It’s almost a full day later and I still can’t get over how Jed Hoyer went full Mission: Impossible to land Craig Counsell without anyone outside the organization knowing. Or, given Counsell’s moderately nerdy appearance, perhaps we should dub this covert operation Zero Dork Thirty. Even more impressive than the whirlwind courtship itself is that the deal was done on Sunday morning and nothing leaked. That comes from an excellent piece of reporting by Sahadev Sharma, who laid out the details for The Athletic.
Hoyer did all his own stunts, reaching out to set up a clandestine meeting with Counsell well removed from the Cubs office building. Many other front office members weren’t even aware of the summit, which was arranged following the expiration of Counsell’s deal with the Brewers. Though the sought-after skipper would go on to meet with both the Guardians and Mets, his ties to the Midwest and familiarity with the NL Central helped to keep him closer to home.
And yeah, the $40 million payday probably didn’t hurt. As noted yesterday, this was less about David Ross and more about making a difficult but necessary move to secure the man Hoyer felt was the best available manager in the game. The Cubs know all too well what Counsell has done over the last decade in Milwaukee with seemingly inferior rosters and stricter budget limitations, hence the splashy deal.
Counsell, on the other hand, has been able to accomplish little in the postseason and surely sees the Cubs’ deeper resources as a way to turn that around. The Brewers typically have to squeeze every ounce of production out of their thin roster every year, leaving them worn down and unable to overcome injuries. Seeing how the big-spending Rangers were able to shrug off the loss of Jacob deGrom may have intrigued Counsell as much as it did the Cubs.
While I do believe this incredible coup is a harbinger of things to come this winter for the Cubs, I don’t see them spending $600 million in free agency. I’d say one they’re aiming for one really big signing and one blockbuster-ish trade with some mid-tier moves to round things out. But if the MLB Trade Rumors predictions are correct, several of which would shock me at least as much as Counsell’s hiring, we might need to rethink those big moves.
I mean, there’s no way in hell the Cubs would even consider giving Cody Bellinger anything close to $264 million over 12 years. Yoshinobu Yamamoto at nine years, $225 million? C’mon. Matt Chapman is at six years and $150 million, which seems quite rich. Perhaps the most egregious prediction is Jeimer Candelario at $70 million over four years. GTFOH.
Now watch them all hit.
Guaranteeing Counsell the highest annual salary in managerial history over five years doesn’t just signal a willingness to spend meaningfully this winter. While I do believe that’s the case, this isn’t necessarily a matter of trying to grab the brass ring right away. Even though we’ve seen how just getting in gives a team a good shot at winning it all, the Cubs are still transitioning as they look to build on a season that was measured with varying degrees of success. They’ve also got a lot of holes to fill, not all of which may be addressed immediately.
Counsell will surely have some input into the roster-building process, especially since his style varies a bit from that of his predecessor. The man who once told Prince Fielder he’d punch him in the face if the husky slugger followed through on his idea of bunting probably isn’t sending Patrick Wisdom up there to try and lay one down in an advantageous count.
Hoyer is also Team Buck Funting and has been vocal about his club’s need for more power, so it’ll be interesting to see whether and how that all factors into the aforementioned acquisitions. Then there’s the matter of Counsell’s coaching staff, which won’t come over whole-cloth from Milwaukee. Bench Coach Pat Murphy seems like an obvious choice to come over in that same position, especially with Andy Green making the interview rounds.
The Brewers are considering Murphy as Counsell’s successor, but it seems like there might be a little organizational bitterness toward the former manager that could color decisions about his staff. As for those who are currently in roles with the Cubs, pitching coach Tommy Hottovy and hitting coach Dustin Kelly are still under contract and should remain. First base coach Mike Napoli is a Ross guy and could well be on the way out.
Then there’s former hitting coach John Mallee, who was reportedly set to rejoin the big league staff just a few years after being deposed. That surfaced last Thursday, at which point Hoyer would have already been in contact with Counsell about the gig. Mallee’s exact role wasn’t known at the time, but it stands to reason that there will be room between defections and the parting of ways with former strategy coach Craig Driver.
Greg Zumach of North Side Bound theorized that Mallee could be a boon when it comes to wooing free agents like Rhys Hoskins. Even if we remove the specificity, having a staff in place ahead of any major player personnel moves is indeed helpful. As such, I expect to see some more announcements on that front very shortly as the GM Meetings get underway and the Cubs look to turn themselves into division favorites once again.