Taking themselves seriously again, the Cubs came out of the wings to hire Craig Counsell as their manager on Monday. They did this even though it meant firing popular manager David Ross, who had played a big role on their championship team in 2016.
This is the same kind of move that Theo Epstein made after the 2014 season, when he fired manager Rick Renteria to scoop up Joe Maddon, who was in the middle of a successful run with Tampa Bay. This time it is Cubs Chairman Tom Ricketts working with Epstein’s successor, Jed Hoyer, to grab a surprisingly available manager.
It wasn’t cheap. Counsell, a Milwaukee native who had worked his way up to a $3.5 million salary as manager of his hometown Brewers, will earn $8 million a year over five years.
This matches the biggest contract ever for a manager, a mark Joe Torre set with the 2007 Yankees, at the end of a stretch in which he produced four World Series victories and six American League pennants. But Counsell may have left money on the table to remain in the Midwest.
Counsell had been a front-burner item with the New York Mets since former Brewers GM David Stearns was hired to be president of baseball operations, with rumors he was offered as much as $50 million over five season. Cleveland and Houston were reportedly interested in Counsell, who reached the end of his contract after nine seasons in Milwaukee. The Brewers reportedly had offered him as much as $5.5 million per season to stay.
Counsell, who attended Notre Dame, played for five teams over 16 seasons as an infielder. He is best remembered for big hits in the 1997 World Series, when he helped the then-Florida Marlins rally to defeat Cleveland.
There is some irony in the process. While the Cubs paid heavily to hire Maddon after a loophole in his contract allowed him to pursue free agency a year before the end of the Rays’ contract, his relatively high salary seemed to become an issue for ownership after the team’s championship.
The Cubs were still successful when they opted not to renew his contract after an 84-78 finish in 2019. While Maddon was hired to manage the Los Angeles Angels, Ross leapt at the chance to replace him. He was not paid nearly as much as Maddon to steer the Cubs through a painful rebuilding process that has left him with a 262-282 record as manager.
The hiring of Counsell follows the signing of free agent players Dansby Swanson, Seiya Suzuki and Cody Bellinger in recent seasons, as well as long-term extensions to Ian Happ and Nico Hoerner. The Cubs surprisingly contended last season but went 7-14 down the stretch, finishing just behind Arizona for the NL’s last wild card spot.