Craig Counsell might be the hottest MLB free agent not named Shohei Ohtani. What makes the Brewers’ manager so special?

In need of Shohei Ohtani, the MLB offseason’s most fascinating free-agency resolution is likely to be made by a supervisor. With new hypothesis and rumors popping up weekly, Milwaukee Brewers skipper Craig Counsell figures to price as probably the most sought-after individuals in baseball this winter.

As Ken Rosenthal has reported at The Athletic, Counsell’s contract runs out on the finish of the 2023 season, his ninth on the helm of his hometown staff. Simply this month, studies have vacillated between saying that he plans to take at the very least a 12 months off and, alternatively, that he plans to handle in 2024, presumably sparking a bidding struggle involving the New York Mets, who’re reportedly hiring his former boss, David Stearns, as their president of baseball operations. The Brewers, for his or her half, have made it clear that they need to hold Counsell.

The Brewers simply clinched their fifth journey to the playoffs since 2018. Between the Mets hiring Stearns and the obvious demand for Counsell’s companies, there may be apparent respect for the administration that has propelled the Brewers towards the highest of the NL Central and sustained their standing as one of many league’s most constantly good groups in recent times. Unavoidably, you even have to notice that this run of success has are available one in every of MLB’s smallest markets, with a payroll that has landed among the many prime half by aggressive stability tax calculations solely as soon as.

But managers are famously tough to guage. Some large, unquantifiable swath of their job is tending to the person personalities and collective perspective of their clubhouse throughout the longest season in main staff sports activities. One other massive chunk of their time is dedicated to managing outward, holding issues on an excellent keel amongst successful streaks and shedding stretches. And within the considerably observable sliver of the job that continues to be — on-field ways, bullpen administration and the like — their contributions have change into more durable and more durable to separate from these of entrance workplaces and the streams of knowledge they supply.

Regardless of. Because the longest-tenured supervisor within the NL and third-longest-tenured general, Counsell has clearly received public confidence in a task through which it may be simply and irretrievably shaken.

There will not be many blockbuster managerial modifications, not within the second. There are actually hires that become momentous — such because the Braves’ tapping minor-league lifer Brian Snitker or the Phillies’ handing the reins to longtime bench coach Rob Thomson final season — however few are acknowledged and reckoned with forward of time like participant motion.

Bob Melvin’s leap to the San Diego Padres from the sinking ship that was the Oakland A’s most likely qualifies because the final one to maneuver the needle. The Detroit Tigers’ transfer to herald AJ Hinch following his suspension over the Astros sign-stealing scandal actually raised eyebrows (and seemingly the ground for Tigers administration). Luring icons reminiscent of Bruce Bochy and Buck Showalter out of semi-retirement stirred up some consideration.

However the final managerial affair with this a lot hype was most likely Joe Maddon’s leap from the Tampa Bay Rays to the Chicago Cubs forward of 2015.

On this case, the conflicting studies and nameless hypothesis are a quirk of Counsell’s contract scenario and Steve Cohen’s uniquely domineering method to proudly owning an MLB staff. However all of this intrigue rests on an underlying assumption: Counsell isn’t just any supervisor, not simply any good supervisor. He’s a particular supervisor.

So what makes him so particular?

‘I believe we, as a staff, have at all times completed it a bit of bit totally different’

When you bear in mind Counsell’s managing from one second, it’s doubtless the Wade Miley Maneuver. That’s the one his gamers bear in mind, too.

In 2018, the Brewers had been battling the Los Angeles Dodgers within the NLCS. Coming off a 13-inning loss in Sport 4, Counsell despatched out Miley — a veteran lefty — because the starter on brief relaxation. However one batter into the sport, he pulled him and summoned a right-hander to place the Los Angeles lineup at a platoon drawback and enhance Milwaukee’s less-than-great probabilities towards Clayton Kershaw.

