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A Cubsmas Advent Calendar: Craig Counsell will manage the Cubs

Will the new manager bring his winning ways to the North Side of Chicago?

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Chicago Cubs Introduce Craig Counsell as Manager
Craig Counsell will be the 56th manager of the Cubs
Photo by Matt Dirksen/Chicago Cubs/Getty Images

This is Day Three of a Cubsmas Advent Calendar. You can read the explanation for the project and Day One here.

I have rarely been as stunned and confused as I was on November 6 when I sat down at my computer. I’d flown into Chicago on a redeye I caught straight from the Fall Stars Game the night before and had promptly fallen asleep at 6 a.m. when I finally got back home. I had astutely taken the day off, gotten my coffee, done some yoga and could not figure out for the life of me why I had missed so many mentions and direct messages. It honestly took me a few minutes to process what had happened, these words didn’t even make sense:

To be clear, I was not in the fire David Ross camp, nor was I even convinced that the Cubs manager could be held responsible for the close losses. After all, losing in one-run games because your front office didn’t have a great bullpen really seemed like a Jed Hoyer problem. Do I wish Adbert Alzolay had been the closer sooner? Yes. Did I hate almost every second of watching Eric Hosmer, Trey Mancini and Tucker Barnhart take meaningful at bats? Also yes. But by all accounts the front office was happy with David Ross and his performance and manager. Plus, I’ll be honest. I just didn’t think Jed Hoyer had that in him.

I was very wrong. We know now that Hoyer was operating a stealth investigation of ways to upgrade the Cubs in every possible way and one of those contingency plans revolved around a top secret mission to hire a manager he believed had “no weaknesses” as Sahadev Sharma of The Athletic reported:

To ensure that this stayed quiet, Hoyer was the only person to meet with Counsell, very few people in the front office were aware of the meeting, and Counsell never came to the Cubs offices adjacent to Wrigley Field, according to a league source. The two had very little interaction prior to that meeting on Nov. 1, but seemed to hit it off quickly and talked deep into the night.

In the coming days, Counsell would meet with the New York Mets and Cleveland Guardians while staying in contact with the Brewers. Late Saturday evening, Hoyer was optimistic that they were close on the financials and a deal would be made. By Sunday morning, the deal was done. Hoyer had poached the best manager in the game from a division rival, and by agreeing to a five-year deal worth more than $40 million, Counsell had set a new level for managerial compensation while also remaining close to family.

It was quite the coup, stunning the baseball world — including the majority of Cubs front office staff, who were not privy to the negotiations prior to the news breaking.

Later that day I spent some time analyzing why I think Counsell chose to make the leap to the bigger market division rival. While the answer boils down to money, it’s also a lot more complicated than just his paycheck. The move puts him in a higher-profile position and allowed him to leverage his position as a sought after manager to reset the pay scale for managers in the league.

However, today as we reflect on the pleasant Cubs surprises from 2023, there is one other element worth noting in Counsell’s hiring: Fans rarely see all the moving parts of Jed Hoyer’s broader plans. I’m on the record as being critical of Hoyer’s front office on more than one occasion. I wish the Cubs acted more like a big market team. I miss Theo Epstein’s unparalleled transparency in discussing moves and plans with fans.

But I have to say, the Counsell Coup (as I’ll be calling it henceforth) was one of the savvier moves I’ve seen from Jed Hoyer and I did not expect it at all. It was the exact type of big market move I’ve longed for the Cubs to make for years. And it only came together because of Hoyer’s obsessive ability to not tip his own hand.

As I was writing this piece I could see the doom forming over Cubs Twitter. After missing out on the Shohei Ohtani sweepstakes there has been very little chatter still connecting the Cubs to Japanese phenom pitcher Yoshinobu Yamamoto. You can hear the pearl-clutching as Cubs fans wonder if there will be a big free agent signing this offseason. After all, Craig Counsell can’t possibly be the only move?

Now, I’m still a bit skeptical of where Hoyer is taking this team. I think they need at least one big bat at the corner and a frontline starting pitcher, not to mention that bullpen help I mentioned above. However, I’ve decided to relax a bit and see what Jed has planned rather than engage in apocalyptic possibilities of another wasted offseason for the Chicago Cubs. Hoyer has already demonstrated he has a lot of plans that fans have no clue are in the works. The team has enough money to pull off any deal they consider intelligent spending and I’ve learned my lesson that this team can, and will, pull of surprises of epic proportions.