Here Comes Your Manager: Three Teams Pick New Skippers

Craig Counsell
Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel

An entire offseason’s worth of managerial reshuffling took place early Monday afternoon, as the most coveted managerial role was filled and the most coveted managerial candidate found a home — just not how you’d think.

The Guardians first announced the hiring of Mariners bullpen coach and golden-voiced baritone Stephen Vogt. Shortly thereafter, news broke that the Cubs were hiring outgoing Brewers manager Craig Counsell, despite already having David Ross under contract for that position. Counsell had been expected to follow former Brewers baseball ops boss David Stearns to the Mets, but when he landed in Chicago, the Mets unveiled Yankees bench coach Carlos Mendoza as their new manager.

Counsell, regarded as one of the top skippers in the sport, has reset the market for manager salaries with a five-year, $40 million contract. A free agent after his Brewers contract expired, he interviewed with both New York and Cleveland and was regarded as both teams’ top choice. When he made his unexpected switch to Chicago, that made the other teams’ decisions easier, and thus followed the busy afternoon on the coaching carousel.

All three of these managerial hires depended on what Counsell decided to do, so let’s go through them in the order he would have considered them.

First: Cleveland. The Guardians are replacing Terry Francona, their highly decorated and highly successful manager of 11 seasons’ tenure. He had suffered several health scares over the past few seasons and stepped down at the end of 2023 at the age of 64.

From the outside, I don’t know why Counsell would leave Milwaukee for Cleveland, other than to pursue change for change’s sake. If he wanted to live on the Great Lakes and manage a team built to find the cheapest possible route to 88 wins, Milwaukee has a better roster and more financial support from ownership.

Counsell had been with the Brewers, either as a player, in the front office, or as manager, for the past 17 seasons, and was very much the face of a team run by a GM entering his second year. Had Counsell gone to Cleveland, he likely would’ve had less influence working under the Chris Antonetti-Mike Chernoff duo that’s been entrenched there for years. I don’t know what Cleveland could have offered in terms of finances, team competitiveness, or office politics that would’ve been an improvement on what Counsell had in Milwaukee.

So the Guardians turned to Vogt, whose single year with the Mariners represents the sum total of his professional coaching and managerial experience. They aren’t hiring a complete neophyte off the active roster or the broadcast booth — a strategy that was popular a decade ago and quickly became unpopular after it repeatedly ended in disaster — but it’s close.

Of the 30 full-time MLB managers at the end of the 2023 season, only three had as little professional coaching and/or front office experience as Vogt: David Ross, Alex Cora, and Aaron Boone. Only two others, Counsell and Kevin Cash, had three years of experience or less when they got their first managerial gig. Ross just got fired to make room for Counsell after four disappointing seasons. Cora won a title in his first season, though he had additional front office and managerial experience in the Puerto Rican winter league, and there were… extenuating circumstances. And Boone — well, how are we feeling about Aaron Boone these days, Yankees fans?

On the other hand, Counsell and Cash are two of the best managers in the league. So the right guy can come in and be successful even without much experience. We won’t know about Vogt as a manager for a while, but he’s very well-liked within the game; more than that, he made his reputation as the mother duck to a young Oakland pitching staff in the middle of the last decade. Vogt has had Future Manager written all over him for years, but we’ll see if he’s coming out of the oven underbaked.

Counsell was supposed to end up in New York with Stearns, the latest top-class baseball mind brought to the Big Apple by Steve Cohen’s hideously swollen wallet. Nevertheless, Milwaukee reportedly offered to make Counsell the highest-paid manager in the game on a $5.5 million-a-year deal and expected to be competitive until he made his final decision. Ultimately, the Mets (and Cubs, it turns out) were willing to go higher. Brewers owner Mark Attanasio seems to be taking it well.

As for the Mets, once they were relegated to runner-up, they acted quickly, offering the job to Mendoza. In contrast to the affable but inexperienced Vogt, Mendoza is the very image of a first-time manager. He spent about a decade as a minor league infielder, then retired at age 29 and joined the Yankees’ minor league coaching staff. He spent the ensuing 15 years with the organization, the past six of them in the majors under Boone. He has become a serial managerial candidate of late, interviewing for about half a dozen jobs, including the open Cleveland gig. He’s been around long enough to have risen through the ranks and paid his dues and is still relatively young; he turns 44 in a few weeks. If you were going to design a résumé for a good first-time manager, you’d end up with something that looks like Mendoza’s.

