Man, didn’t I just write this about Emma Hayes?
The most frustrating thing about the Chicago Cubs, and one that’s driven a decent amount of charming and handsome fans away from Wrigley, is their insistence on acting like a small market team when they are the only big market team in the NL Central.
They should have spent every year since their breakthrough in 2016, bullying the competition around them and setting up something of a Cold War with the Dodgers in the National League. But the Ricketts family got their one trophy that they could brandish to sponsors and use it to placate their fans, and were only too happy to pull back the financial strings every season until the entire core of that World Series winning team was flogged for various teenagers inhabiting other teams’ systems. In the meantime, their NL Central penthouse was ransacked by the Brewers and Cardinals.
The Cubs have claimed a rededication to competitiveness of late, though only through B-grade free agents and rehab projects, one of which came up trumps when Cody Bellinger produced a down-ballot MVP season. They still claim the best is yet to come with a host of prospects that are on the cusp, even if this is a team that hasn’t produced a genuine star from within since Kris Bryant came up nearly nine years ago.
Finally, today, the Cubs acted as if they are the baddest man on Planet NL Central, and ripped away not just possibly the best manager in the game, but hired Craig Counsell away from the team that had been dunking on them for the past few years, the Brewers. Not only did the Cubs make themselves better, and their direct rivals worse, but they also showed a ruthlessness that only teams at the top show, not worrying about existing contracts for feelings as they stuff the completely overmatched and undercooked-between-the-ears David Ross in a cardboard box labeled, “To Timbuktu.”
Make no mistake, if Ross and Counsell had swapped places before last season, the Cubs win the NL Central while the Brewers finish up the track just enough to miss out on an expanded playoff field in a National League that is basically fallow behind the three good teams in it. Ross’s incomprehensible lineup decisions, loyalty to vets who were not producing, and confusing bullpen usage at times, while also not exactly instilling a discipline or sharpness into the rest of the team, held the Cubs back. While Nico Hoerner has been able to become a passable bat and premier glove at second base under Ross’s watch, pretty much every other young player has starved for playing time and then squeezed the bat into plasma with the rare opportunities, and quickly headed back to the cornfields of Iowa.
Meanwhile, Counsell has spent the past decade making chicken salad out of chicken leavings in Milwaukee. His specialty is being able to craft a bullpen out of whatever’s provided, having the second best ERA this past season. He did that with Joel Payamps, Bryse Wilson, Hoby Milner and a collection of arms that could walk naked through Milwaukee Public Market and not get recognized.
Counsell has had the financially outgunned Brewers at or near the top of the Central for the past five seasons, and had them one game from the World Series in 2018. As the Brewers just lost Brandon Woodruff for next season already and are more likely than not to trade Corbin Burnes this winter before he hits free agency, losing Counsell to the Cubs leaves them, well, a word that rhymes with “bucked.”
It should indicate that the Cubs have serious plans for this offseason, as Counsell turned down the chance to work for his former boss David Stearns in Queens and would have had the pick of any other open job (and probably a few occupied ones). While the Mets have been open about still needing a season to get back to monster form, the Cubs couldn’t have wooed Counsell by telling him he’d have the chance to try and turn 84-win talent into 89 wins on the field but in Wrigley instead of the airplane hangar in Milwaukee.
And it’s about time. The Cubs should win the division in a walk most seasons, and now still should be able to outlast the rebuilds in Cincinnati and Pittsburgh simply because those two teams won’t spend to augment what they’ve developed. All the Cubs needed to do was act like it and today they have.
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