For the first time in nearly a decade, Craig Counsell will no longer hold the title of manager of the Milwaukee Brewers—for a short period of time, at least.
Counsell’s contract expires at the end of the day on Tuesday, making him a free agent after nine seasons at the helm.
It is a rare situation for a manager. Most hit the open market because a club relieved them of their duties amidst a contract. When things are going well, the two parties typically agree to an extension to avoid lame-duck status and maintain continuity within the team leadership structure.
Counsell took a different approach. He entered spring training in the final season of a three-year extension signed in 2020 but told reporters he was “still in a great place” and deferred extension talks with the team.
He maintained that stance throughout the season, saying that he was focused on the games in front of him. Counsell elaborated that he would not discuss a new contract until after the season ended.
That end arrived nearly four weeks ago with a first-round playoff exit. The Brewers were swept by the Arizona Diamondbacks in the National League Wild Card Series. According to Jon Heyman and Mike Puma of the New York Post, the Brewers made an offer shortly after that, but Counsell turned it down.
While that doesn’t mean Counsell intends to leave Milwaukee, he wants to explore other opportunities before making his decision.
The Brewers permitted him to speak to the New York Mets and Cleveland Guardians. According to Zack Meisel and Will Sammon of The Athletic, he interviewed with the latter on Monday. MLB Network’s Jon Morosi reported on Tuesday that Counsell has also spoken to the Mets and is currently evaluating his options for 2024.
There was speculation during the season that Counsell was thinking of stepping away from managing to spend more time with his family. Counsell’s sons will play college baseball at Minnesota and Michigan in 2024. He also has two daughters attending high school in Whitefish Bay, where the family has resided for years.
At this point, Counsell appears set on managing in 2024. His destination could come down to financials.
Heyman previously reported that the Brewers believe Counsell will stay if paid what he feels is fair. Subsequent reports have indicated that Counsell aims to set a new standard for manager salaries with his next contract. After making $3.5 million in 2023, he could seek at least double that figure.
The Mets seem best positioned to offer Counsell the raise he seeks, but a salary in the $7 million range is also financially plausible for the Brewers. They would likely get an opportunity to match offers from other suitors.
There is no indication that the relationship between the parties has soured. Counsell has longstanding ties to the organization, and they have publicly expressed a desire to retain him. The Brewers allowed him to start speaking with other teams before his contract expired, a decision that figured to speed up the process but was also a show of respect and good faith.
It appears the main reason Counsell prefers to hit free agency is he wants a fair salary. Exploring other offers gives him the chance to measure his market value. Whether he prefers to stay in Milwaukee or not, having multiple offers in hand only boosts his negotiating power.
As things currently stand, it appears the Brewers can retain their longtime skipper by offering him a fair and competitive contract. Whether they will do so remains to be seen.