And good luck to him, as the Mets have ridden managers hard and put them away wet, even before Cohen started waving $300 million payrolls around in front of a very excitable set of fans and local media. The most recent Mets manager to last more than two seasons was Terry Collins, who not only won a pennant, but was also on the more… tenacious end of the spectrum as far as major league bench bosses go. Bobby Valentine was the only other Mets manager in the past 30 years to last more than 600 games in charge; surely no one else before or since has matched the energy of the franchise so well. Cohen and Stearns obviously hired Mendoza expecting someone a little less weird. And that could end up being the smart play in the long run; maybe finding a safe custodian is what they need right now, instead of another headline-grabbing name.

Which leaves the Cubs, a club that wasn’t even part of the conversation until the news broke. (No offseason institution is more fun than Jon Heyman dropping “mystery team.” The mystery team has to come through at least some of the time in order for the bit to keep working. This should sustain us for another winter or two.) Given that the club didn’t dismiss Ross until it hired Counsell, it’s fair to assume that this was an opportunistic move. It’s the second time in three managerial hires that the Cubs cashiered an unobjectionable bench boss in order to bring in the top name on the market; we all remember the Rick Renteria-for-Joe Maddon shuffle of 2014.

Chicago’s ability to compete in the past decade has had a lot to do with how much money the Ricketts family is willing to invest. As the Maddon era collapsed, Chicago sagged from a top-five payroll team to something closer to the median. Under Ross last year, the Cubs were the ninth-biggest spenders in the league and nearly made the playoffs. If this move is meant to signal a new commitment to winning, there’s no reason to expect Counsell to be less successful than Maddon was. If this is an attempt to get him to do his middling payroll-to-division title alchemy an hour and a half down I-94, there are no guarantees. When the Cubs are good, there are few better places, if any, to win. When they’re bad, well, imagine the Mets, but poor. It can get ugly fast. But the Rickettses have more than doubled Counsell’s salary and made a huge splash to make this upgrade, so let’s be optimistic for the time being.

So why would Counsell choose the Cubs over the Mets? Well, first of all, it was the most lucrative offer, which shouldn’t be ignored. Second, the Mets are going to be in a retooling phase for at least another year, in a division with three teams that made the playoffs last year, including an Atlanta club that should be the class of the National League for some time. (I reserve the right to revisit this opinion if another NL team signs Shohei Ohtani.) The Cubs need to replace Cody Bellinger, Jeimer Candelario, and Marcus Stroman this offseason in order to tread water, but that’s not an impossible task. And nobody knows better than Counsell how winnable the NL Central is. There is upside here, perhaps even more than exists for the financially flush Mets.

Then there’s the lifestyle component. Counsell was born in Indiana, grew up in Wisconsin, went to Notre Dame, and spent the past 17 years working in Milwaukee in some capacity. He has two sons who play baseball in the Big Ten. Moving to Chicago nets him an extra $2.5 million a year compared to what he would’ve made by staying in Milwaukee and is at the absolute worst a lateral move in terms of team infrastructure. And it presents a fraction of the disruption that moving to New York would’ve entailed.

It certainly came as a shock that Counsell would end up with the Cubs, and in some respects turning down the Mets does carry risk. But it’s also Counsell’s best chance to have his cake and eat it, too.





Michael is a writer at FanGraphs. Previously, he was a staff writer at The Ringer and D1Baseball, and his work has appeared at Grantland, Baseball Prospectus, The Atlantic, ESPN.com, and various ill-remembered Phillies blogs. Follow him on Twitter, if you must, @MichaelBaumann.

98 Comments
Oldest
Newest Most Voted
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments
EonADS
3 months ago

Honestly, I like Vogt as a Guardians fan. We aren’t going to be good for a bit, and he’s always been great at building rapports, getting guys to settle in, and working with media and fans alike. He got two AS berths off of mediocre (for MLB) athleticism, savvy, and a good swing. At least in the short term, I like it. Any veteran manager we hired would instantly be compared (unfavorably) to Tito and the legacy he left behind, both in the dugout, on the field, and in the stands and behind TV screens. Vogt neatly sidesteps most of those problems after a beloved playing career. And he’s still more experienced (and personable) than Boone was at the time of his hiring.

Last edited 3 months ago by EonADS
Ivan_Grushenkomember
3 months ago
Reply to  EonADS

It’s strange that a team that won a division a year ago doesn’t think it will be good for a bit. Why can’t they be good?

bh216
3 months ago
Reply to  Ivan_Grushenko

I’m assuming it’s because their offense stunk last year and they typically don’t spend what is needed to land the offensive difference maker(s) they need. I disagree that this team won’t be good for a while, but I agree they aren’t very good as constructed at the moment. The pitching is fine, the offense needs work, but most of the pieces of a good lineup are there. Kwan, Gimenez, Jose, and both Naylors are above average regulars. Laureano is a nice supplementary piece (as long as he’s not playing every day). Arias, Rocchio, Freeman, Valera, and Manzardo all have prospect pedigree and figure to be part of the equation next year (if they aren’t traded, which some might be). If they could somehow add two average or plus hitters to this roster, they could easily be good again next year.

