Chicago Cubs Hiring Milwaukee’s Craig Counsell and Will Make Him MLB’s Highest-Paid Manager

From a story on headlined “Chicago Cubs hiring Milwaukee’s Craig Counsell, will make him MLB’s highest-paid manager”:

By Patrick Mooney, Sahadev Sharma, Ken Rosenthal and Tyler Kepner

In a calculating move that stunned the baseball world, the Chicago Cubs are hiring Craig Counsell to replace David Ross, the club announced Monday, instantly raising the expectations at Wrigley Field.

The Cubs will give Counsell a five-year contract worth more than $40 million, according to major-league sources, making him the highest-paid manager in Major League Baseball

Counsell, who guided the Milwaukee Brewers to the playoffs in five of the last six seasons, was widely assumed to be choosing between staying home in Wisconsin or taking on a new challenge with the New York Mets. A final decision was expected this week during MLB’s general manager meetings in Arizona. But the Cubs have done this before.

President of baseball operations Jed Hoyer was involved in one of these stealth pursuits as Theo Epstein’s general manager. When Joe Maddon became a free agent after the 2014 season, the Cubs executives didn’t hesitate. Knowing the talent in the organization and the resources at their disposal, the Cubs fired Rick Renteria after only one season. Signing Maddon to a five-year contract immediately paid off with 97 wins in 2015 and a 2016 World Series title.

Hoyer must believe that Counsell’s small-market success will translate the way it did for Maddon after his run with the Tampa Bay Rays. The Brewers chasing down the Cubs in 2018 — and winning Game 163 at Wrigley Field — became one of those moments that turned up the heat on Maddon and foreshadowed the end of that championship group.

Initially hired to squeeze more out of former teammates such as Anthony Rizzo, Kris Bryant and Javier Báez, Ross faced unthinkable challenges as a rookie manager during the pandemic-shortened 2020 season. The Cubs managed to win a division title and then went into an extreme cost-cutting mode, trading Yu Darvish to the San Diego Padres that winter and executing sell-offs at the next two trade deadlines.

The scrutiny on in-game decisions increased exponentially this year after the Cubs committed more than $300 million to free agents. Ross is viewed as a strong communicator who commands respect from players. His steady personality helped the Cubs dig out from 10 games under .500 in June and force the front office to add at the trade deadline this time. Hoyer raved about the team’s preparation and consistent effort.

In what was supposed to be a transition year, the Cubs won 83 games, played an entertaining style of baseball and remained in playoff contention until the final weekend of the season. During Game 162 in Milwaukee, Cubs chairman Tom Ricketts praised Ross as “a great manager” and declared: “He’s our guy.”

As Jon Lester’s personal catcher, Ross helped end the 108-year World Series drought. After retiring as a player, Ross worked with Epstein and Hoyer as a special assistant in the front office. Ross built up so many connections — and showed enough promise as a manager — that it seemed harder to give him the Renteria treatment.

Ross, though, couldn’t hold onto his job after an epic September collapse and one of the sport’s best managers becoming a free agent. The Cubs-Brewers rivalry will now go to an entirely new level.

“Today we made the difficult decision to dismiss David Ross,” Hoyer said in a statement. “On behalf of the Cubs organization, we express our deep gratitude for David’s contributions to our club, both on and off the field. First as a player and then as a manager, David continually showcased his ability to lead. David’s legacy will be felt in Chicago for generations and his impact to our organization will stack up with the legends that came before him.”

With his contract, Counsell reaches a new level that’s important to the manager, who was heavily involved with the MLB Players Association during his 16-year playing career.

“Having represented Craig Counsell for almost 30 years and having lived in Chicago all my life, I am thrilled to see Craig embracing a new challenge,” Counsell’s agent, Barry Meister of Meister Sports Management, said in a statement. “Cubs fans are getting a terrific manager and an even better person. Craig has great admiration and respect for the Brewers ownership, general manager and fans and for all of Milwaukee, where he makes his home. He will retain lifelong friends and memories made as part of the Brewer family. He is excited about Chicago and is happy that multiple teams have begun to embrace the enhanced valuation of the job of major-league manager!”

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