madson if he leaves the Phillies; ex-Phillies teammate Jayson Werth is trying to sell Madson on the Nats.
• Names connected to the Angels GM job so far include Jerry DiPoto, Damon Oppenheimer, Billy Eppler and Thad Levine. The Baltimore-bred Levine, a terrific young exec who trained Rangers GM Jon Daniels in Colorado and now serves as Daniels' assistant, might be a better fit in L.A., since Daniels fired Buck Showalter in Texas.
Oppenheimer, the Yankees' VP of amateur scouting, is headed for an interview in Anaheim. He drafted 10 major league players in 2006, even though the Yankees didn't pick until No. 21: Ian Kennedy, Joba Chamberlain, Zach McAllister, Colin Curtis, David Robertson, Daniel McCutchen, Kevin Russo, George Kontos, Mark Melancon and Dellin Betances.
• DiPoto and Tony La Cava from the Jays will interview in Baltimore, reports Dan Connolly of the Baltimore Sun.
• Dodgers third base coach Tim Wallach will make a good manager one day.
• Ryne Sandberg has earned a shot to manage in the big leagues. Not many Hall of Famers are willing to beat the bushes for several years as Sandberg has done, most recently managing the Phillies' Triple-A affiliate this past season.
• Zack Greinke said he likes Milwaukee, who acquired him via trade from Kansas City last offseason. He said he also would have accepted a trade to Texas. Not sure on the Yankees (though at one point he sort of indicated he might), though he rejected Washington.
• The Mets' hiring of Bob Geren, the ex-A's manager, as bench coach shows once again that Sandy Alderson, Paul DePodesta and J.P. Ricciardi are running the team how they want. Jim Riggleman, who finished second, was likely the choice of manager Terry Collins. And Riggleman would have been a great call. The loss of Chip Hale to the A's staff hurts. The Mets job works nicely for Geren as both his sons play for Princeton. Geren is smarter than he's given credit for, but like Collins, the players in his first managerial job disliked him. Maybe like Collins, he can make a comeback in that regard.
• Cardinals owner Bill DeWitt was a partner with George W. Bush with the Rangers.
• A Molina brother has been in the World Series in 2002 (Bengie and Jose, both with the Angels), 2004 (Yadier, with the Cardinals), 2006 (Yadier), 2009 (Jose, with the Yankees), 2010 (Bengie, with the Rangers) and now 2011 (Yadier).