Winter Meetings interview with Craig Counsell

Winter Meetings interview with Craig Counsell

Q. What's your outlook on the trade today? And really because it's the first time we've seen you since the Rodriguez trade, and these are deals that are tough for managers because you're getting guys in return who you won't see for years and years. Are those tough for the manager?

CRAIG COUNSELL: Well, I think you have to -- you understand that it is December 9th, and we have four months left. So those are trades where we're kind of acquiring minor league players that will help us in the future. There's still players to add during the next four months.

So it's tough to see players, good players, productive players leave, clearly. Francisco Rodriguez, he's a guy that really eliminates the decision for the manager. You know who's pitching, and he was very good at his job. There was a year where, every time you put him in the game, the Brewers won. So it's tough losing guys like that. And Adam was the cleanup batter for most of the year. So those aren't easy guys to just fill in and have a spot for, but we've got time to try to replace and backfill their production.

Q. You said on more than one occasion last year you were intrigued by Jason Rogers and liked the way, especially for a young inexperienced player, how he came off the bench and hit well. Not knowing any other moves that might be made between now and Spring Training, is he a guy you expect to look at a lot?

CRAIG COUNSELL: Well, I think -- look, it opens up, obviously, a move for Jason, there's no question. Part of -- he's earned some of that opportunity. I know at some point there will be competition for him for those at bats, like there will be at other positions. Maybe at second base, we have to find some at bats in center field for some people. So there's going to be competition for those at bats, but certainly Jason is in the mix for that competition.

Q. The way the rosters are evolving, does the team have to be all in like the Diamondbacks or try to build with prospects? Is it dangerous to be in the middle?

CRAIG COUNSELL: I don't think it's as black and white as that. I think that's a pretty black-and-white scenario. I think every team has to kind of look where they're at. I think, if the market you're in matters as far as how you can spend money in free agency. But I think we were at a point that this was the direction that we needed to go.

So it's going to look different a little bit. It's going to be young players, and I think we're trying to put together a group of young players to come together. And maybe struggle with those guys together, but stick with them, and a good group that we can grow with.

Q. Will it take time to sell that to the fan base?

CRAIG COUNSELL: It doesn't take time to sell it. I think it takes patience to live through it.

Q. Did you see this coming when you took this job? That it was going to be this far in the direction of rebuilding?

CRAIG COUNSELL: Well, I don't -- like I said, it's December 9th. So let's understand it's December 9th. There's time to -- there's going to be players acquired, but it was -- we were going to change the makeup of roster. With where the players we traded were at in their careers and their contracts, there were going to be changes.

Q. Craig, you talked about Frankie eliminating a decision from the manager because you knew he always had the ninth inning. Do you have a leading candidate from the other remaining bunch to take over that ninth?

CRAIG COUNSELL: No, I don't. I wouldn't say I have a leading candidate. I think the way I look at it now is that we -- I think our bullpen was a strength last year. I think it has an opportunity to be a strength again. But I think for now we just keep it like that.

They had a great concept last year, that they talked about just pass the baton. Get out and pass the baton. To me, that's a great mindset to have in the bullpen. They did a great job of it last year.

Whether you've got to get 15 outs, whether you've got to get 12 outs, however many outs you get, get your outs and then pass the baton. Right now that's kind of how I'm looking at it.

Obviously, Will and J.J. and I think Cory Knebel are the guys who kind of move towards the back end of the game. If you take Frankie out of that equation, they're still going to be at the back end of the game.

Q. Are you open to one guy seizing it, though?

CRAIG COUNSELL: Yeah, I'm open to performance. I'd love a great performance for sure. You're looking forward to that.

But I think in the scenario, especially with them, one being left-handed and one being right-handed, I think for now it's really wise just to kind of keep it open because I think the way that those guys are able to get outs first for a great majority of the season really helped us win games last year. Having the flexibility to use them and leverage spots where you can take advantage of what they're good at, I think it's important to maintain.

