Craig Counsell Right Choice for Milwaukee Brewers Rebuild
The Milwaukee Brewers made a pretty significant change over the weekend. On Sunday night, long-time manager Ron Roenicke found himself out of a job on the heels of an MLB worst 7-18 start to the 2015 season. Since September of last year, the team had managed to win back-to-back games just three times under Roenicke and they had lost their first seven series of the year before taking two out of three games from the Cubs over the weekend. Roenicke had reportedly lost hold of the locker room by the end; according to a story by Bill Michaels published on his own site, at least one of the players viewed Roenicke as “too soft on the guys” and that “some (expletive) needs to be kicked.”
To replace Ron, the Brewers quickly announced the hire of former Brewer Craig Counsell. Craig grew up in the Milwaukee area (Whitefish Bay) and his father worked for the team while he was growing up. Counsell enjoyed a 16 year major league career, a bulk of which (711 games over six seasons) was spent in a Brewers’ uniform. Counsell retired after Milwaukee’s run to the NLCS in 2011 at the age of 40, closing the book on a career that saw him post a .255/.342/.344 line in 5488 plate appearances, 22.3 wins above replacement, and World Series rings in 1997 and 2003.
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Following his retirement as a player, Counsell immediately moved into a front office role with the Brewers, taking on the role as a special assistant to General Manager Doug Melvin. Counsell immersed himself in every aspect of how the franchise operates, including plenty of work with the Brewers scouting department and minor league development.
“I’m a Milwaukee Brewer, I’ve always felt that way,” Counsell said during his introductory press conference. “It’s an honor and it’s humbling, but I feel like this is what I was meant to do. I think I’ll be better at this than I was at playing.” In regards to his players, Counsell sounds like he is ready to take on the leadership role. “I’ve said this for years, I said this as a player: We all want to be led. To some extent, we all want to be told what to do. In a team atmosphere, that’s what happens. We have to sacrifice a little bit of ourselves, give a little bit of ourselves, to take the team in the right direction.”
While the early message seemed to be that the Brewers move to replace Roenicke with Craig Counsell in order to energize the team and try and get back into contention, that was probably more posturing than anything. Of course the hope is that Counsell can “light a fire” under the players who are under performing to this point in the season, but it’s probably more for the reason that players performing better will net greater returns on the trade market. While addressing the media yesterday, team owner Mark Attanasio stated that he’s “ready to make the hard decision to do what’s best for the organization, whatever that will be,” and that “you can call it remodel, retool, rebuild, whatever it takes to bring winning baseball to Milwaukee is what I’m going to do.”
It sure sounds to me that the rebuild is still on, which makes the three year contract Counsell signed make a lot more sense, rather just hiring him on an interim basis. Despite Craig’s lack of managerial experience at any level, he is uniquely qualified to lead the Milwaukee Brewers through the rebuild process and towards a new era of success. Counsell’s understanding of the farm system really sets him apart from any other candidates the Brewers could have pursued, and the Brewers’ owner said that Craig had an “inside track” on the job from the start. Young managers are in vogue around baseball, and the 44 year old Counsell will be able to relate better to the young players that are sure to be coming up through the pipe over the next several seasons. Without the burden of the expectations of winning, Counsell can perfect his craft in the dugout and grow with his players over the next few seasons, before the team becomes competitive again around the 2018 season. Counsell has been somewhat of a hot commodity around baseball the last few seasons, being considered for positions with both the Red Sox and Rays, so it makes sense that Milwaukee would want to give him some job security and deter him from pursuing other opportunities.
A fan favorite during his time in Milwaukee, Counsell brings a winning reputation to the dugout, as well as the knowledge of what it takes to grind out a long major league career as a (mostly) backup player. Counsell already has the support of two key players in the Brewers’ clubhouse. “I know he’s a grinder and he’s a big team guy, which is what I love…sometimes you need to come in here and kick someone in the butt and move guys forward…and I think (Counsell) will be able to do that,” catcher Jonathan Lucroy said. Ryan Braun called Craig “basically a player-coach” while he a member of the team, and added “I think everybody already respected him and knows how intelligent he is, understands he’s always been a winner and we would expect him to do the same thing as a manager.”
Craig Counsell has gone 1-1 in his first two games as Brewers’ manager, with some ‘interesting’ bullpen decisions coming back to haunt the team last night in an 8-2 blowout loss to Los Angeles. Growing pains are to be expected from the Milwaukee’s new skipper, but Counsell’s winning reputation, knowledge of the Brewers’ minor league system, and youthful exuberance make him the most qualified candidate to lead the Brewers on the field through an impending rebuild. He already has the support of the locker room, the front office, and the fan base, and he is among the most respected up-and-comers throughout baseball.
The hiring of Craig Counsell is step one of the Brewers rebuild process. Rumors have swirled about Doug Melvin’s future given his expiring contract, but Attanasio has voiced trust and support in his current General Manager while not willing to discuss his contract situation. My best guess? After June’s amateur draft, Scouting Director Ray Montgomery is promoted to General Manager, with Melvin stepping into a full-time role as President of Baseball Operations. This sets the front office and manager in place for the next few years, allowing Melvin to be involved in the rebuild process while giving the day-to-day grind to of being GM to Montgomery, himself an up-and-comer in front office circles. Once Montgomery becomes GM, he will be the one to start wheeling and dealing the Brewers’ assets and begin the tear down and rebuild process.