Craig Counsell Explains ‘Scary’ Decision to Accept New Challenge with Cubs

The Cubs won’t officially introduce Craig Counsell as their new manager until Monday, but that doesn’t mean all the parties involved are going to remain as silent as they were leading up to the bombshell news from earlier in the week. Jed Hoyer addressed the decision from the GM Meetings and Counsell shared his thoughts with’s Adam McCalvy during a Tuesday phone conversation.

“Yesterday was an emotional day,” Counsell explained. “I was sad first, then happy, then I was crying, then I was laughing, I went through all of it. There was a lot yesterday, and I understand. It was a decision that affected a lot of people, and I take that very seriously.

“I understand people are mad. That’s part of this. That’s part of what makes this hard. But sometimes you just have to try to think above that and do what you think in your heart is right for you and the people around you.”

Without coming right out and saying he knew he’d plateaued in Milwaukee and felt he needed to move on in order to achieve the pinnacle of success, he alluded to exactly that. Then there’s the idea of being able to win while staying close to home. Oh, and the money probably helped.

“The challenging part of this industry and my job is that there’s one job in 30 places, 30 different cities. Look, me preserving what I think is a great situation right now, a family situation, I’m able to do that yet get a professional challenge.

“It’s a challenge with an organization that is very much in a good place and is just primed to do some special things. That part of it certainly is exciting and alluring. You know it’s a challenge. It’s going to be hard. It’s scary because change is scary. But sometimes you need to push yourself out of that comfort zone and it makes it exciting.”

Just because I know some of you out there are thinking it, no, there are not actually 30 cities playing host to MLB teams. But all Counsell needs to worry about is the 26-man roster he’ll be responsible for once the Cubs break camp next spring. The front office believes he’ll be able to get more wins out of whatever group they assemble than his predecessor would have.

“Whether our season had played out in a smooth way or whether the ups and downs happened or not — I think I said at the end of the year something to the effect of, ‘I think we left wins on the table,’” Hoyer said Tuesday. “I still feel that way now.

“We had a plus-96 run differential. I think we were the only team that was above average in run prevention and run-scoring to not make the playoffs. It does bother me. That’s not on one person. That’s on me and every person in the organization. But it felt like we left wins on the table, regardless of the way it happened.”

Incremental wins are worth $8 million or more, which is why Hoyer and the Cubs were willing to make Counsell the highest-paid manager in MLB history. Not only will he now be tasked with leading his new team to the postseason, but he’ll have to do it while operating under a great deal more pressure than he ever experienced north of the Cheddar Curtain.

“It’s an incredibly difficult people management position,” Hoyer told media members. “It’s an incredibly difficult strategic position and even more so now with all the information. And you’re the face of the franchise more than any one player because your demeanor and personality and comments show up 324 times a season. That’s really hard. When a guy does it at an exceptional level it makes sense to pay him well.”

Now what makes sense is to ensure their well-paid manager has the kind of roster that is built to win beyond the regular season. That’s something Counsell wasn’t able to do with the Brewers, largely because his teams didn’t have the kind of depth or dynamism required to win in the playoffs. Hoyer cautioned against expecting the Cubs to be “crazy aggressive” this winter, though he made it very clear they’re open to big deals that make sense.

You don’t spend $40 million on a manager and then give him spare parts, nor do you make a five-year commitment and immediately push everything into the middle to win it all in the first year. The Cubs should absolutely be in the market for several top free agents, plus they’ll explore big trades that allow them to swap a little redundancy in the system for impact veterans. Those who believe they’ll either do nothing or “win” the winter are probably going to be wrong.

The next several weeks should be very active and the Cubs are going to head into spring training with a better roster on paper than what they had last year. Then it’ll be time to make good on all the expectations, which is where the real scary part begins for Counsell.

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