Q. I don't know if Adam feels this way, but like when I write about possible trade things, Lucroy seems to be the guy that you get the most division on. Like everybody seemed on board with trading Adam Lind because one year left, so on and so forth. Lucroy, he's got two years left, not bad money, fan favorite, kind of a solid guy, All-American guy, everybody knows about his support of troops and stuff like that. So you get a big division of opinion. Let's strip down completely, but no, don't get rid of him. Where do you fall on Luke?

CRAIG COUNSELL: Well, I think I fall on all those things are accurate with Lucroy. I think in the end, he's a Milwaukee Brewer, but if we feel there's something that makes us better going forward, then you consider it. I think that's the position they've taken with everybody.

But Lucroy, there's no question he provides a lot, and his responsibilities are more than the catcher, the guy that hits second. He's taken on greater responsibility that certainly I value and I know the fans in Milwaukee value for sure.

Q. How about having an established guy to handle the pitching staff? If you're going through this process and you're going to have lots of young guys, how much value does that have?

CRAIG COUNSELL: I think some veteran players just helping to establish culture and helping kind of navigate through the process for all young players is always going to help. There's going to be a role for that certainly. There's going to be a spot for that, and it's part of their development because any young player that comes to the big leagues, it's not just this linear, like, I get good like this way. There's going to be ups and downs in it and getting through those ups and downs and maintaining a positive attitude through them and understanding the competitiveness of the big league game every night, those are things we're going to have to work on every day.

Q. There's an old axiom that the best trades are made with the guys you'd like to trade the least. Would Jonathan fit into that category, the guys you'd like to trade least?

CRAIG COUNSELL: I think that's kind of a good way to say it, yeah. I think he's -- like I said, there's a stability to, I think, what Jonathan provides in a lot of different ways, and that's what makes him so valuable. But I think David has correctly and astutely taken the position, at this time where we're at, we have to consider those things.

Q. Craig, pitcher question. Where do you stand on the third time through the order effectiveness issue?

CRAIG COUNSELL: The numbers are pretty -- I don't argue with the numbers certainly. I think the real trick is trying to figure out every other decision that's impacted by that decision. That's kind of the one you go through next. There's a lot of decisions that kind of come from the first pitching decision you make in a game really lays out a whole other tree of decisions that might come the rest of the game.

So it's certainly things that we've talked about -- we talked about it yesterday for quite a while, and it's certainly something that we'll continue to talk about. And you're definitely cognizant of it, and I think, for every team, I think more and more they'll be cognizant of it.

Q. Did any of that discussion delve into how to make pitchers more effective the third time around, whether that's actually possible?

CRAIG COUNSELL: We haven't targeted the conversation like that at this point, but I think it's an interesting way, a different way to look at the problem. I think it takes a whole other set of skills, which is asking the pitcher a lot. But it's certainly something worth considering.

Q. Craig, we know your relationship with Pat Murphy, but what sold you on Derek Johnson, Carlos Subero, and Jason Lane? Because I assume you had extensive interviews with all of them.

CRAIG COUNSELL: Yeah, I'm really excited about the staff. I think we've talked about it before. It's a unique set of guys kind of from different walks of the game. Not a ton of big league experience in a lot of them, but in some, but really different perspectives.

I think from Derek's standpoint, he just brought a very unique approach to pitching. But then it's kind of -- it's very creative and innovative, but then I think he really believes in an individualized program for each pitcher, suiting that to each guy's needs and what they're good at. I just enjoyed talking to him. I think, where he's come from in the game has given him a perspective that I really enjoyed. It's fresh.

He's a coach, though. I don't want to make it come from something that's out in left field. He's a coach. He's a baseball coach. That's what he's been his whole life, and I think guys will attach to him really fast.

With Jason, Jason's got this career that is so unique. I think just look at his career, and it really makes you interested in what he can provide to hitters, to pitchers, to the conversation he can have with guys. Hit in the big leagues, 26 homers, finished in 2007, and was a pitcher in the big leagues in 2014. That's seven years later. So just to me, look, he was 37 years old. Think about how he stuck with it from age 30 to 37 to pursue another dream of pitching in the big leagues. To me that says a ton about somebody.