Two-time All-Star Brandon Woodruff, then an unproven commodity with fewer than 15 major-league begins to his title, was that right-hander. He recalled that sport fondly this month, reveling within the hush-hush conspiratorial spirit of postseason strategery.

“I do not know the precise conversations that had been had behind doorways, however Couns had talked about that night time, like, ‘Hey, simply clearly be prepared for tomorrow,’” Woodruff stated of their postgame chat after Sport 4. The following day, Counsell learn him in on the complete plan: He was to heat up in a tunnel, out of sight, as Miley warmed up within the bullpen as a starter usually would. The objective, Woodruff remembers, was “to be prepared like hitter No. 2.”

“The way in which the whole lot was run, it did not actually make sense, however he knew what he was doing,” Woodruff stated. “Simply the thought behind that and the way that each one form of occurred is fairly loopy.”

The consequence didn’t pan out within the Brewers’ favor. They dropped Sport 5, finally pushing the Dodgers to Sport 7 however falling wanting the World Sequence. Nonetheless, Woodruff’s consolation within the second and his enduring belief in Counsell are a part of a well-worn path for Brewers gamers.

That 2018 season was shaping up as Woodruff’s first full major-league marketing campaign, a 12 months he may set up himself as a rotation stalwart. As a substitute, within the midst of a contending season, he shuttled backwards and forwards to Triple-A and largely pitched out of the bullpen. Corbin Burnes and Freddy Peralta, now Woodruff’s companions in a devastating 1-2-3 atop the Milwaukee rotation, additionally frolicked honing their craft in a wide range of roles earlier than locking down beginning jobs.

“I believe we, as a staff, have at all times completed it a bit of bit totally different,” Woodruff stated.

These selections, which certainly sprang from a mix of participant improvement ways and win-now priorities, may’ve been discouraging or disorienting to a younger pitcher below totally different steerage. However now, Woodruff concedes that the development was useful for him. And with 5 extra very profitable seasons now below his belt, he acknowledges that the majority different golf equipment don’t wind up speaking in regards to the playoffs practically as constantly because the Brewers do.

“So there’s numerous stuff that goes on so far as decision-making that us as gamers, we do not actually get into,” he stated, “however he does a dang good job at it.”

He credit Counsell as a “sensible fella,” however that’s secondary in his thoughts to the respect Counsell engenders within the clubhouse as a 16-year major-league veteran with two World Sequence rings — a “participant’s coach.”

“I believe that is what makes Couns so good is that he can relate to us a lot,” Woodruff stated, “as a result of he went via this. He did it for a very long time.”

Hypothesis abounds as as to if Wisconsin native Craig Counsell will stick with the Brewers, retire from managing or be a part of his former boss, David Stearns, in New York. (Photograph by Brandon Sloter/Getty Pictures)

‘It seems to be like he is at all times in deep thought, which he most likely is’

The elevator pitch for Counsell’s managerial enchantment begins with that duality: A wise fella and a participant’s coach. A nerd in jock’s clothes. A contemporary GM’s mind functioning in a grizzled — and profitable — former participant’s physique.

Counsell was appointed to the supervisor job from a task within the entrance workplace, however he introduced in his school coach at Notre Dame, Pat Murphy, as his bench coach in 2016 — a yin to his yang, one former participant stated.

Not contorting himself into his trademark batting stance, the model of Counsell presiding over the Brewers dugout usually strikes a pose straight out of “A Stunning Thoughts,” rapt in tactical consideration.

“When you see him on TV, it seems to be like he is at all times in deep thought, which he most likely is,” Woodruff stated. “He is enthusiastic about the subsequent transfer. He simply plans out forward a lot that there is a lot data that goes into every resolution he makes.”

And also you do see his depth, his consideration to the smallest element. Final weekend, when Mark Canha belted a grand slam within the eighth inning and adjusted the complexion of the Brewers bullpen’s activity, Counsell didn’t even watch the ball land earlier than bolting to the cellphone to supply new directions.

That, nonetheless, is simply his sport face.

