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Milwaukee Brewers owner Mark Attanasio shows newfound restraint with Matt Wieters

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Gone are the days of signing Kyle Lohse and K-Rod behind the GM’s back.

MLB: Baltimore Orioles at New York Yankees Danny Wild-USA TODAY Sports

Mark Attanasio has developed a bit of a reputation over the last decade-plus since becoming principal owner of the Milwaukee Brewers. He’s been willing to spend money at levels not previously seen in the franchise’s history in order to try and put a winner on the field and the club enjoyed a strong ten-year run from 2005-2014 that saw them win the second-most games of any team in the NL Central. However, there were rumblings that Attanasio would get overly involved in player acquisitions, including going over GM Doug Melvin’s head on a few occasions to bring a player in. So it was welcome news yesterday when Jon Heyman offered this little nugget in his Inside Baseball column at Fanrag Sports:

Owner Mark Attanasio was thought to be open to a try for Wieters, but his top baseball people either couldn’t get past his negative pitching framing results or didn’t want to spend the money at this juncture in the rebuild.

The Brewers had reportedly done their due diligence on catcher Matt Wieters as he lingered on the free agent market well into February before agreeing to a one-year deal (with a player option for 2018) with the Nationals a few days ago. David Stearns and company decided instead that they’d rather head into camp with the unproven trio of Andrew Susac, Jett Bandy, and Manny Pina competing for the starting catcher job, hoping that one of those players will turn into a viable regular behind the plate. Wieters is a former All-Star but injuries have hampered his career in recent seasons, and as Heyman mentioned his pitch framing numbers have fallen off a cliff since his peak years of 2010-12.

In the past, Attanasio may have ignored Stearns’ wishes and simply negotiated a deal with the veteran backstop himself if he wanted Wieters badly enough. That’s how Milwaukee wound up giving up a first-round draft pick to sign Kyle Lohse in March of 2013, how Matt Garza received the biggest free-agent pitching contract in club history in late January 2014, and how Francisco Rodriguez ended up back with the Brewers in spring of 2015. If Scott Boras has a client who was still looking for a job in the late stages of the winter, you can bet one of his first calls would be to the Brewers’ owner.

It appears as though Attanasio has turned over a new leaf, however. At this year’s “On Deck” event, Mark told the gathered crowd that of the trio of him, GM David Stearns, and manager Craig Counsell, Attanasio is the least focused on wins and losses right now:

“You want to see players who pleasantly surprised us last year continue to perform,” he said. “You want to see players who disappointed us a little turn it around. And you want to see the team pull together with the energy they had last year and maybe make fewer mistakes.

“In my mind, if we have all of that, what (number of games) we win isn’t really paramount.”

Some of us scoffed when David Stearns told David Laurila of Fangraphs back in November of 2015 that the owner had given him “complete autonomy” to run the team according to his vision. Now almost a year and a half later, it seems as though Stearns wasn’t just blowing smoke about his - at the time - new boss’s involvement in running the team. Mark now has other pursuits to distract him during the rebuild process, namely the upgrades to Miller Park and the potential purchase of the Carolina Mudcats, leaving the player acquisition and development to the highly regarded front office staff that Stearns has put in place.

Attanasio has said that there will come again a time that wins and losses will be the top priority, but even when that day comes, it appears that his days as an overzealous owner in the mold of Herb Kohl are thankfully in the past. Thanks for not signing Matt Wieters against the GM’s wishes, Mark, and let’s continue to leave the baseball decisions to the baseball people you hired and trusted.