And playing winter ball in Venezuela every year up until last year. So really a unique perspective and, I think, an interesting guy for all our players to learn from and coaches to learn from.

Q. He's essentially an assistant hitting coach?

CRAIG COUNSELL: Yeah, but I don't want to limit him to that because I think he can really -- look, he's pitched the last five years, and so he's done both in the big leagues. He's done both as a professional. So I think he's got -- just his perspective on the game allows him to really contribute in a lot of different areas.

Just speaking on Carlos quickly, I think -- I said to Carlos, it was really enjoyable to call Carlos a minor league coach that's been coaching in the minor leagues for many years, managing in winter ball for many years, and be able to share that opportunity with him.

Carlos is very bright. He's a leader. And I think he's done a fabulous job with the Brewers helping develop some of our better prospects. So it's a great -- I think he's going to be a great addition. Like I said, it was probably one of my favorite phone calls to make this winter.

Q. You talked about opportunity opening with where the franchise is at. Do you anticipate pushing prospects because that opportunity is available? Or do you have to separate those two things, what you're doing at the big league level versus the development of some of the top, Phillips, et cetera?

CRAIG COUNSELL: It's always a balance of push when they're ready. Does anybody know exactly when someone is ready? I don't think there's ever a right answer or a right day, what the right answer is.

I don't think -- you have to -- no matter what we do, there's development at the big league level. No matter when they come, whether it's too soon or too late, they're going to be developing and learning at the big league level for the rest of their careers, but obviously the learning curve is steeper at the start of their big league career.

I don't think it's something we'll try to do right away. I think there's a point where you get to that with players, but right away I don't think it's something we'll be doing.

Q. Craig, David told us yesterday that you guys are on the hunt for like a true center fielder, sort of like --

CRAIG COUNSELL: I think Carlos Gomez maybe. More like how Carlos Gomez has been in the past.

Q. I wasn't talking so much in starting him. Maybe he's looking higher profile than I thought.

CRAIG COUNSELL: Well, that's what I'd like them looking for.

Q. But if you assume Brett Phillips might be the center fielder in a year. He sort of made it sound more short term, that you've got to have a defender because Domingo Santana is not a natural center fielder. So how do you make those three outfielders work if they're all on your team? Chris Davis, Domingo Santana, and Ryan Braun, how do you make them all work when none of them's a center fielder?

CRAIG COUNSELL: Well, I think adding a center fielder will be a priority for the rest of the off-season, I think. But for Domingo, Chris, and Ryan, I think that's, to me, the same question as Parra, Chris Davis, Braun last year. There's different bats. The bats work out. They'll get plenty of at bats. They're going to be factors and playing a lot.

You have to decide if you want a true, like you said, a true center fielder, true defense and how that helps us win games, versus going with the more offensive group, including Domingo would be part of the more offensive group.

Q. You guys talk a lot about improving defense. Your defense has not been good. Putting three corner outfielders out there is not a good way to do that.

CRAIG COUNSELL: No, but I think you have to make -- we have to make choices like that, and I think that's what David is talking about, about acquiring some other players.

Q. Has there been even the slightest talk of Ryan Braun moving to first base now that you knew you were going to trade your first baseman?

CRAIG COUNSELL: No.

Q. It's just not going to happen?

CRAIG COUNSELL: No.

Q. Is that because you like what he does in the outfield?

CRAIG COUNSELL: Yeah, it's not something we talked about.

Q. It seems like then you'd solve the Santana dilemma and your first base dilemma, and I understand that not everybody's a first baseman.

CRAIG COUNSELL: Right. I think sometimes it's not as simple as musical -- these aren't just the same chair they're sitting in. The positions are different. They're different chairs. So it's not as simple as a game of musical chairs.

Q. I think one of the reasons some people think about it is he's a former third baseman. It's not like he's never been on the infield. I know we all saw how that worked out, so maybe I just answered my own question. You know, he's also getting older. Now he has a bad back. Do you worry about his back? Will you have to take it easy on him in Spring Training?

