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02/27/10 9:34 PM EST

Attanasio hoping for Fielder extension

Brewers owner discusses desire to keep slugger past '11

PHOENIX -- Brewers principal owner Mark Attanasio is a fan of underdogs. So what if many in the national media aren't picking the Brewers to win the National League Central?

Attanasio is up for the challenge.

"I've not seen anyone pick us to do anything," Attanasio said Saturday during the Brewers' first full-squad workout at Maryvale Baseball Park. "There's always a little frustration about that, but there is enough of the kid who grew up in the Bronx in me that likes the chip on his shoulder and wants to show everybody. I can't tell you how many times in my life I've been told, 'You cant do that!'"

The Brewers' on-field task might be less of a challenge than the one they face in contract negotiations with star first baseman Prince Fielder. After all, Attanasio authorized some significant spending to boost a starting pitching staff that slumped in 2009, adding reliable left-handers Randy Wolf and Doug Davis via free agency. The lineup has seen some changes but not at its heart, where Ryan Braun and Fielder combined last season to drive in more runs than any other Major League teammates.

Off the field, the Fielder situation sits atop the agenda. He is under club control for the next two seasons and both sides say they are interested in exploring a deal to keep the home-grown slugger in Milwaukee beyond 2011.

Those talks have yet to begin, and Attanasio said Saturday that the club won't set any artificial deadlines for a conclusion.

"Prince has said he wants to be here, we have said we would love to have him here and we know our fans would love to have him here," Attanasio said. "There is no timetable, no pressure on either side. I know you guys have seen Prince and he's pretty relaxed. I think I'm pretty relaxed.

"No. 1, nobody wants a distraction. Frankly, I think without having any set deadlines or parameters, it better allows that because otherwise you start checking the days on the calendar and all that."

Fielder said this week that he expects a dialogue to begin very soon, and Attanasio said he had been asked by general manager Doug Melvin to personally take part when the time is appropriate.

Asked Friday whether he would be inclined to set any kind of deadline of his own, Fielder shook his head no.

"Believe me, if it gets to a point where I'm not comfortable, I'll know. I'll say something," Fielder said.

Attanasio made his first appearance of the year at Maryvale Baseball Park on Saturday morning for the Brewers' first full-squad workout and delivered his annual address. Then, he huddled in Melvin's office to discuss a number of topics, chief among them Fielder's future.

Attanasio promised the Brewers' effort will be legitimate. He pointed to the club's signed, nine-figure offer to then-free agent pitcher CC Sabathia at the 2008 Winter Meetings as an example that he's prepared to spend.

"It's too much time and effort if it is just 'show,'" Attanasio said. "I think (Fielder's agent) Scott (Boras) is very busy and I am very busy and Doug Melvin is probably the busiest of the three of us. So, I don't think there's any 'show' about it. Ultimately, there will be a meeting of the minds or there won't be."

The Brewers are still in the planning process, Attanasio said. He made the case that this will be a discussion, and not simply each side submitting formal offers and counteroffers.

"It's not going to work that way," Attanaiso said. "The thing everybody has to keep in mind, just looking at other players with other teams, sometimes discussions start and stop and then start again. Who knows when it could all come today? Whereas, if everybody starts building to an artificial deadline, then it becomes binary: It happened [or] it didn't happen. We don't want that."

As for the season, the Brewers owner was his usual bundle of optimism. Attanasio was struck by the number of new faces in the clubhouse Saturday morning, when he spoke to players about commitment to community -- the Brewers recently retooled their charitable arm into a foundation -- and to playing a winning brand of baseball.

He also told players about his competitiveness, and said that he would be willing to further stretch a payroll already inching toward $90 million if a player becomes available during the season to push the team over the top.

"Mark wants you to do your job," Brewers manager Ken Macha said. "And he expects results. That's why we were hired. He's a businessman, and he flat said that to me last year. He said, 'I want to get people in the stadium and I want to win games. That's what we're here for.'"

Macha's own message to players followed the preview he gave reporters several days earlier: His office door is more open than ever, and if players have a beef they should enter and air it. Macha also singled out for praise the team's three All-Stars -- Braun, Fielder and closer Trevor Hoffman -- along with third baseman Casey McGehee, who rode a strong Spring Training last year to a Rookie of the Year-caliber season.

Now if only the Brewers could get some respect. Attanasio is well aware that most prognosticators expect the Cardinals and Cubs to be the top teams in the division, with the Brewers and Reds playing catch-up and the Astros and Pirates building their way back up.

"The Cardinals are everybody's odds-on favorites, and when you've got [Albert] Pujols and [Chris] Carpenter and [Matt] Holliday, and you've won and you've got Tony LaRussa, why not?" Attanasio said. "Frankly, I don't mind flying under the radar screen."

Adam McCalvy is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.