May 20, 2024

Rosenthal: As the Cubs, Brewers, and Mets rotate on the managerial carousel, we wait to see who made the best decision.

Chandler, Arizona — The astonishment is still fresh. Craig Counsell’s decision to join the Chicago Cubs on Monday, after leaving the Milwaukee Brewers, set a new salary standard for managers, revealed the dark side of baseball, and turned the Wisconsin native from a beloved player into a local celebrity. It was a perfectly ordinary day on the managerial carousel aside from that.

The thing that surprised people the most about Counsell’s departure from the Brewers—a move that had been planned for months—was not that he went to the team’s main rival, the Cleveland Guardians, but rather that he left for the New York Mets. Counsell was aware that the little-brother, big-brother relationship between the two cities would cause Milwaukee fans to lose their minds if he left for Chicago. And yet, he succeeded.

Conversely, the Cubs realised that firing David Ross in favour of hiring Counsell would be far more disruptive than their 2014 choice to bench Rick Renteria in favour of Joe Maddon. Ross wasn’t your typical manager that the front desk had inherited. He was a key member of the Cubs’ World Series-winning team in 2016 and was their first choice to succeed Maddon. Nevertheless, they fired him.

Counsell gave his explanations. The Cubs had good cause. The Mets also had their reasons for not going all out for Counsell when they hired Carlos Mendoza, a former Yankees bench coach, as their first manager. Which three clubs made the wisest decision? Which ones didn’t, if any? Years may pass before we have the answers. However, these are my first impressions:

Bears
The Cubs did not perform well under Ross last season. The Brewers nearly always overachieved under Counsell. Therefore, Counsell’s appeal made sense if you were Jed Hoyer, the president of baseball operations for the Cubs.

The two managers’ differences were made worse by the Cubs’ collapse in September. The Cubs held the second NL wild card on September 6 and were only 1 1/2 games behind the Brewers in the NL Central. They finished 83-79, nine games out of first place and one game behind the Diamondbacks for the final wild card. They went 7-15 the rest of the way.

Hoyer bears some of the blame for this, as he did not sufficiently strengthen the Cubs’ bullpen during the trade deadline. However, the Cubs were predicted to go 90-72 based on their run differential. They were behind the Padres (-10) and Royals (-8), with their seven-win deficit being the third-biggest in the majors. On Tuesday, Hoyer reiterated a statement he made at the conclusion of the season: “We left wins on the table.”

Some in the industry who were allowed to remain anonymous for their openness said that Ross’s greatest flaw was that he rode some of his regulars too hard. Second baseman Nico Hoerner played 150 games, and left fielder Ian Happ played 158. Cody Bellinger, a first baseman and centre fielder, returned from a left knee contusion on June 15 and appeared in 93 of 95 games. Dansby Swanson, a shortstop, returned on July 22 and appeared in 64 of 65 games.

For the first time, Ross, in his fourth season, was managing a contender. His teammates held him in high regard. He was still able to develop. However, Counsell’s availability gave the Cubs a chance that might not have presented itself again. Putting his team in the best possible position to win is Hoyer’s responsibility. He gave Counsell a five-year, $40 million contract, which was both a betrayal of his previous manager and a sign of faith in his new one. But it was all so awkward. Also unpleasant.

It was inappropriate for Brewers Owner Mark Attanasio to express his bitterness over Counsell’s exit, saying, “Craig has lost us and lost our community.” Counsell’s intentions were known to the whole industry. Leaning on his involvement in the players’ union, he aimed to put an end to the pay stagnation experienced by elite managers.

Counsell would become the highest-paid manager in the game “by both per season and total package,” according to Attanasio’s offer. However, his offer was far from sufficient. Additionally, Counsell’s new $8 million average salary is still marginally less than Joe Jiménez’s $26 million, three-year contract that the Braves gave him.

Counsell stated that he “needed and wanted a new professional challenge” in an interview with the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel on Tuesday. This brings us to a second, crucial aspect of the situation, one that Attanasio bears some of the blame for. With Milwaukee having to replace Counsell, the Cubs are in a better position to be a force in the near future than the Brewers.

The Brewers’ starting pitching, which has been their greatest asset, is about to collapse. Willy Adames, the shortstop, and right-handers Corbin Burnes and Brandon Woodruff are approaching their walk years. Woodruff may have pitched his final game for Milwaukee before undergoing surgery to repair the anterior capsule in his throwing shoulder last month. With the possibility that he won’t play again until the second half of the following season, if at all, the Brewers must choose whether to offer him a contract worth around $12 million.

Not everything about the future is dire. There are many young, athletic position players on the Brewers major league roster. One of the best prospects in the league is 19-year-old outfielder Jackson Chourio. Although Tyler Black, the third baseman, and Jeferson Quero, the catcher, are both improving, the team as a whole may be beginning to falter. With the Cubs, Counsell won’t have to go through a possible rebuild. The skill level is higher. So are the resources.

The future is not entirely bleak. The Brewers major league roster is full of young, athletic position players. Outfielder Jackson Chourio, who is 19 years old, is one of the league’s top prospects. The team may be faltering overall, despite the improvement of both Jeferson Quero, the catcher, and Tyler Black, the third baseman. Counsell won’t have to deal with a potential rebuild with the Cubs. There is an increase in skill. The resources are also.

Not everything about the future is dire. There are a lot of young, athletic position players on the Brewers major league roster. One of the league’s best prospects is 19-year-old outfielder Jackson Chourio. Even though Tyler Black, the third baseman, and Jeferson Quero, the catcher, have both improved, the team may be struggling as a whole. Counsell won’t have to worry about the Cubs possibly rebuilding him. The level of expertise has increased. The assets are as well.

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