How Cubs' players reacted to Counsell hire

November 16th, 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 -- Jameson Taillon was at his parents’ house in Texas when the messages started flooding his phone. News had just broken that Craig Counsell was going to be the Cubs’ new manager, and the pitcher had friends and teammates, past and present, firing texts his way.

“There were definitely a lot of text messages flying,” Taillon said. “I told my parents, I was like, ‘I'm just gonna sit here for an hour and be on my phone. Give me some time.’ Everyone was just kind of trying to process it all together.”

About an hour earlier, Cubs second baseman Nico Hoerner received a call from a member of Chicago’s front office, who was delivering the news to players. Indeed, the Cubs had hired Counsell away from the rival Brewers with a record five-year, $40 million contract, while David Ross was dismissed as the team’s manager after four seasons.

It was a decision that stunned the baseball world on Nov. 6, and that included Chicago’s players.

“It was surprising for everybody involved,” Hoerner said. “Not a move that I was expecting at all.”

Both Taillon and Hoerner have since had introductory conversations with Counsell, who admitted in his opening press conference that he needs to take his time talking to players and coaches given the speed at which this all happened. Taillon tuned in to Counsell’s first media session and said he heard “all the right things” from his new manager.

Beyond the fact that Counsell has managed consistently strong Brewers clubs, Hoerner said he has heard only good feedback from people around the game about how Counsell has built relationships behind the scenes.

“Spring Training this year is going to be very significant for that,” Hoerner said. “Milwaukee has been competitive, if not really good, every single year for a while now. They've done it, obviously, with the strength of starting pitching, but with a variety of lineups. And it's pretty cool that he's kind of been one of the only consistent factors there for a long time. That definitely speaks to the impact he's had.”

Dating back to his early-career seasons with the Pirates, Taillon said what stands out to him is that Counsell’s teams have always been a source of frustration.

“You'd leave there and lose a series, and you're like, 'Dude, we should have won that series,’” Taillon said. “They’ve gotten stronger, but they were always just mixing and matching and optimizing matchups. And in order to do that, they clearly had buy-in, which means they have a good clubhouse culture and all those things.”

Hoerner played for Ross in each of his four seasons at the helm, watching how he navigated through the pandemic-shortened 2020 campaign as a first-year skipper, followed by franchise-altering trades that led to a rebuild across ‘21-22. Hoerner commended Ross for the job he did and how he helped him grow into an everyday player.

“He always gave me a ton of trust, never over-managed me, and just really allowed me to develop just by playing the game,” Hoerner said. “And just as a whole, he handled some really challenging things as a manager within the first couple years of managing for the first time. Just not situations that he could control and that were really difficult.”

Trust was also a word used by Taillon, who signed a four-year contract with the Cubs last winter and had his most trying season in the Majors under Ross’ watch.

“I went through some struggles,” Taillon said. “And he just kept trusting me and let me work through it. … That was definitely very appreciated. And I made sure I passed that along to him once the news broke.”

And while the news was stunning, Hoerner said he appreciates that the driving force behind the front office’s thinking is winning.

“It’s exciting both for the hire itself and for what Counsell can bring,” Hoerner said, “but also for what it [symbolizes]. It is an aggressive move, but it's also a move based on [the idea that] winning here and now is the biggest priority. And I think if the front office continues to make that their biggest priority, and decisions trickle down based on that, then we're going to be in a really, really strong position.”