Milwaukee Brewers manager Craig Counsell argues with home plate umpire...

Milwaukee Brewers manager Craig Counsell argues with home plate umpire Mark Ripperger during NL Wild-Card Series Game 1. Credit: AP / Morry Gash

Brewers owner Mark Attanasio, who retained executive David Stearns for as long as possible before Stearns bolted for the Mets upon becoming a free agent, is hoping to avoid the same fate with manager Craig Counsell.

Counsell is a natural speculative candidate to fill the Mets’ opening at manager because of his history with Stearns, their new president of baseball operations, and because he became free to explore other opportunities when his contract expired upon the conclusion of the Brewers’ season Wednesday night. They got swept by the Diamondbacks in their NL Wild Card series.

When Attanasio and Counsell most recently spoke about a new contract, in early September, they decided to table talks until after the season because “we decided we had a chance to do something special,” as Attanasio put it.

But make no mistake: Attanasio wants to keep Counsell. Counsell’s desires are unclear, though he has told reporters recently that he is willing to listen if other clubs want to talk.

“That conversation will be open-ended, and we'll see how he wants to handle it,” Attanasio said Tuesday, before the Brewers started their postseason. “I think he has earned that right. Clearly we want him back, and we'll see what he wants to do.”

Attanasio offered glowing reviews for Counsell, who took over as Brewers manager during the 2015 season, was retained by Stearns when he was hired as GM after the 2015 season and remained in that role when Stearns stepped down into an advisory role a year ago.

Counsell’s record over nine seasons with the low-spending Brewers: 707-625. His run includes three division titles, five playoff berths and three second-place finishes in NL Manager of the Year voting (with this year’s results to be announced). Milwaukee has made it as far as the NLCS just once in that stretch.

That is quite a track record in the dugout for a guy who, according to Attanasio, thought he wanted to be a GM upon the completion of a 16-year career as a major-league player (during which he won the World Series with the Marlins in 1997 and Diamondbacks in 2001).

“I've known him since 2007. He was a leader then,” Attanasio said. “When Craig retired, he wanted to work in the front office because he thought he wanted to understand that skill set. He thought he might want to be a general manager someday, which is certainly within his skill set.

“A lot of folks have asked me, what's going to happen with Craig? Is he going to go work for another team? Is he going to come back? Is he going to go watch his two kids play college baseball? He could be a general manager.”

Counsell, 53, was born and raised in Milwaukee, where his father worked for the Brewers. He played for the team in 2004 and 2007-11.

“He is thoughtful. He is loyal,” Attanasio said. “He is flat-out a winner and has been a rich part of our history, baseball history.”

At his introductory news conference on Monday, Stearns was careful not to talk about Counsell, working around direct questions on the subject by saying in part: “I'm certainly not going to comment on any specific potential candidate, certainly not one that’s under contract in another organization managing in the postseason.”

In noting, however, that he wants to hire a manager with whom he can grow, Stearns did not say that needs to be somebody who is new to him or new to the job.

“People, even experienced people, have growth remaining, and so I don't think having been a major-league manager is a disqualifier in this,” Stearns said.

The most important piece of being a manager, in Stearns’ view, is dealing with people and personalities.

“I view the manager position as one of true partnership,” he said. “Someone who is working side by side with me and the rest of our baseball ops group. The manager has so many responsibilities these days. It is a big job. But first and foremost is the ability to manage people, manage personalities and create and facilitate an organization culture where people enjoy coming to work and work hard. So that’s at the top of my list.”

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