Attanasio pleased with Crew's progress in '16

Brewers owner does not put date on club's ideal return to contention

Attanasio pleased with Crew's progress in '16

MILWAUKEE -- A year and a day after he introduced David Stearns as baseball's youngest general manager, Brewers owner Mark Attanasio praised the work of Stearns and manager Craig Counsell in 2016, saying he believes the franchise is already on the way back up.

The Brewers were 68-84 as Attanasio held his annual year-end meeting with reporters Thursday afternoon, matching their win total from the year before with 10 games remaining.

"We don't have a schedule for what we're trying to do in terms of getting back to the playoffs, but we had more positive performances from younger players this year than I was expecting," Attanasio said. "I would say that gives David a high grade right there.

"I really try hard not to put a timetable on [returning to contention]. We saw it with the last team. We took a big step forward in 2005 and took a step back in 2006 and we took a step forward in 2007 and a big step in '08. I don't want to pinpoint a year, but I would say that we are just further along the continuum than we would have thought at this point. There are more guys on the field right now and on this roster now that can be part of that winning effort."

One of those guys was Ryan Braun, who returned from a two-day paternity leave to start the series finale against Pittsburgh. Thursday marked Attanasio's first comments on the near-trade on Aug. 31 that would have sent Braun to the Dodgers for a package of players headlined by outfielder Yasiel Puig.

Attanasio was asked whether he expects Braun to be in a Brewers uniform on 2017 Opening Day.

"I hope he is," Attanasio said. "That was a unique circumstance, and we'll see if a circumstance like that presents itself again or not. I think all of us like having a guy who hits .300 and 30 home runs in the middle of the lineup. And by the way, he has played some very good defense this year."

Given his long association with Braun, who was Attanasio's first first-round Draft pick, would that trade have been difficult to accept from an emotional perspective?

"Yes," Attanasio said. "Now that I'm 12 seasons into it and I don't have all the same conflicting emotions I had when Ned Yost and Doug Melvin called to say they were going to trade Lyle Overbay. That was very hard. That was my first experience with a player I was fond of and a family I was fond of. So I've had 12 seasons of thickening skin on that. But sure, there's conflicting emotions."

Other highlights from Attanasio's wide-ranging chat:

• On the Brewers' top-ranked Minor League system, according to MLBPipeline.com's Jim Callis: "It's great that we have eight top-100 prospects for the first time in our history, but those players have to develop and contribute at the Major League level and we have to surround them with other players that can contribute at the Major League level. We know that our work is still cut out for us, but I'm encouraged but what we see."

• Counsell's contract will be addressed after the season. He will be entering the final season of a three-year deal in 2017.

• There are no new developments in the Brewers' Spring Training situation. The team is in the midst of a series of one-year options at Maryvale Baseball Park.

"I wait for stuff to bubble up to me [from club officials working on that matter] and nothing has bubbled up," Attanasio said. "So we'll be in Maryvale next spring."

• Despite his optimism, keeping the long view has been challenging at times this season.

"This year, I've turned off more games than I've turned off in any year. It's not like that [competitiveness] has abated," Attanasio said. "But we all got together before this season -- me, David, Craig -- and we said, 'Look, we're going to have some tough times, and we're just going to fight through them.'

"We're committed to this path and this plan, so we're going to follow through on it no matter how difficult it is at any point in time."

Adam McCalvy has covered the Brewers for MLB.com since 2001. Follow him on Twitter @AdamMcCalvy, like him on Facebook and listen to his podcast. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.