Brewers’ Arnold continues waiting on Counsell while expressing optimism Burnes will be back in 2024

MILWAUKEE (AP) — Milwaukee Brewers president of baseball operations Matt Arnold said he is speaking regularly with Craig Counsell but couldn’t predict how soon the NL’s longest-tenured manager would decide on whether to return next season.

Arnold was a little more definitive about ace pitcher Corbin Burnes, who will be entering the final year of his contract in 2024.

“We’ll see how it plays out over the course of the offseason, but I would expect him to be here next year,” Arnold said about Burnes at a postseason news conference Tuesday, six days after the Brewers’ playoff exit. “We can never close the door on any conversations, as you guys know. That’s just the reality of where we are. But we know that he is a very, very valuable member of our franchise.”

Burnes, a three-time All-Star and the 2021 Cy Young Award winner, is likely to be one of the top free agents on the market after the 2024 season if the budget-conscious Brewers don’t sign him to an extension. He lost his arbitration case last spring and complained afterward about comments that team officials made during the hearing.

Those factors have led to speculation the Brewers might want to deal him before potentially losing him in free agency. Arnold talked Tuesday as though the Brewers intend on keeping the 28-year-old right-hander.

“Corbin means a ton to what we’ve done here,” Arnold said. “He’s been a warrior on the mound. He’s the guy we wanted on the mound in Game 1. He’s been the guy that we want on the mound in big games. I’m thrilled that he’s here.”

Arnold also would love to have Counsell back.

The winningest manager in Brewers history doesn’t have a contract beyond this year and hasn’t indicated whether he plans to remain in his current role, seek a managerial assignment elsewhere or take some time away from the game. Counsell declined to discuss his future Wednesday after the Brewers’ season ended with a loss to the Arizona Diamondbacks in the NL Wild Card Series. Counsell led the Brewers to a 92-70 record and their second NL Central title in three years.

“He’s maybe one of the best people I’ve ever worked with,” Arnold said. “I really, really enjoy working with him. He challenges us in great ways. We see the world differently. I think it’s healthy. I think he means a lot to this community. He’s been a player here. His dad worked here. He’s grown up here. He’s special. He is definitely special to this team. And like I said, I hope we partner here together for a long time.”

The Brewers enter this offseason at a bit of a crossroads as they wait on Counsell’s decision while three of their top players -– Burnes, pitcher Brandon Woodruff and shortstop Willy Adames –- enter the final year of their respective contracts.

Woodruff also is dealing with a shoulder injury that prevented him from pitching in the Wild Card Series. Arnold expressed guarded optimism about Woodruff while saying the two-time All-Star is getting examined this week.

“Any time you have issues with a shoulder, it’s hard to know exactly because it’s so complicated,” Arnold said. “There are so many mechanisms within the shoulder that we know are a factor, and it is more complicated than the elbow. But it’s hard to say from my perspective. We’ll wait till we get the evaluation.”

This marked Arnold’s first season in charge of the Brewers’ player operations, though he had been with the organization since October 2015. His offseason acquisition of catcher William Contreras and trade-deadline additions of first baseman Carlos Santana and outfielder Mark Canha helped the Brewers win the NL Central by nine games.

The next step is to make more of an impact in October. The Brewers have reached the playoffs five times in the last six years but have lost nine of their last 10 postseason games.

“We did feel like we had a championship-caliber team this year, and that’s why it makes it more difficult honestly for our staff,” Arnold said. “But we have pretty good resolve in this group, and I think we’re going to get after – we already are getting after it – for what we can do better in the future.”