Our beloved local nine finished up their final home stand of the season over the weekend, going 2-4 against divisional rivals Pittsburgh and Cincinnati last week. Despite being in rebuild mode and looking at a potential 90+ loss season, the Brewers finished with a winning record of 41-40 at Miller Park this year, ensuring that the hometown fans left the park pleased with the results more often than not.
Principle owner Mark Attanasio was in town (and celebrated his birthday at the ballpark yesterday) to see his team wrap up their 2016 home schedule and was of course asked several questions by the media. Attanasio noted that the club was "further along the continuum" towards becoming competitive again than he would have otherwise predicted by this point (which we will discuss this week) while also praising the work of Slingin’ David Stearns and Craig Counsell.
Attanasio also added that the organization will be addressing the contract situation for Counsell this winter. The skipper received "high marks" from the owner’s point of view, both for keeping his players motivated to compete this season as well as his in-game management. Mark added that he obviously would like his GM’s assessment of the manager’s work, but that he was pleased with how well Stearns and Counsell have operated together despite the fact that Stearns did not get to hire his own manager after becoming Milwaukee’s GM.
2017 is the final season of Counsell’s initial three-year contract, and it’s not unusual to see teams give managers a token extension so that they can avoid lame-duck status in the dugout. We saw it recently with Ron Roenicke in the 2014-15 offseason, even though he wound up being fired shortly after the 2015 season began. From everything that Attanasio said, it sounds as though some type of extension for CC will be an inevitability at some point this winter. But how much security should the Brewers give Counsell in the dugout?
Since taking over as skipper in Milwaukee last season, Craiggers has lead the Brewers to a 131-162 record. Many pundits pegged the Brewers as a potential 100 loss team this year, and Counsell exceeded those low expectations by already guiding his players to more victories than they had all of last year (68) with six more games still to play. His squad is far and away the league leaders with 174 stolen bases (Cleveland is second with 130) and his players have seen a significant uptick in defensive efficiency over their work from last year, according to the Defensive Runs Saved metric (24th overall in 2015; 15th in 2016). Craig allowed young players like Jonathan Villar, Zach Davies, Junior Guerra, Hernan Perez, Keon Broxton, etc. to seize roles and grow and thrive in them during the season, giving his guys opportunities to learn from their mistakes and improve upon them. In August, ESPN published a ranking of all 30 managers across the game, and Counsell came in ranked 11th overall:
His Brewers lead in stolen-base attempts, and Counsell is not far behind the leaders in number of times he has his runners in motion; he's also running with Don Mattingly for the lead in fewest multi-reliever innings.
You can definitely like what we've seen so far. The stolen-base tally is coming at a nifty 76 percent success rate; like any smart manager he doesn't run with the guys who can't. Counsell has been careful with a young rotation, hasn't been hyperactive with his pen, creating stable roles (which helped both Jeremy Jeffress and Will Smith's value at the deadline). He has handled a rotation short of any demonstrably reliable assets to good effect, aiding them with the second-most shifts on D among NL skippers.
There is the fan-favorite and local boy aspect to all of this, too. Counsell grew up a Brewers’ fan living in Whitefish Bay, and the team has marketed him to the fans as "one of us." He was born a Brewer, after all.
So based on all that, should the Brewers give Craig Counsell only a short-term extension, or should they commit to keeping him around for the long haul?