Following the retirement of long-time manager Bobby Cox after the 2010 season, the Atlanta Braves hired Fredi Gonzalez to serve as his replacement. Gonzalez lead the Braves to two playoff appearances in his first three years as manager, but the organization began a concerted rebuilding effort following a second-half collapse and second place finish in 2014.
The club was up front with the fans about their intentions to take a step back to try and build toward having a competitive team when their new ballpark open in 2017. A new general manager, John Coppollela, was promoted to oversee the project, and after trading away stars like Andrelton Simmons, Shelby Miller, and Jason Heyward over the last couple of years, the collection of talent that was left for Gonzalez was, to put it kindly, rather underwhelming. Everyone expected Atlanta to be bad this year, but after a league-worst 9-28 start to the season, Gonzalez (who owned a 434-413 overall record with the Braves) was relieved of his duties yesterday via email.
Up here in our neck of the woods, our beloved local nine is undertaking a well publicized rebuild of their own. The Brewers are having a bit of a better time than Atlanta this year and now sit at 17-22 after Chase Anderson nearly no-hit the Cubs last night. Trade fodder like Jonathan Lucroy, Chris Carter, and perhaps even Ryan Braun are tearing the cover off the ball to start the year, though, so it's likely that if/when Milwaukee starts moving those players their record with bottom out even further.
Which brings me to the Brewers manager, Craig Counsell. CC is a local boy and fan favorite, a product of Whitefish Bay who played six of his 16 MLB seasons in Milwaukee. The Brewers' marketing team has certainly taken advantage of that fact and branded him as one of "us."
Counsell was hired as manager on May 4th, 2015, and since then he's seen essentially a complete transformation of the organization. The Brewers traded away six players before last trade deadline and another nine this past offseason, turning over more than half of their 40-man roster in the process. In the front office, David Stearns was hired to replace Doug Melvin as general manager and he brought in a bevy of new personnel with him.
It was well-documented, of course, that one of owner Mark Attanasio's stipulations for whomever he hired as his new GM was that Craig Counsell must keep his job as manager. Counsell is well-regarded throughout the game and he and Stearns are cut from the same forward thinking, analytical cloth. For the time being, it seems like a good fit and the two appear to have a good working relationship.
We'll see if that continues as the losses begin to mount in the coming seasons.
For as much as folks around Milwaukee love Counsell now, it's tough to envision the goodwill lasting if the Brewers slog through a few consecutive 90-loss seasons. A good segment on the fan base still doesn't quite grasp exactly what the word "rebuild" in baseball entails and don't appear to be properly equipped weather the storm for the next few-to-several seasons. We live in a society of instant gratification, and as patience runs thin the benevolence between the fans and CC may start running thin, as well.
It's important to remember that since Slingin' Stearns wasn't the one who hired Craig, he may not be particularly invested in keeping him around as CC's not "his guy." If the going gets tough and the fans start getting riled up, Counsell could most certainly end up on the chopping block as a scapegoat. We saw it yesterday with Fredi in Atlanta, and we've seen it in recent years as neither Dale Sveum in Chicago nor Bo Porter in Houston were kept around to see their respective clubs' rebuilding efforts pay off. For as much as Mark A. has publicly supported Craig, he's also the man who signed off on the firing of Ned Yost with 12 games left in a playoff bound season in 2008.
I like Craig Counsell and I was a big supporter of the decision to install him as manager. I think he's done a fine job leading the Brewers over the last two years in spite of the lack of talent he's had to deal with and only a 78-98 record to show for his efforts. I hope he's able to see the rebuild through and is still in place to lead the next competitive Brewers club into the postseason.
Unfortunately, the odds may not be in his favor.