Nov. 13: The Cubs formally introduced Counsell at a press conference Monday morning.
Nov. 6: The managerial market provided a stunning twist today, with Craig Counsell jumping from the Brewers to the Cubs. He will replace David Ross, who has been relieved of his duties, per an announcement from the Cubs. Counsell will become the highest-paid manager in the league, earning $40MM over the next five years, $8MM per year. The Brewers reportedly made him an offer to stay in Milwaukee but topped out at $5.5MM per year.
“Today we made the difficult decision to dismiss David Ross as our Major League Manager,” a statement from president of baseball operations Jed Hoyer reads. “On behalf of the Cubs organization, we express our deep gratitude for David’s contributions to our club, both on and off the field. First as a player and then as a manger, David continually showcased his ability to lead. David’s legacy will be felt in Chicago for generations and his impact to our organization will stack up with the legends that came before him. Going forward, our Major League team will be managed by Craig Counsell. We look forward to welcoming Craig at Wrigley Field early next week.”
Counsell took over as manager of the Brewers for the 2015 season. Since then, the club has had a run of strong results, making the playoffs in five of the past six years despite generally having low payrolls. 2023 was the final year of his contract and he was a popular target around the league. He interviewed with the Guardians and Mets and garnered interest from the Astros, though a return to the Brewers seemed to still be possible. But now in a stunning twist, he’s jumping from the Brewers to their divisional rivals, who weren’t even known to be looking for a new skipper.
The fit with the Mets was a sensible assumption to make, even before Counsell interviewed there. David Stearns, who worked with Counsell for many years in Milwaukee, was hired by the Mets a couple of months ago to be president of baseball operations. It was also reported last week that Counsell was looking to push manager salaries forward, which only made the fit with the Mets more logical, given the spendthrift stylings of owner Steve Cohen.
Joe Torre previously had the managerial salary record, earning $8MM with the Yankees. But his last season in the dugout was 2007 and salaries for skippers have evidently levelled off since then. Recent reporting indicated that Terry Francona of the Guardians was the highest-paid manager in 2023, with a reported salary of $4.5MM. Bob Nightengale of USA Today wrote last month about the growing concern around the game that managerial and coaching salaries at the big league level were falling behind those of many colleges. Counsell seems to have set a mission to reverse that trend and seems to have done so, which could potentially have effects in the game for years to come.
But the fact that the Cubs have swooped in to be the one to help him accomplish that goal is a development that came out of nowhere. Ross has been the manager for the Cubs since 2020 and was extended prior to 2022, with a contract that went through 2024 and had a club option for 2025. The Cubs have been rebuilding for much of that time but made a more earnest shot at contending in 2023. They gave significant contracts to players like Dansby Swanson, Jameson Taillon, Cody Bellinger and others last winter and then added Jeimer Candelario at the deadline. Unfortunately, the club fell just short, finishing 83-79 and just a single game back of a Wild Card spot.
It seems the club will respond to that finish with a managerial shift, though it’s not necessarily a knock on Ross. Heyman reports that today’s development was more about Counsell’s availability than it was about Ross. As the season was winding down, both Hoyer and chairman Tom Ricketts voiced support for Ross but they have now pivoted in a big way, putting down significant cash to do so.
This move will have ripple effects on the game of musical chairs that has been playing out in terms of big league managerial positions. Counsell will be charged with leading the Cubs further away from their recent rebuild while the Brewers will now have to look for a new bench boss for the first time in almost a decade. The Astros, Padres and Angels have current vacancies as well.
Ken Rosenthal of The Athletic first reported that Counsell would be leaving the Brewers and that he would join the Cubs. Rosenthal also reported that Counsell would make more than $40MM over five years, though subsequent reports pegged his contract at exactly $40MM. Todd Rosiak of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel provided the details on the offer from the Brewers.
Images courtesy of USA Today Sports.