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Could a bidding war for star manager Craig Counsell’s services be brewing between the Mets and the Brewers, Counsell’s longtime, hometown team?
While there has been speculation Counsell will take a year off from managing, the latest word is that he’s expected to be in the dugout somewhere in 2024. That could give Counsell — the biggest managerial free agent in years — a chance to reunite with his old Milwaukee boss, David Stearns, in Queens.
Counsell’s Brewers team intends to start contract talks following the postseason after he deferred discussions in spring, but that could ultimately turn into a competition between them and the Mets.
Though others certainly could bid for arguably baseball’s best manager — the Brewers joined the Dodgers on Wednesday as the only teams with 86-plus wins the past six full seasons — the potential is clear for a battle pitting Counsell’s current team versus the Mets, a higher payroll and chance to rejoin Stearns, his partner in Milwaukee for seven seasons.
Stearns, who hasn’t even officially started his job as Mets baseball president, logically will get the call, and Counsell is the only manager he ever has employed. Steve Cohen has a history of seeking the best, and a case could be made today for Counsell, whose first-place Brewers are heading for their fifth postseason in six seasons in baseball’s 30th-largest market.
Based on his record and rep, Counsell could command a salary at the top of the managerial scale (Bruce Bochy at about $6 million is believed to be the pay leader), and surely will get a raise from the $3.5 million he’s making. Counsell, once a strong players’ union guy, surely has noticed he’s 42 percent below the leader.
Though we recommended letting Buck Showalter, who managed Counsell in Arizona in 2000, remain Mets manager for 2024, Counsell’s long association with Stearns makes him a natural fit. (The Brewers, obviously good at hiring, like Counsell so much they’d consider bringing him back even if he takes time off, though that time-off scenario appears unlikely now).
A rival exec suggested Stearns luring Counsell away from his old Brewers team is “bad optics.” But there’s nothing to prevent it once Counsell’s contract with Milwaukee expires, and as one rival put it, “It’s a competitive business.”
Milwaukee has the hometown advantage here over Stearns, who is an Upper East Side product. Counsell’s father John worked as Brewers director of community relations under Bud Selig, and he’s a rare manager who lives year-round where he manages. He’s also a family man — with two girls in high school in Whitefish Bay, Wis., and two sons playing college baseball at Michigan and Minnesota, four reasons for hiatus speculation.
The Mets, of course, hold the monetary advantage for him — and for players (the Brewers possess a fine farm, but stars Corbin Burnes, Brandon Woodruff and Willy Adames will be free agents after 2024). Managers don’t make as much as top baseball presidents, however, so don’t assume the Brewers can’t win a bidding war (and as you’d imagine, the cost of living is quite a bit lower in Wisconsin).