For weeks, everyone assumed that former Milwaukee Brewers manager Craig Counsell — by far the most coveted name on the market — was headed for the New York Mets and a reunion with president of baseball operations David Stearns. Early Monday afternoon, however, the Mets threw everyone a curveball, as word broke that the team would actually be hiring Yankees bench coach Carlos Mendoza as their new skipper.
Now we know why: In a stunning turn, Counsell is headed to the Chicago Cubs, per a report from The Athletic’s Ken Rosenthal.
It’s hard to overstate just how big of a shocker this is. The moment it became clear that Counsell’s contract in Milwaukee would expire, he became one of the more hotly pursued managerial candidates in recent memory, floated in connection with just about everyone from the Mets to the Guardians to the incumbent Brewers. It’s not hard to understand why, given his consistent success — the 53-year-old tops the franchise’s all-time wins list at 707, with a .531 winning percentage and five postseason berths over his nine years at the helm — in the face of limited payroll investment from ownership. His even-keeled personality and steady hand made him seemingly the ideal blend of old-school feel and new-school analytics.
Chicago, however, wasn’t on anyone’s radar in the Counsell sweepstakes, not least because the team still had David Ross under contract. But apparently the team’s second-half collapse convinced owner Tom Ricketts and president Jed Hoyer that a change was necessary, and the Cubs swooped in and got their man — to the tune of a five-year, $40 million deal, making Counsell the highest-paid manager in baseball.
Counsell getting five-year contract from Cubs worth more than $40M, league sources tell @TheAthletic. Will be highest-paid manager.— Ken Rosenthal (@Ken_Rosenthal) November 6, 2023
The Mets were long assumed to be the favorites for Counsell, largely because of the presence of David Stearns — the exec who gave Counsell the head job in Milwaukee back in 2015 — in New York’s front office. But the Mets are coming off a deeply disappointing 2023 season, one in which they more or less tore their roster down to the studs at the trade deadline, and their path back to contention is a murky one (especially if they can’t coax Shohei Ohtani into coming to the East Coast). The Cubs, meanwhile, have a solid core of current talent and more promising young players on the way, and it surely can’t hurt that they’ll allow Counsell, a Wisconsin native, to remain in the Midwest.
Chicago still has plenty of questions to answer this offseason, with Cody Bellinger, Marcus Stroman and Jeimer Candelario hitting free agency and holes in the rotation, both corner infield spots and elsewhere. But the thought of Counsell on the North Side after years of doing more with less is a tantalizing one, and it should position the Cubs well as free agency begins — and Ohtani becomes available.