As a free-agent manager, Craig Counsell holds a special chance to raise the bar for managers’ salaries in the future. Those close to Counsell suggest that such an opportunity greatly matters to him. So, while Counsell loves Wisconsin, his home state, and takes pride in being the Milwaukee Brewers’ manager, it’s believed that he views it as a responsibility to at least engage with other teams about their managerial vacancies.
Thus, it only made sense that the Brewers would grant early permission to organizations to speak with him even though his contract doesn’t expire until Oct. 31. This way, all parties can get a jumpstart on the process. Though from here, nothing else about the situation feels inevitable; things can go in different directions.
The New York Mets received permission this week to interview Counsell, league sources confirmed. SNY reported that a conversation is expected to happen soon. On the surface, the fit stands out as sensible. Counsell and new Mets president of baseball operations David Stearns experienced the most successful run of Brewers baseball together from 2015-22. From 2018-21, the Brewers advanced to the playoffs each season, setting a franchise record and tying the number of times (four) it had previously reached the postseason altogether. Plus, Mets owner Steve Cohen, baseball’s richest owner, could make Counsell the highest-paid manager in baseball.
But don’t schedule time to watch the press conference just yet. Despite the upcoming interview, Counsell landing with the Mets is no guarantee.
Given Counsell’s reputation as one of the game’s best managers, it stands to reason that every team with a vacancy has interest in him, though some teams will be more attractive to him than others. The Houston Astros are expected to join the San Diego Padres, Cleveland Guardians and Los Angeles Angels with managerial openings. Also, teams with current managers that might want to make a change shouldn’t be ruled out.
Multiple league sources linked Counsell to the Cleveland Guardians’ manager opening as a candidate. The Guardians have asked permission to speak with him, league sources said. And people within the industry insisted that Cleveland, another small-market team that operates much like Milwaukee, could make a serious financial pitch to Counsell; previously, Terry Francona was among the highest-paid managers. The Guardians’ front-office group operates in a forward-thinking way — similar to the Brewers before and after Stearns — and that might hold some appeal to Counsell.
Despite all the attention, one league source said he wouldn’t be surprised if Counsell ended up re-signing with Milwaukee — if owner Mark Attanssio makes a fair offer. Counsell, who lives in Wisconsin even during the winter, is believed to have made $3.5 million last season. Still, other league sources say that other teams may offer more, which would theoretically force Counsell — who was deeply involved in the Major League Baseball Players Association during his playing days — into a decision point.
The big-market Mets linger as a possibility, but from Stearns’ first day on the job, officials have been adamant that the club will conduct an extensive manager search.
It’d be hard for any club to find a better candidate than Counsell, who’d also be incredibly difficult for the Brewers to replace. Under Counsell, the Brewers always defied expectations. This season may have been his best work; Milwaukee performed better than even their internal projections suggested they would.
Counsell has an innate feel for after his 16-year career as a major-league infielder and he draws from his background and experiences to connect with players. In an age where front offices want to leverage matchups, Counsell is an expert at getting players to buy in and feel a sense of purpose. Counsell, 53, is whip-smart; he was in the Brewers’ front office before taking over in the dugout, where he has shown an ability to be a shrewd in-game tactician and trustworthy leader in front of the press.
— The Athletic’s Ken Rosenthal contributed to this report.
(Photo: Sam Hodde / Getty Images)