Meet Craig, the Cubs' 'new R&D guy'

December 7th, 2023

This story was excerpted from Jordan Bastian’s Cubs Beat newsletter. To read the full newsletter, click here. And subscribe to get it regularly in your inbox.

CHICAGO -- Cubs general manager Carter Hawkins was making his way through the team’s offices last week when he spotted who he thought was a new member of the research and development team working among the cubicles. Hawkins was curious who had joined their department.

“There's somebody sitting there with his glasses and hat on,” Hawkins said during the Winter Meetings. “I was like, 'Who's our new R&D guy?’”

It was new Cubs manager Craig Counsell.

“He's on a computer, sitting next to our analysts,” Hawkins said. “He fit in perfectly.”

One of the reasons Cubs president of baseball operations Jed Hoyer was intrigued by bringing Counsell into the fold was his ability to navigate both sides of running a ballclub. Counsell has built a reputation as one of the best managers in baseball, but he also has an analytical side and he spent time in Milwaukee’s front office prior to his move to the dugout.

Hoyer was excited about having someone with that mix of experience and ability being part of the equation when it came to discussing trade possibilities or free-agent fits.

“It's a great baseball mind,” Hoyer said. “It's fun talking to him about team building and certainly, like I've said, he could have gone either direction [front office or managing] 10 years ago. And you can tell in the conversations … he’s got a good knack for it.”

Counsell also offered a new set of eyes behind the scenes for trying to improve aspects of the Cubs’ operations.

“One of the first things he was telling me is, 'I don't like this interface' on this particular program that we have,’” Hawkins said with a laugh. “It’s kind of like, I'm getting a little defensive here, but, ‘Yeah, you're probably right.’ For him to have that club in his bag is great.

“But at the same time, where he really excels is down in the clubhouse and the relationships that he has, and then how well he's able to get a group of 26 men to pull together.”

Hawkins said that attribute has already been apparent in how he's seen Counsell interact with people in the Cubs’ offices. The manager said this week at the Winter Meetings that he is still very much in the research phase of learning the organization -- especially the farm system -- and there is work left to do in filling out his coaching staff.

Along the way, Counsell has been enjoying stepping into a foreign environment, meeting new people, diving into conversations and lending his input and observations about how to start improving not only the roster, but other elements beyond the product on the field.

“I have opinions and I'm going to share them. And I think that's healthy,” Counsell said. “That's why I'm here. You try to help the Cubs win games, but you try to do that by making things better in every possible way you can. I've enjoyed that part of it.”