“I believe lots of people, from the surface, after they have a look at him through the sport, he is simply form of pacing round, or he is bought the lineup card, and that is form of how he’s,” stated Brian Anderson, the Brewers’ utility participant in his first season below Counsell. “However I believe apart from these occasions through the video games like that, he is a very approachable man, very easy to speak to and a very good communicator.”

Even amongst former gamers, the point out of Counsell’s title sparks reward.

“I really feel like from the second you get there, he welcomes you in and form of permits you to be your self,” stated Jace Peterson, a veteran infielder now with the Arizona Diamondbacks who spent three seasons with Milwaukee. “Permits you to form of present up day-after-day, and he expects you to be an expert, expects you to arrange, however apart from that, he lets you be your self and be comfy and form of get in and slot in the place you do.”

Anderson stated one of many first issues Counsell stated to him when he arrived at Brewers camp was in an analogous vein: “He was like, ‘Nevertheless you might be, we wish you to be your self, simply the most effective model of your self.’”

“Couns, he is a particular man,” Peterson stated. “And it was a pleasure to play for him. I might return and play for him in a heartbeat. Undoubtedly my favourite supervisor I’ve performed for within the massive leagues thus far.”

An actual difference-maker within the murky function of supervisor

Past his gamers’ vocal admiration, it’s what you received’t discover on Counsell’s résumé that is likely to be essentially the most engaging level in his favor. He has no dogmatic strategies and is wedded to no fashion of play. You received’t discover him caping for the previous days of the sacrifice bunt, however you’d virtually actually discover him utilizing the tactic if it grew to become strategically advantageous.

When he lacked confirmed beginning pitchers, he steered his 2018 staff to the brink of the World Sequence with tandem starters, bulk guys and multi-inning reduction aces. When the younger starters had been rising, he was essential in engineering and implementing a plan that inbuilt additional relaxation to amp up their effectiveness and ease their transition to throwing a full workload. This 12 months, with a staff constructed round these starters, he has leaned on them and labored to place his bullpen in the most effective conditions attainable, most frequently involving clear, one-inning stints.

You possibly can see his adaptability in additional excessive reduction on the basepaths. In 2016, his first full 12 months managing, Counsell used 4 pinch-runners all season, about 22% of the typical MLB supervisor’s whole. As not too long ago as final 12 months, with scoring closely depending on the house run, Counsell used 53% as many pinch-runners as the standard MLB skipper however extra pinch-hitters than common. This season, with stolen bases far simpler to return by and extra hits falling in because of shift restrictions, Counsell has modified course, utilizing 46% extra pinch-runners than the typical MLB supervisor.

As Rosenthal identified in trying to unearth proof of Counsell’s extensively agreed upon excellence, his groups have routinely outperformed each their preseason projections and their anticipated data based mostly on run differential. Nobody stays forward of the sport eternally — see Maddon and his Angels tenure — however in a sport that modifications on a regular basis, essentially the most profitable managers change, and reply, on a regular basis.

But the one factor Counsell hasn’t modified thus far is, notably, his loyalty to Milwaukee. He grew up within the space — his father labored for the staff — and raised his household in the identical city, Whitefish Bay, Wisconsin. He retired from his enjoying profession as a member of the Brewers and rapidly took the entrance workplace job that led to his present gig.

The person whose title adorns the native highschool baseball discipline in Whitefish Bay, who seeks out gamers who frolicked within the Northwoods League — a collegiate wood-bat league based mostly in Wisconsin — wouldn’t take the thought of leaving Milwaukee calmly. Proper now, past the rumors, it’s fully unclear whether or not Counsell would even think about becoming a member of Stearns in New York or whether or not he intends to handle subsequent 12 months as his two sons put together to play school baseball.

What’s clear is that Counsell can be in demand, that he has satisfied the baseball world he’s an actual difference-maker within the murky function of supervisor — a trick that is likely to be much more tough than convincing the Dodgers {that a} lefty is pitching.

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