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Chicago Cubs Sack David Ross, Hire Craig Counsell As New Manager

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The Chicago Cubs hired Craig Counsell as manager after dismissing David Ross on Monday. A record-breaking five-year, $40 million contract enticed the longtime Milwaukee Brewers manager to Chicago, according to people familiar with the negotiations who spoke with ESPN.

The baseball community, which had assumed Counsell would either be hired by the New York Mets or return to Milwaukee, was taken aback by the Cubs’ announcement of the moves on Monday afternoon. Tom Ricketts, the owner of the Cubs, had publicly praised Ross on October 2, saying, “He’s our guy.”

The Cubs swiftly expressed interest in Counsell when his contract with the Brewers expired on October 31 and made an offer that completely upended the current managers’ pay scale. Terry Francona of the Cleveland Guardians set the previous record for the highest average annual value of a manager, at $4.5 million.

During his free agency, Counsell, a 16-year veteran of the Major League Baseball Players Association, pushed for higher managerial salaries. The Cubs complied, more than doubling Counsell’s previous salary of $3.5 million and putting him in a position previously held by Joe Torre of the New York Yankees.

This action brought back memories of 2014, when Chicago fired manager Rick Renteria midway through his tenure and brought in Joe Maddon, who led the team to a World Series championship two years later following 108 seasons without a championship.

Chicago fired Maddon and went to Ross, who had retired from the game after playing a part in the Cubs’ 2016 World Series victory after the 2019 season. In the 2020 season that was cut short by COVID-19, Ross, a first-time manager, guided the Cubs to the National League Central championship.

After two disappointing seasons that followed the Cubs’ trade of key players from their championship run, they bounced back in 2023, finishing 83-79 but missing out on a postseason berth due to a late-season slump.

The addition of Counsell instills a sense of urgency in a team hoping to make the playoffs. In his nine seasons as manager of the Brewers, Counsell led the team to three NL Central titles and five postseason appearances in the previous six seasons, including this season’s division-winning record of 92-70.

Counsell, a native of Whitefish Bay, Wisconsin, who grew up 15 minutes from the Brewers stadium, holds the team record for both the most victories (707), as well as the most playoff victories (7). The team went 1-8 in the postseason after failing to duplicate its 2018 NL Championship Series run to Game 7.

Counsell was a desirable option for any team looking for a new manager because of his success with a low-payroll team like the Brewers and the respect it has brought him. For most of Counsell’s time in Milwaukee, the baseball operations of the Mets were overseen by David Stearns, the team’s recently appointed president of baseball operations, thus he had a longstanding connection to them.

Instead, sources told ESPN that the Mets brought in Carlos Mendoza, a former Yankees bench coach, to take over for the fired Buck Showalter. On Monday, the Guardians, who had previously shown interest in Mendoza, selected two-time All-Star catcher Stephen Vogt to take over for retiring Francona.

Baseball observers viewed the Cubs’ acquisition of Counsell as a cunning move that fits with their plans to spend in free agency and bolster a team that advanced significantly in 2023 with the addition of outfielder Cody Bellinger, who tendered a qualifying offer on Monday and opted out of his contract, and Gold Glove shortstop Dansby Swanson.

One of the best farm systems in baseball is thought to be in Chicago, where outfielders Kevin Alcantara and Owen Caissie are pushing for big-league time, and right-handers Cade Horton and Ben Brown, along with Pete Crow-Armstrong, are expected to make significant contributions to the 2024 team.

Chicago features three Gold Glovers in Swanson, second baseman Nico Hoerner, and left fielder Ian Happ, all of whom have contracts through at least 2026. The team also returns starters Justin Steele and Kyle Hendricks, whose $16.5 million club option was exercised.

With shortstop Willy Adames and ace Corbin Burnes scheduled to reach free agency after 2024, the Brewers’ future is a little more murky, but their farm system, which has regularly produced major league players, may see a wave of promotions among top prospects.

One of the best players in the minor leagues, outfielder Jackson Chourio, may make his debut soon after turning twenty. Tyler Black, a third baseman, could take over after the Brewers used seven players in that spot in the previous campaign. Jacob Misiorowski, a right-hander who may possess the best raw stuff in the minor leagues, advanced to Double-A in 2023 and may experience a comparable rise in 2024.

The majority of the Brewers’ roster from the previous campaign will be back, with the exception of left-hander Wade Miley, who chose not to renew his contract for the following season, and co-ace Brandon Woodruff, who is expected to miss the majority of 2024 due to shoulder surgery.

In a statement, Cubs president of baseball operations Jed Hoyer said: “Today we made the difficult decision to dismiss David Ross as our major league manager. 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.”

Hoyer said, Counsell will be formally introduced at Wrigley, next week.

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