SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. – As reports of Craig Council’s surprise arrival circulated online, a National League executive, unsolicited, sent a reporter two exploding head emojis along with the three letters WTF. Asked to elaborate, the executive said, “It’s a lot to digest. I’m not sure what’s more shocking – where he landed or how much he got.
Counsell became the highest-paid manager in baseball on Monday, when it was announced he would be the Cubs’ next big man. This is especially so since the club has hired a manager in David Ross. Now that Ross is out of a job and Counsell has a new five-year, $40 million deal, the end result of this unexpected development has sent shock waves throughout the industry.
Almost no one knows Counsell’s secret courtship in Chicago, which has been linked to several administrative lapses. The Athletic spoke to about a dozen people around the game, on the condition of anonymity so employees of other organizations can speak freely, to gauge the impact of Council’s decision on management operations and baseball in general.
“It’s about how much time managers get paid,” says one current major league manager. “(The absence of a coaching association) has hurt that part of our game. Hate it for Rossy, but love what Craig has done for the industry.
A former manager told The Athletic that he once offered a job as a counselor: currently held by someone else. He “felt wrong” and rejected why the “fraternity” of governance seemed to have gone by the wayside. This former manager said he was a fan of Counsel, even though he didn’t know him well, but he thought the new Cubs batsman didn’t win a World Series and the hysteria and bidding war surrounding him was a bit much.
(Bruce) Bochy? Now if it was Bochy, I would understand,” the manager of the reigning World Series champion Texas Rangers said.
When The Athletic’s Ken Rosenthal reported that Counsell would manage in 2024, but for a team without a known vacancy, the Rangers were common industry speculation as his landing spot, given that Bochy had retired and was his advisor. His replacement. Then the rest of the story unfolds: Per Rosenthal, Counselor heads north.
“I was a little like ‘Wow.’ He was not surprised as there were many successful managers. But still, that’s the way it happened,” said Astros general manager Dana Brown, who was interested in Counsell’s position with the Astros due to Dusty Baker’s retirement. “It was quick. Kind of out of nowhere. But I’m happy with him. He’s been in the game for a lifetime and he’s done some amazing things.
Another former skipper said: “Craig Counsell is a brilliant manager. Check out his history in one-run games. Look at his history compared to year-to-year predictions. He deserves to be paid.
Some in the game believe the council deal will help raise the wages of other elites, as one agent put it: “a big chunk.”
Dodgers manager Dave Roberts said: “The reality is that nobody realizes his high value until he’s willing to be a free agent.” “This is the fact of the matter. Counsel was willing to do so. Players do it every year. A manager’s exercise of his right to become a free agent should not be construed as prohibited. I think the industry is upset about this and I give a lot of credit and respect to Counsel for talking to the family and being willing to do that.
Others were skeptical that it would make any meaningful difference.
“Look at what the Mets just paid (Carlos) Mendoza,” said the American League’s new Mets boss, who is making a total of $4.5 million over three years, less than Counsell. And, although it was ultimately a good thing for the manager’s salary, some questioned the ethics of the Cubs waiting to fire Ross until Counsell agreed to take the job.
“The reason manager and coach salaries don’t move much is because someone is always willing to take your job,” says a current member of the major league coaching staff. “For an additional 40 K. I don’t know how much the front offices value (the contributions). I don’t think Counsell will change that much because look at what the Mets have done.
“I think the only time it’s really going to change is if people roll the dice and say, ‘I think I’m worth more than that,’ and take the risk. But there is always someone willing to take your job. Of course we need to form a union, but look at how long it took the minor league players to form a union. It’s still a ‘be glad you have a job’ culture.”
It’s the “Management Hunger Games,” one former manager joked before pointing out some history. Cubs president Jed Hoyer’s plan takes a page from former executive Theo Epstein, who hired Joe Maddon to replace Rick Renteria after the 2014 season. (Renteria’s contract was terminated a week after Maddon opted out of his deal with the Tampa Bay Rays.)
“It’s in their playbook,” said one former manager. “I’m glad counsel came out and said the bar should raise the manager’s salary, but I’m not sure I’d take a manager’s job.”
Are the optics really that bad? Hoyer told reporters at the GM meetings that his job is to win as many games as possible “in the short term and in the long term” and that there is “nothing about this move” to find a consultant who doesn’t meet that criteria.
In that way, Ross was a victim in an industry that often ruthlessly sought an edge.
“If you take the emotional side of it and look at it from a purely commercial point of view, it happens in every company,” said another current manager, who thinks the Council deal will be good for the other 29 teams. “Baseball is entertainment, but it’s a business and these transitions happen frequently (in business). It is considered taboo in our industry.
That same manager believes the Cubs have done Ross a disservice by finally publicly claiming he’s their guy — and then tries to make amends privately.
“If I’m in a company that doesn’t value me, I don’t want to be there,” said the manager. “To me, the closeness of those relationships (between front office and manager) is what we need. I want my superiors to appreciate and thank me for the work I do.
Even the former head of the council was surprised.
“I didn’t see that coming,” said Mets president of baseball operations David Stearns, who was with Counsell in Milwaukee. “Craig can play things very close to the vest. In this case, he played very close to the vest, because none of us had any idea where this was going.”
(Top photo of Craig Counsell Brewers Manager: Patrick McDermott/Getty Images)