EonADS
3 months ago
Reply to  bh216

Not only the offense, but the starting pitching too. Bieber is almost certainly going to be traded, and I’m not a believer in Quantrill. We have great young starters, and I’m very happy about them, but I would not be surprised at all to see the unit backslide next year. Especially because of the TINSTAPP rule, and the Pitchers-Are-Injury-Time-Bombs rule.

Furthermore, I’m not a believer in most of our position-player prospects. Rocchio looks way overrated (seriously, he was terrible in the majors and has been below-average in AAA), Arias still has tremendous swing and miss issues, and Valera has only been a below-average hitter in AAA over his 115 games there, so I don’t think he’s ready yet. Freeman looks fine, but also like an average hitter. Gonzalez looks more and more like a flash in the pan, and Brennan’s offense will never be consistent because it’s fully BABIP-dependent. Manzardo, I like. And Bo is of course good. But that’s two positions out of like six that we needed help with last season. Maybe Andres Giminez finds what he was missing for most of last year too, but that’s still a lot of issues. Our offense went from way over-inflated by BABIP to slightly worse than they should have been. They aren’t going to replicate 2022.

Furthermore, Tito was the franchise since before anyone on this current roster, and most of the front office (everyone but Antonetti, really). That leadership void is not going to be filled overnight regardless of who you bring in. There will be growing pains.

pezzicle
3 months ago
Reply to  EonADS

I don’t not agree with you in certain ways, but both Naylors, Manzardo, Gimenez, Kwan and Ramirez is 6 of your starting 9. You’ve got imagine one of Rocchio, Freeman, Arias, Brito, Martinez is able to be good enough to hit 9th and play either SS or 2B.

It just leaves CF and RF as issues, one of which could easily be fixed this offseason.

And the pitching factory hasn’t really stopped at all for like….a long time, so I am not really expecting it to slow down any time soon.

They should compete for a central division crown again, although sure, that bar isn’t too high

EonADS
3 months ago
Reply to  pezzicle

Stopped? No. Slowed down? Hell yes it has. 2019 and 2021 were both years where issues showed themselves early and often. Players will get hurt, underperform, and/or both. We got WAY luckier than we had any right to last season, and the bullpen were way overworked. And guys like Quantrill, Tomlin, TJ House, Zach Plesac, and Adam Plutko spent their entire tenure with the team overperforming. The front end of the rotation has always been solid. But not the back end. And that’s the biggest difference between an average team and a contender imo.

If you expect the Guardians to sign anything or anyone to “fix” a hole in the roster, you don’t know this team. Or the Cleveland-area Dolans. Cheap does not begin to cover it. Unless we get a minimum signing who goes off, we aren’t getting that hole patched. The only way it fixes itself long-term is one of the prospects figures it out, which I’ve already said I don’t buy.

Also, while this lineup has a higher floor because of the ability to generate contact, their lack of raw power caps the ceiling too. Bo and Josh, along with J-Ram, are the only power threats on the roster. Giminez, Kwan, Manzardo, and the young guns are various flavors of average or worse in that regard. We won’t completely suck. But I could easily see us being very bland on offense again.

Last edited 3 months ago by EonADS
pezzicle
3 months ago
Reply to  EonADS

they spent like 22M last year on free agents. they ran payrolls in the 90M range back in the early 10s.

They ran a 95M payroll to open last year and are currently sitting somewhere around 90M. They put 500k more butts in seats this year vs last year

They said back in like 2018 that the 100M range was where they were most comfortable, and you’ve got to imagine that that is something that has gone up a bit since that is 5 years ago. Most payrolls increase by about 4% a year among the sport, and CLEs did most years since Dolan took over outside of a few where they cut it down.

There is not reason to think they couldn’t add 20M to payroll and roll with a 110M roster this season and be totally fine with it, especially since they have the new minority owner in place and he is supposed to gain more and more control over the franchise each year.

