On Monday, the Chicago Cubs made a surprising move by parting ways with their manager, David Ross, and hiring Craig Counsell as his replacement. Counsell, the long-serving manager of the Milwaukee Brewers, was enticed to Chicago with a groundbreaking five-year, $40 million contract, according to sources familiar with the deal as reported by ESPN.
The Cubs made public these surprising discoveries on Monday afternoon, shocking the baseball community. It was widely expected that Counsell would sign a contract with the New York Mets or return to Milwaukee. The Cubs had already backed Ross, with owner Tom Ricketts declaring on October 2 that “He’s our guy.”
During his free agency negotiations, Counsell—a 16-year MLB player—actively pushed for increased wages for managers. The Cubs, in return, more than quadrupled his prior compensation of $3.5 million, pushing him to an elite managerial salary bracket formerly occupied only by Joe Torre of the New York Yankees.
Similarities existed between this managerial change and the Cubs’ 2014 decision to fire Rick Renteria during his contract and bring in Joe Maddon, who helped the team win a World Series in 2016 following a 108-year championship drought. But following the 2019 season, the Cubs fired Maddon and hired rookie manager Ross, who guided the team to a National League Central championship in the 2020 season that was cut short by the COVID-19 pandemic. The Cubs recovered in 2023 after two dismal seasons that included the trade of important championship-winning players. Despite finishing with an 83-79 record, they were unable to qualify for the postseason because of a late-season downturn.
The Cubs now feel more pressure to make a run at the postseason after hiring Counsell. Counsell managed the Brewers for nine years, winning three NL Central championships and leading them to the postseason five of the previous six seasons, including a division-winning record of 92-70 in the most recent campaign.
Wisconsin native Counsell owns the all-time marks for the most wins (707), as well as the most playoff victories (7), with the Brewers. With a 1-8 playoff record since Counsell’s success with a low-budget team like the Brewers made him a highly sought-after managerial candidate, the team had struggled to duplicate their 2018 NL Championship Series run. Although the Mets had long been associated with him, Carlos Mendoza was eventually named manager. Mendoza was also a target for the Cleveland Guardians, who selected two-time All-Star catcher Stephen Vogt to take Francona’s place as he retires.
Counsell’s signing by the Cubs is viewed as a calculated strategic move that fits with their plan to spend in free agency and bolster a squad that advanced significantly in 2023 after adding outfielder Cody Bellinger and Gold Glove shortstop Dansby Swanson. Promising prospects such as pitchers Cade Horton and Ben Brown and center fielder Pete Crow-Armstrong are expected to make an impact for the Cubs in 2024. The Cubs’ farm system is highly regarded. The team also has a solid core of players that are signed until at least 2026, including left fielder Ian Happ, second baseman Nico Hoerner, and Gold Glove winner Swanson.
With starter Corbin Burnes and shortstop Willy Adames headed for free agency after 2024, the Brewers’ future seems more hazy. Still, they have talent coming through their farm system, and players like Tyler Black, the third baseman, and outfielder Jackson Chourio are expected to leave their imprint in the major leagues. Jacob Misiorowski, a right-hander with remarkable raw potential, advanced quickly to Double-A in 2023 and is predicted to make much more progress in 2024.
The majority of the Brewers’ squad from the previous campaign is expected to return, while co-ace Brandon Woodruff might not be able to play because of shoulder surgery, which will probably keep him out of the field for the majority of 2024. Wade Miley, a left-hander, has chosen not to renew his contract for the next season.
Cubs President of Baseball Operations Jed Hoyer thanked David Ross for his services to the franchise and recognized the long-lasting influence he had on the group in a statement. Hoyer said that Counsell will make his official debut as the Cubs’ manager at Wrigley Field next week.