SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. — Cubs team president Jed Hoyer arrived at his hotel suite in Scottsdale late Monday after a long day. The news he’d given manager David Ross that morning in Florida had to be conveyed in person after all they’d been through together — hence, the trip to Tallahassee before the general managers’ meetings.
“It just felt like an exceptionally hard decision, but one I felt like I had to make if the opportunity was there,” Hoyer said Tuesday of firing Ross to hire Craig Counsell as manager. “From my perspective, my job is to figure out how to win as many games as we possibly can in the short term and in the long term. And there was nothing about this move that didn’t feel like it met that criteria.
“There’s no knock on Rossy, who I think incredibly highly of, but I just felt like Craig is at the very, very top of the game.”
The Cubs didn’t have to pursue one of the best managers in baseball while their own was still under contract, and the move, which exemplifies the “It’s a business” cliche, raised eyebrows around baseball. Former Cubs manager Joe Maddon similarly caught heat when the Cubs dismissed Rick Renteria less than a decade ago to hire Maddon.
As of Tuesday evening, Ross had yet to publicly chime in. Hoyer said Ross was “amazingly respectful” when he got the news.
Asked about overcoming the optics of the move, Hoyer said, “By phrasing it that way, you’re kind of saying that we’re factoring in how it looks on us to do it. And I don’t think that’s my job.”
In other words, he doesn’t see optics as a consideration in figuring out how to win. As Hoyer evaluated this past season, it gnawed at him that the Cubs missed the playoffs as their underlying numbers and record diverged.
“That’s not all one person,” he said. “That’s on me and every person in the organization. But it felt like we left wins on the table.”
He hopes that with Counsell, who had a winning record as the Brewers’ manager the last nine years, the Cubs will be less likely to do that.
“Consistently, they’ve outperformed expectations,” Hoyer said. “And that’s borne out both with your eyes and you look at the data.”
Hoyer said he has been admiring Counsell from the other side of the division rivalry for years.
“My thought on Craig as I’ve always watched him against this [team] was the Bum Phillips quote about Bear Bryant, where he says he can take his [team] and beat yours, and [he can take] yours and beat his.”
Although the Cubs won the division in 2017, Hoyer marveled at how close a race it was despite the gap in talent between the Cubs’ and Brewers’ rosters. The next year, the Brewers passed the Cubs.
Counsell is known for his well-rounded skills. The one knock on his résumé — now magnified by the five-year, $40 million contract the Cubs gave him — is his lack of success in the postseason. In five appearances, his teams have only won one series. But Hoyer said he doesn’t think that record reflects on Counsell’s abilities as a manager.
“Do I think that they had teams that were capable of going really far in the playoffs? I do,” Hoyer said. “To me, the greatest sign of a really good manager is his ability to navigate the marathon.”