Last edited 3 months ago by pezzicle
pezzicle
3 months ago
Reply to  pezzicle

Like Dolan bought the team in 2000. They gutted payroll down to 30M by 2004. By 2009 payroll was at about 80M. They added 50M over 5 years. They took 2 years to cut in 2010 and 2011, and then took 2 years to build back up and they were at 80M again in 2013. By 2018 they were running a payroll of about 140M. They added 60M to payroll over 5 years. They are on record saying that 2018 they went too high for what they could afford, and cut down, then COVID happened and messed lots of things up for many owners. And they are back up to close to 100M this past year which is what they ran in 2020.

They add to payroll. Usually around 10-12M a year over the last years payroll, unless they are in a cutting period. Which they aren’t. A 110M payroll is not crazy to think about, and would give them 20-25M to work with, maybe more depending on what they do with ARB and if they can somehow figure out how to unload Straw.

Yes, they are fairly cheap in comparison to most other owners and it will be very nice for us CLE fans to finally be rid of them with fingers crossed that Blitzer spends more money.

But they add payroll to the team. They fix issues. Suggesting otherwise is just peddling a narrative that isn’t really accurate.

Last edited 3 months ago by pezzicle
fjtorres
3 months ago
Reply to  pezzicle

Dolan is cheap, nobody disputes that.
But if you track the times the team adds payroll it is when he has a minority chipping in. Like when Sherman was owner-in-waiting. Then he bought the Royals and not only did Dolan have to fund the tram alone, he had to buy out Sherman’s share out of escrow.

It took years but he found David Blitzer to buy 25-30% to clear out the debt to Sherman and boost payroll with the *promise* of taking over in 5(?) years as majority owner.

How much that will help the budget is TBD but realistically, who are they going to pick up? Bellinger was and is the best fit and he is going to be out of their range (and anybody in either Central except the Cubs).

No quick fix for the offense.

By the same token, don’t write off the kid pitchers. There’s talent there so the rotation will be fine. The bullpen though? Help needed.

pezzicle
3 months ago
Reply to  fjtorres

But if you track the times the team adds payroll it is when he has a minority chipping in. 

So this is why I have an issue with the narrative because statements like these just aren’t accurate. As stated above, he added 50M to payroll from 2004 to 2009. He added about 20M to payroll from 2013 to 2016. Sherman came on in April 2016. They were adding 7-10M without Sherman.

Yes, they gutted when he left, and by 2021 they were sitting at 50M. But they increased payroll by 30M going into 2022 and Blitzer wasn’t around yet

He adds payroll by himself. Yes, it isn’t a lot, and when he has a minority owner, it is usually more than by himself.

But he adds anywhere from 7-12M on average by himself, and when he has a minority owner, it’s more. He has one now.

They started 2023 with a 100M payroll. There is no reason to think they can’t add 10M to that. The payroll right now is under 90M.

But ya, they aren’t adding Bellinger. No one with a brain would suggest they are. But Gurriel at 15M per year or so? Hernandez at 15-20M per year or so? totally doable

Last edited 3 months ago by pezzicle
pezzicle
3 months ago
Reply to  pezzicle

not entirely sure what the downvote is for. you move Kwan to CF and roll with the following and this absolutely can compete for the division

Kwan
new LF via trade
Ramirez
J Naylor
Sign Hernandez to play RF
B Naylor
Manzardo
Arias
Gimenez

that’s bringing in two players. They aren’t that far away. Sure, they likely don’t do this because they won’t move Kwan to CF, but it is what they SHOULD do as it would open up 2 corner OF spots to fill with power, which is what they need

fjtorres
3 months ago
Reply to  pezzicle

What they’re more likely to do is platoon Laureano and Brennan in CF, bring in a retread 1B/RF and hold auditions for DH/1B. In the ALC that might even work.

bh216
3 months ago
Reply to  EonADS

Your concerns about the rotation could apply to any team. The fact that Cleveland could role into the regular season with Cal Quantrill or Logan Allen as their 6th starter has them in pretty good shape. Quantrill is fine as a back-of-rotation regular season innings eater. Obviously, that changes somewhat if Bieber is traded, which I’m not convinced is a guarantee based on his 2023 and the strength of the FA market.

On offense, if the Guardians can get to a point where guys like Brennan, Valera, Straw, and Laureano are bench/depth pieces and not integral to their success, then I think they’re in good shape. The shortstops can at least play defense, unlike what they got from Rosario last year. They’re all young enough that offensive growth is possible as well.

If they do nothing this off-season and let the kids play next year, they most likely won’t be very good. If they can add a couple hitters and maybe some pitching reinforcements, I like their chances of being in the playoff hunt next year.

soddingjunkmail
3 months ago
Reply to  Ivan_Grushenko

They were 10 games under .500 in 2023, their division will likely improve raising the bar for success, and it’s unclear where Cleveland’s commensurate improvement is supposed to come from. Triston McKenzie’s return gets you a few WAR. A bounce back from Beiber if they don’t trade him? I struggle to look at the lineup and see where any meaningful improvement comes from.

