One week after his shocking decision to leave the Milwaukee Brewers for their NL Central rival, Craig Counsell was officially introduced as the new manager of the Cubs — and shed some light on a whirlwind few days and what ultimately drew him to Chicago.
“It’s been an emotional week,” Counsell told reporters. “Much harder than I imagined. Just the speed in which this happened and 17 years of relationships. That hits you hard.”
Ultimately, though, the winningest manager in Brewers history said that it was Cubs president of baseball operations Jed Hoyer’s vision that ultimately drew him to the North Side.
“This organization is just in great health. Jed presented a very compelling vision of that,” Counsell said Monday. “It is time to be a Cub. There is momentum happening here. And it feels close, and that means we have a really exciting future ahead of us, and now it’s my job to be part of taking us to the next level. That’s the plan.”
The Cubs finished just 83-79 in 2023, missing out on a Wild Card spot due to September collapse. But with core veterans locked up (Dansby Swanson, Ian Happ, Kyle Hendricks), enticing young talents (Justin Steele, Nico Hoerner, Pete Crow-Armstrong, Jordan Wicks) and more top prospects still yet to arrive, Chicago is poised to contend for years to come — a potential supported by the five-year, $40 million contract the team gave Counsell, belived to make him the league’s highest-paid manager.
Counsell insisted that it wasn’t just the money that lured him away from the Brewers, however, citing Hoyer’s leadership, the team’s storied history and the ability to stay close to home as contributing factors. He also sounded like a man in need of a new challenge, who believed he’d hit his ceiling in Milwaukee and was ready for the next step.
“I’m sitting up here a little scared,” Counsell said of his new surroundings. “I’m sitting up here feeling a little uncomfortable. But that’s how you get to a better place. And that’s how you push yourself as a person to a better place. You walk into a place that you already know demands your best. That feeling is just a feeling that I need to have, that I love to have. I need that to be part of my daily life.”
Counsell also described the process by which Hoyer lured him to Chicago, confirming that the team first reached out to him on Nov. 1, the day after his contract with the Brewers expired. He missed Hoyer’s initial call, but eventually the two agreed to meet later that day — before Counsell was set to fly to New York to meet with the Mets about their managerial vacancy. Four days later, a contract was in the works, despite the fact that the Cubs still had a manager of their own in David Ross.
Counsell recognized that process as unusual, chalking it up to the “cutthroat” part of the business. He said that Ross reached out to him after hearing the news, and that the two had a conversation and aired things out.
“David is a very good man,” Counsell said. “David texted me probably before the news broke here. I called him back. We had what I think is a very good conversation. I’ve always had great respect for David. That gave me the ultimate respect for David.”
Counsell said he “underestimated” the amount of anger Brewers fans have toward him for leaving for a rival.
“The Brewers have meant a lot to me. I have great relationships there,” Counsell said. “As time moves forward, I am very proud of what happened in Milwaukee. I think time will look favorably on what was accomplished during those nine years I was the manager there.”
With Counsell introduced, the Cubs will now focus on filling out his coaching staff, and adding to a roster that has a Cody Bellinger-sized hole in the middle of its lineup power and a need for more pitching depth.