CHICAGO (AP) — The Chicago Cubs hired manager Craig Counsell away from Milwaukee on Monday, landing the former big leaguer with a record-breaking contract and firing David Ross in a tandem of surprising moves.
The 53-year-old Counsell became the majors’ highest paid manager with a five-year contract worth more than $40 million, according to a person with knowledge of the deal who spoke to The Associated Press on condition of anonymity because terms weren’t announced.
Ross, 46, went 262-284 in four seasons with Chicago, winning the NL Central in 2020 in his first year. He also was a beloved backup catcher for the Cubs when they won the 2016 World Series in a historic moment for the franchise.
Chicago was in position for an NL wild card this year before stumbling in September. It went 83-79 after finishing under .500 in the previous two seasons.
“On behalf of the Cubs organization, we express our deep gratitude for David’s contributions to our club, both on and off the field,” President of Baseball Operations Jed Hoyer said in a statement. “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.
“Going forward, our major league team will be managed by Craig Counsell. We look forward to welcoming Craig at Wrigley Field early next week.”
Ross did not respond to a message left by the AP seeking comment.
The change at manager was reminiscent of 2014, when Chicago fired Rick Renteria after one season and hired Joe Maddon. Hoyer was the general manager at the time.
The Cubs then made four consecutive playoff appearances under Maddon, losing in the NL Championship Series twice and winning the 2016 title.
The addition of Counsell, who grew up in Milwaukee before becoming the Brewers’ winningest manager, likely means the Cubs plan to be active in free agency. They are hoping to bring back Cody Bellinger for the middle of their lineup, and they also could seek rotation help.
Counsell led the budget-conscious Brewers to five playoff appearances in six years, including three NL Central titles. His contract expired at the end of the season, making him one of the biggest managerial free agents in recent years.
“We’re all here today because we lost Craig, but I’ve reflected on this — Craig has lost us and he’s lost our community also,” Brewers principal owner Mark Attanasio said. “It’s really a special place to be.”
Attanasio said Counsell informed him of his decision, and his response was “Are you messing with me?”
“For several weeks, we had an offer that would have made him the highest-paid manager in baseball, both per season and the total package,” Attanasio said. “I felt very good about that. And he made a decision to go another direction.”
The Cleveland Guardians interviewed Counsell before announcing Monday they hired former catcher Stephen Vogt. Counsell also was being pursued by the New York Mets, who already had hired former Brewers President of Baseball Operations David Stearns. The Mets ended up hiring Yankees bench coach Carlos Mendoza as their manager.
With Stearns and Counsell in charge, the Brewers enjoyed the franchise’s longest run of sustained success.
But staying in the Midwest rather than leaving for the Mets gives Counsell a chance to be close to his sons while they play Big Ten baseball. Brady Counsell is at Minnesota and Jack Counsell plays for Michigan.
Attanasio said Counsell’s coaching staff will be back with the team next season.
Counsell grew up as a Brewers fan in the Milwaukee suburb of Whitefish Bay, Wisconsin. His father, John Counsell, is the Brewers’ former director of community affairs.
The former Brewers infielder took over as Milwaukee’s manager during the 2015 season after the firing of Ron Roenicke. The Brewers had made a total of four playoff appearances before Counsell took over.
His 707-625 record gives him the franchise record for wins and games managed.
Counsell’s 16-year MLB playing career included two stints with the Brewers (2004, 2007-11). He won World Series rings with the 1997 Florida Marlins and 2001 Diamondbacks, and he was part of the 2008 Brewers team that earned Milwaukee its first playoff appearance since its 1982 World Series berth.
The one blemish on Counsell’s resume was the Brewers’ inability to perform as well in the playoffs as they had in the regular season. The Brewers have lost nine of their last 10 postseason games.
Ross and Counsell became the seventh and eighth managers to leave since the final week of the season after San Francisco’s Gabe Kapler, the New York Mets’ Buck Showalter, the Los Angeles Angels’ Phil Nevin, Cleveland’s Terry Francona, San Diego’s Bob Melvin and Houston’s Dusty Baker.
Counsell likely will have Drew Smyly on his pitching staff in Chicago after the left-hander decided not to opt out of his contract and kept a $10.5 million salary. Smyly went 11-11 with a 5.00 ERA in 41 appearances last season, including 23 starts.
Also Monday, the Cubs traded minor league left-hander Brendon Little to Toronto for cash. Infielder Luis Vazquez was added to the team’s 40-man roster. Right-hander Nick Burdi cleared waivers and was outrighted to Triple-A Iowa.
AP Sports Writer Steve Megargee and AP Baseball Writer Ronald Blum contributed to this report.
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