SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. — Cubs workforce president Jed Hoyer has at all times admired Craig Counsell from afar. From his vantage level, the supervisor had no weaknesses. Hoyer watched as Counsell frequently maximized a Milwaukee Brewers roster that by no means gave the impression to be one of the best within the division by way of on-paper expertise, but stored successful.
Hoyer noticed Counsell as somebody who excelled with in-game strikes, constantly held his clubhouse collectively and dealt with the media with aplomb. This was, within the Cubs’ view, one of the best supervisor within the sport.
However Hoyer additionally understood that Counsell was extremely wanted and he wasn’t wanting to make a managerial change along with his workforce. David Ross was the person he and Theo Epstein hand-picked to succeed future Corridor of Famer Joe Maddon, the supervisor who helped finish greater than a century of distress on the North Aspect with the 2016 World Sequence. The expectation was that Counsell would already be locked up come Nov. 1, when Counsell would formally turn into a free agent. Hoyer had no intention of pursuing him previous to that date. He had an inkling that New York wouldn’t be Counsell’s final vacation spot due to household causes rooting him to the Midwest, however he figured Counsell would simply return to Milwaukee.
This alteration didn’t occur due to some simmering pressure between Ross and Hoyer. However as November neared and Counsell remained in the marketplace, Hoyer’s curiosity was piqued. A chance to enhance markedly in a major space introduced itself and Hoyer pounced. On Nov. 1, he reached out and Counsell got here to the Chicagoland space to satisfy with Hoyer. The very last thing Hoyer needed was for any of this to go public, Counsell to finish up elsewhere and for Ross to search out out. That will create the kind of friction between a supervisor and head of baseball operations that will possible be untenable.
To make sure that this stayed quiet, Hoyer was the one individual to satisfy with Counsell, only a few folks within the entrance workplace had been conscious of the assembly, and Counsell by no means got here to the Cubs workplaces adjoining to Wrigley Subject, in accordance with a league supply. The 2 had little or no interplay previous to that assembly on Nov. 1, however appeared to hit it off rapidly and talked deep into the evening.
Within the coming days, Counsell would meet with the New York Mets and Cleveland Guardians whereas staying in touch with the Brewers. Late Saturday night, Hoyer was optimistic that they had been shut on the financials and a deal can be made. By Sunday morning, the deal was completed. Hoyer had poached one of the best supervisor within the sport from a division rival, and by agreeing to a five-year deal value greater than $40 million, Counsell had set a brand new degree for managerial compensation whereas additionally remaining near household.
Jed Hoyer wasn’t trying to transfer on from David Ross, however then Craig Counsell grew to become an actual chance. (Armando L. Sanchez / Chicago Tribune / Tribune Information Service through Getty Photos)
Hoyer instantly booked a flight to Florida to satisfy with Ross in Tallahassee. The 2 had a protracted and at occasions tense dialog, throughout which common supervisor Carter Hawkins referred to as some employees and gamers to ship the information, and phrase rapidly unfold all through the workforce.
A part of the rationale the Cubs employed Ross 4 years in the past was as a result of they felt Maddon wasn’t maximizing the roster, and that there have been methods Ross might higher affect the workforce on the margins. In the meantime, in Milwaukee, Counsell appeared to at all times get essentially the most out of a seemingly inferior roster to the one he and Theo Epstein had put along with the Cubs.
Now Hoyer has that difference-maker helming his workforce. Questions stay, although. The Cubs roster was solely ok to win 83 video games final 12 months and with Marcus Stroman and Cody Bellinger headed without cost company, the workforce appears a lot weaker proper now.
Whereas the Cubs can be lively this winter, spending huge on Counsell shouldn’t be learn as a assure that they’ll blow out the competitors in free company. Enhancements are wanted and strikes can be made. However Counsell was bought on a workforce that’s quickly enhancing and can proceed to take action over the course of his contract, not on the concept that the Cubs will construct a behemoth in a single winter.
The Cubs have a powerful MLB roster, a ton of younger expertise of their farm system on the verge of impacting the big-league workforce, and important monetary flexibility. Whereas they are going to flex these monetary muscular tissues over the approaching years, the expectation isn’t that they’ll be successful a number of bidding wars this winter in what’s largely seen as a weaker free-agent class, particularly on the place participant facet
How Counsell will form the teaching employees is to be decided as nicely. Lots of the coaches are below contract for subsequent 12 months and past. The hope is that almost all can be retained by Counsell. Pitching coach Tommy Hottovy is seen as probably the greatest within the enterprise, and the Cubs appeared to lastly discover some stability at hitting coach after Dustin Kelly had success connecting with gamers in his first 12 months on the job.
However there may very well be defections by those that are loyal to Ross. Counsell has a protracted historical past along with his bench coach in Milwaukee, Pat Murphy. Murphy managed Counsell at Notre Dame and in addition has a historical past with Hoyer, who employed Murphy as a particular assistant early in his two-year stint as San Diego Padres GM. Murphy is a candidate to switch Counsell as supervisor in Milwaukee, however might additionally discover himself in Chicago had been he to not land that job.
All of that — how the roster will shake out and who can be on the ultimate teaching employees — remains to be unknown. What is evident is that Hoyer and the Cubs have despatched a message concerning the trajectory of their workforce. They’ve poached from one in every of their chief rivals and added arguably one of the best supervisor in baseball to guide a gaggle that’s on the rise and will contend for years to come back.
(High photograph: John Fisher / Getty Photos)