Offseason of change begins for Brewers
Counsell expects new GM to chart course for overhaul
MILWAUKEE -- "Embrace the change."
That was Craig Counsell's message from the moment he took over as Brewers manager on May 4, and it still echoed Sunday as a 3-1 loss to the Cubs capped a 68-94 season. It will continue to be Counsell's message moving forward, considering he characterized Sunday's season finale not as an ending, but as a beginning.
"I still think there's significant change going to happen," Counsell said. "Right now, I'm not comfortable saying what we're going to have in Spring Training. I know there's going to be a lot of competition in Spring Training. I can pretty much guarantee that. But I'm not comfortable yet saying who's going to be in Spring Training."
That's because the Brewers just recently hired a new general manager, David Stearns, who does not formally take over the top spot until Monday. He has spent his first three weeks on the job taking inventory of his front-office personnel.
On Monday, the Brewers announced they would not renew the contracts of first-base coach Mike Guerrero, pitching coach Rick Kranitz, bench coach Jerry Narron, outfield coach John Shelby and bullpen coach Lee Tunnell. Hitting coach Darnell Coles and third-base coach Ed Sedar will return for the 2016 season.
Other changes might be made in the front office, but the greatest unknown hanging over the franchise is Stearns' vision for its future. How far does he plan to go in continuing a process started by predecessor Doug Melvin, who started stockpiling prospects with the Yovani Gallardo trade in January and made five more such swaps in July and August?
Not even Counsell knows the answer to that question.
"I'm certainly aware there's a possibility that this is not going to happen overnight, and I think that there's a lot more work ahead, possibly more pain ahead," Counsell said. "I'm aware that it's not easy to turn around these things. If you look around baseball, there's too many other examples where it hasn't been easy. So you recognize that may be a possibility."
The Brewers' final opponent provided one such example. The Cubs won 97 games this season to win the National League's second Wild Card. It represented the end of a rebuilding phase that spanned five consecutive seasons in which the Cubs finished at least 12 games under .500, including a 101-loss season just three years ago.
"For all of us, we would like the rebuild to be as quick as possible, but the most important thing is doing it right," said Brewers right fielder Ryan Braun, who referred to the Cubs' rebuild as a blueprint. "For all of us who are currently here, this isn't fun. It's not fun to go through a season without expectations, or to play meaningless games down the stretch. So the sooner we get back in contention, the more enjoyable it will be for everybody. But that comes secondary to getting it right."
Said catcher Jonathan Lucroy: "It's hard to put a number on it. You don't know what kind of moves they're going to make in the offseason, what kind of free agents they're going to get. … It's kind of a 'wait and see' type thing."
Counsell and Stearns have spoken almost daily since Sept. 20, the day Stearns accepted the job. Stearns has temporarily been working out of a small, windowless office that Counsell once occupied as a special assistant to the general manager, but eventually will move to a new wing planned for construction on the terrace level at Miller Park.
Counsell will spend much less time in the office over the winter than he did in his previous role, but lives in the Milwaukee suburb of Whitefish Bay, and said he would "participate in everything and anything David wants me to, for sure."
"It's going to be fun doing that, getting to know David and how he thinks, and us opening up to how we see the game, and see different problems, and see different solutions for us," Counsell said. "Look, we've got a lot of work to do. We're going to lose 93, 94 games. That's a roster that needs -- we need to make improvements. There's no question. We have to kind of decide, ultimately, the direction to do that, to sustain something over the long term.
"I think that Step 1 is always the hardest because it's a big admission. I think it makes it easier to take Steps 2, 3, 4 and so on. I think David being in place, just from hearing him talk, he's got a lot on his plate but he's already covered three weeks that he would have had to cover if he wasn't here. So just the start really helps."