CRAIG COUNSELL: No, I don't -- I mean, in Spring Training --

Q. Easier. Easier. I know you always --

CRAIG COUNSELL: I'm worried about the season. During the season, I don't anticipate taking it easy on him at all. I think during the season he's going to play as much as he's capable of playing. I won't treat him any differently. I don't have any concerns about that.

Q. So he's not going to be a guy with a tricky back?

CRAIG COUNSELL: No, I don't think so. I really don't.

Q. Craig, how has the room this week been different than when Doug was leading the meetings?

CRAIG COUNSELL: There's just different faces in the room. I guess that's the biggest difference. Otherwise, it's really not that different. It's still you're making decisions and evaluations and plans. Not that different really. It's just it's a different group making the decisions.

Q. They're not all sitting there seeing who could do the Rubik's Cube the fastest?

CRAIG COUNSELL: No, it's a work room. We're working. We're trying to get through things and evaluate players and evaluate groups of players and have conversations. It's a lot of sitting around and discussing. That's what the Winter Meetings are.

Q. When Spring Training starts next year, if Segura is back at short and Scooter is back at second, where do you see the fit for Villar?

CRAIG COUNSELL: For Villar, the great thing about Jonny, he can play third, he can play short, he can play second. He can play some outfield. Versatility is a fit. That's a fit. Any time you say what's a fit, versatility is a fit because that means he can do a lot of things.

So it doesn't have to be a perfect fit. I think building depth in your roster to cover injuries, that versatility speaks to that. So someone like Jonny that can play multiple positions, that switch hits, that's versatility. That's valuable. There's a lot of spots you can plug that in, and you can get value out of it.

Q. Craig, with roster building and hitting approach in mind, is contact rate any less important in your ballpark than it is in a bigger ballpark?

CRAIG COUNSELL: Well, I mean, if you're implying that there's power involved in that too. I think it depends on the individual player's skills. I don't think you can make a general blanket statement about that. I think the player's skills have something to do with that.

I just heard the strikeout rate is at the all time highest in the history of the game. It makes you pause and think, what does that mean? What does that mean for something we can do differently, for players that might be more valuable in these times?

But I think a little bit of this stuff is a pendulum. It swings, and then we start seeing players -- not just teams, but more so players. The players start making adjustments to this stuff when they start understanding that maybe there's some value in contact and a different approach. We have a park that rewards hitting flyballs. I think David takes that in mind when we're considering players, sure.

Q. What happened to the stigma of striking out? What makes that taboo? Unless you're a complete --

CRAIG COUNSELL: I think it's changed because teams told you it didn't matter, and decision makers told you it didn't matter. The value of the home run was, especially to me in the 2000s, you saw the power of the home run, the value of the home run. So it lessened it. I don't think it drops it, but it lessens it. Like I said, it's a pendulum. This is all a pendulum.

Q. Do you think the Kansas City example of contact is going to change it?

CRAIG COUNSELL: I think many teams, even San Francisco when they won, was a contact-oriented team. Of course, when teams win the World Series, there's going to be some nature of copy cat to what we call kind of point towards.

Offense is offense. Runs is runs. We're trying to find ways to put runs on the board. And you can't always be -- we can't always be exactly certain how we're going to create offense, but we just want to find ways to create offense.

Q. Craig, do you expect Matt Garza to be a permanent and productive member of your rotation next year?

CRAIG COUNSELL: Yeah, I do. I think it's important. He's a player that we don't have to -- obviously, we can get better by Matt kind of returning to form. We can get significantly better in the 30-plus games that he's going to start.

He had a rough year, but if he's who he's been for ten years plus, or seven years plus, then it makes us better immediately.

Q. What do you think the key is to getting him back there? Is it major adjustments on his part?

CRAIG COUNSELL: I don't think it's major adjustments. I think confidence is a big thing to get off on the right foot and be confident and believe in what he's doing.