Attanasio on '19 Crew: 'The chips are all in now'

Team opened $65 million spring facility, increased spending on free agents

February 20th, 2019

PHOENIX -- Brewers principal owner Mark Attanasio missed last week's ribbon-cutting at American Family Fields of Phoenix because of an illness, so Tuesday afforded his first look at what $65 million and 500,000 man-hours can build in 9 1/2 months.

Attanasio liked what he saw. He also likes the team of players populating the renovated, renamed facility.

:: Spring Training coverage presented by Camping World ::

"[General manager] David Stearns said I wouldn't recognize it, and I'm actually speechless," Attanasio said. "It's like someone just dropped this from outer space. … I was sure we were going to get here and there were going to be construction crews and tarps and areas that were closed off. It's all ready to go."

So are the Brewers, who have spoken of their new Spring Training digs as a physical manifestation of the start of a new season. The franchise-record-tying 96 wins in the regular season were great, topping the Cubs in the National League Central tiebreaker was arguably the best of them all, sweeping the Rockies in the NL Division Series was elating, and taking the Dodgers to a seventh game of the NL Championship Series was a thrill.

But manager Craig Counsell's message so far this spring is that none of those accomplishments mean anything to what lies ahead in 2019. That's what he told players in a team meeting Tuesday morning before the Brewers' first full-squad workout.

"It's really easy for us to look forward. I think the building helps us do that as much as what we have our eye on," said Counsell. "But we're in a brand new place with a new group. You step into that room and it's a different room for everybody. The message is, 'What's next?' Looking forward, what we are trying to accomplish is very difficult and that requires the full attention looking forward on how to get better and the challenges we're going to face and how we are going to react to those challenges. All our attention has to be focused on getting to that place."

Attanasio, admittedly superstitious, said his message to players was similar to recent years. This year, he had to speak up a bit more, since the Brewers' clubhouse has doubled in size.

He described the tone of his team as "a lot of quiet confidence and self-assurance."

"Every year, Craig hits the right tone with the players, and this year that tone is to stay in the moment and focus on today being the first day," Attanasio said. "He did a terrific job with that, as he always does.

"The more I reflected on Craig's tone and the players' focus, it is the right focus. We need to be looking forward, not backward. We have some new players here. We have Yasmani [Grandal]. We have Moose [Mike Mousakas] here for the full year, which is exciting. We pretty much brought the whole band back, and added some new pieces."

There are still some pre-arbitration players to sign for 2019, but whatever those salaries, the additions of Grandal ($18.25 million) and Moustakas ($10 million) on one-year contracts mean the Brewers will shatter their previous payroll record. The '19 figure appears headed for $120 million to $130 million, depending on the accounting.

That is on top of the millions the Brewers have spent in the past two years on a $20 million renovation to the foodservice operation at Miller Park, a new development facility in the Dominican Republic, buying the Class A Advanced Carolina Mudcats, signing to the richest free-agent contract in franchise history (five years, $80 million) and then largely self-funding the remake of Maryvale Baseball Park.

"I used to hear a lot in 2005, 'We can't do this. We can't do that,'" said Attanasio, referring to the year he took over the team. "I tried to take that negative bias away to more of a positive outlook, and I think everybody has locked arms and embraced that. … Everything has come together at the same time."

Stearns, however, is under no obligation to cut other payroll after the Moustakas deal. He said Tuesday, "I think our ownership group is making a statement that they're willing to stretch beyond our previous limits and give us the resources that we need to continuously compete."

And Attanasio said the Brewers, who have been aggressive at the non-waiver Trade Deadline under his ownership, would continue to be so.

"The chips are all in now," Attanasio said. "We'll find the money at midseason if we need to."