The MLB offseason just kicked off, and it didn’t take long for the first bombshell to drop.
On Monday afternoon, one of baseball’s top managerial storylines came to a close when it was reported that Craig Counsell will be leaving the Milwaukee Brewers after nine seasons to be the next manger for the Chicago Cubs, per Ken Rosenthal.
His deal is reported to be a five-year deal worth more than $40 million, which would make him the highest paid manager in Major League Baseball.
We are just a few days into the MLB offseason, and we already have a stunning shakeup in the National League Central.
Craig Counsell has been in the rumor mill for a handful of weeks now. His contract with the Milwaukee Brewers expired at the end of October, and he was entering the open market as one of the most sought-after manager available.
Now, a return to the Brewers was never out of the question. Combining his strong Wisconsin ties with his monumental value to the organization, an extension with the Brewers was always in play.
At the same time, Counsell interviewed with several ball clubs in the past few weeks, including the Guardians and the Mets, and David Stearns’ front office departure sparked serious rumblings that Counsell would follow Stearns’ path and fill the New York’s managerial vacancy.
There were even rumors that Counsell could take the year off and temporarily step away from the game to spend time with his family.
In the end, after all of the rumors and speculation, no one predicted him landing with his former ball club’s bitter rival.
A Slam Dunk For Chicago
This is a monumental signing for the Chicago Cubs. They will be moving on from David Ross, who was under contract through next season and had a club option in 2025. Ross spent the last four seasons as the Cubs’ skipper, and he ended his tenure with the Cubs with a record of 262-284.
Perhaps it was Chicago’s late-season collapse that sparked the front office to make a change. The Cubs once had a firm grasp on a playoff spot late in the 2023 season, and they were even pushing the Brewers for the NL Central division well into September.
However, they scuffled at the wrong time, going 12-16 in the month of September and losing several pivotal series down the stretch that left them on the outside of the postseason looking in.
Now, the Cubs feel they have an opportunity to win-now and compete in a relatively uncertain NL Central division. They were willing to set a new precedent of managerial pay to get one of the best in the business in Craig Counsell, and now they will hope his small market success translates over to the Windy City.
With that being said, a managerial change was not expected to be in Chicago’s offseason plans. What happens next in terms of other staffing turnover and roster construction will be an extremely interesting storyline to follow.
Following Counsell’s shocking hire, the Chicago Cubs have emerged as one of the most enticing teams to monitor this offseason.
For Counsell, he gets to reset the bar for what the top manager is making in the game, which was a long-reported goal of his this offseason. To be able to accomplish that, while still staying relatively close to home in Wisconsin, ended up being the perfect landing spot with the Brewers unwilling to match.
What’s Next For the Brewers
For the Brewers, it’s yet to be seen what the plan of action will be following Counsell’s departure. Former Brewer Stephen Vogt was a candidate to replace Counsell, but he was recently appointed manager of the Cleveland Guardians earlier on Monday morning.
At this point in time, bench coach Pat Murphy likely sits as the lead candidate to replace Counsell as the Brewers’ skipper. However, there are a myriad of avenues the Brewers could take in choosing their new manager. It will be the Crew’s first managerial search since 2015 when they hired Craig Counsell.
Counsell’s tenure in Milwaukee ends after a 2023 season in which the Brewers won 92 games and won the NL Central division. It was the third division title under Counsell’s management, and he led the Brewers to five postseason appearances in the last six seasons.
What was Milwaukee’s final offer? Did the Mets have a chance at matching Chicago’s deal? There are several important details yet to be released regarding how Counsell’s hiring process unfolded, and the storyline will continue to be one to monitor in the coming days.
It’s likely the Brewers had an opportunity to match the offer, but his market-setting deal was likely too much for the Brewers to stomach. The Cubs did not ask for permission to interview Counsell, so he and Chicago’s negotiations escalated quickly over the past week.
The Brewers and the Cubs already had a heated division rivalry, and Counsell’s move south simply adds more fuel to the fire. Now, their matchups will have an even stronger spotlight heading into the 2024 season.
The two ball clubs will meet for the first time in Chicago when they kick off a three-game set on May 3rd, and Counsell’s return to Milwaukee as Chicago’s manager will come in the form of a four-game series that will kick off on May 27th.