Maybe they’ll make a free agent splash? [waits for laughter to die down]

pezzicle
3 months ago

a full year of Bo should help. Some slight improvement from Gimenez and Kwan should help. The BP not blowing like 25 games should help.

they also 100% have the money to make a free agent splash. Last year they ran about a 100M payroll out the gate. This year by my estimate it’ll be somewhere around 90M as currently constructed. They could easily add 15-20M to payroll

soddingjunkmail
3 months ago
Reply to  pezzicle

Everything you’re saying is reasonable individually, but them all happening in aggregate (a) feels like a best case scenario, and (b) doesn’t hugely move the needle.

And none of this accounts for something that went well going worse.

And payroll….well, I’d say it’s even money that ownership pockets the $10M, but if they do decide to spend it I bet it comes in the form of extending pre-arb players, not meaningful additions.

pezzicle
3 months ago

they have a history of spending about 10-12M more year over year in payroll. Payroll to start 2023 was close to 100M. Right now payroll sites somewhere around 88M. Less if they don’t tender Laureano or Karinchak who are certainly a bubble candidates for DFA. They are set to make about 6M between the two of them.

They could be going into December with a projected payroll of like 82M and it isn’t outlandish to expect them to be sitting somewhere around 110M by April. That’s almost 30M. Sure, they could extend some people but generally speaking guys aren’t getting MASSIVE raises when you do that. Gimenez went from pre arb 700 to making 1.5M in the first year of his deal. That’s a 700k raise over what they were expecting to pay him. Even if they extended 2-3 players, you’d have to anticipate they could still have 20+ million to play with

pezzicle
3 months ago
Reply to  pezzicle

sign Hernandez to 18M per. Make a trade for a guy like Ward who is set to make 4.5M. DFA Laureano who is set to make the same so its a wash payroll wise

Payroll is sitting around 105M and they just added like 40+ HR to the OF and just filled there two biggest needs with RHH power bats

and it’s 100% possible. They added 30M to payroll year over year from 2021 to 2022. 20M from 2022 to 2023. They added Bell (16M) and Zunino (6M) to the team last year.

They can 100% add

Last edited 3 months ago by pezzicle
soddingjunkmail
3 months ago
Reply to  pezzicle

Yes they “can”, and yes it’s “possible”, but is it likely?

And even if they do an add ala Bell & Zunino, does it really help that much?

Full year of Bo + Triston + a Bell like acquisition + no regression from anyone else(JRam isn’t getting any younger) makes them what…500ish?

It’s just hard for me to see this team as anything but an also ran unless a couple players take a quantum leap forward and turn into stars.

Jason Bmember
3 months ago
Reply to  pezzicle

they also 100% have the money to make a free agent splash. Last year they ran about a 100M payroll out the gate. This year by my estimate it’ll be somewhere around 90M as currently constructed. They could easily add 15-20M to payroll”

Two things though – (1) could add $15-20MM in payroll and will add $15-20MM in payroll are two different things, especially talking Cleveland’s ownership group; and (2) I don’t know if $15-20MM, even if fully spent, is enough to create a “splash” that changes your team’s fortunes. (just as an example) Does Teoscar Hernandez qualify as a “splash”? If your baseline projection is 82 wins, he gets you to what, 84?

pezzicle
3 months ago
Reply to  Jason B

you both above made the same point so i’ll address it once.

Yes they “can”, and yes it’s “possible”, but is it likely?

Again, yes. They have added anywhere from 7-12M a year to payroll on average basically ever since 2004, expect in years when they are trimming. They are not in a trimming pattern, they just exited one. That would put there expected payroll somewhere in the 110M range. At present, it is around 88M. That’s 22M available to do stuff with.

And ya, why not re improvement. Gimenez and Kwan can both improve. A full year of Naylor will help significantly. Adding 30 HR to the OF will provide 40+ extra runs in and of itself. These improvements can probably pretty easily add 60-70 runs to the offense.

Health from Bieber and McKenzie as well as improvement in the BP and them not blowing like 25-30 games over the course of a season can likely drop there RA by 30-40 runs.

Them going from a -30 RD to a +75 RD easily pushes them into contention

Jason Bmember
3 months ago
Reply to  pezzicle

Assuming full health everywhere and uniform improvement across the board may leave you disappointed come the end of next year…

pezzicle
3 months ago
Reply to  Jason B

good thing i didn’t say that