With entire Major League coaching staff returning, Brewers skipper should continue to lead
By Mike Bauman
MILWAUKEE -- The next logical step in the rebuilding of the Milwaukee Brewers would be extending the contract of manager Craig Counsell.
This step appears to be a matter of when, not if. At a press conference Tuesday at Miller Park, Brewers general manager David Stearns announced that the team's entire Major League coaching staff would return for the 2017 season.
And Stearns spoke highly of Counsell, whose original three-year contract runs through 2017. The GM said that he was impressed by the energy present throughout the organization, and he said that Brewers fans could expect a high-energy club with consistent effort for next season and beyond.
"Craig and his staff deserve a lot of credit for doing that," Stearns said. "This is an eight-month marathon starting in early February for a Major League team. You go through a lot of ups and downs, and to maintain that level of positivity and energetic commitment is a challenge. I think Craig and his staff did a really nice job of maintaining that throughout the year."
The Brewers' principal owner and chairman, Mark Attanasio, has already weighed in on the topic of Counsell's performance.
"Craig has gotten the most out of this team, and I feel very good about that," Attanasio said.
Counsell and Stearns indicated that they have a productive professional relationship.
"It's normal, there's no drama, it's good conversation, we challenge each other, it's moving it forward," Counsell said.
"I think we both came in with an open-minded approach and we've been able to carry it through the entire season," Stearns said. "We have the same goals in mind and that helps. We're not, obviously, going to always agree on how to reach those goals, but we've been able to talk through the hundreds of decisions that we collectively have to make during the course of the season. And I think our relationship has certainly been very productive."
The Brewers, in their first full season of the rebuilding process, exceeded modest expectations with a 73-89 record. That was a five-game improvement from their 2015 record.
More impressive than that was the fact that the young Brewers had a consistently commendable level of effort, even after Trade Deadline deals took away catcher Jonathan Lucroy -- who had been the heart of this club -- and the team's two best relievers to that point in lefty Will Smith and closer Jeremy Jeffress.
A 73-89 record doesn't qualify as a smashing success, but with the development of young players, and the late-season improvement in the quality of the Brewers' pitching, the season could still qualify as progress.
"It's successful in that we accomplished some goals that we set out to accomplish, in exploring young players, developing young players, in developing a culture of competition, of effort every single day, that allows young players to reach their potential," Counsell said.
"But at the end of the day, we're in the winning-games business, so I'm not going to walk away completely satisfied when we have 73 wins. I'm going to walk away knowing that we have a lot of work to do and we have a lot of areas that we can get better at. So I'm going to give you a hedged answer."
Stearns was asked a similar question about the level of success the Brewers had achieved this season.
"I don't think you're ever going to see Craig or I up here telling you we had a successful season until we're in the playoffs. That's a successful season," Stearns said. "That's what we're aiming for, and then we'll be aiming for more than that.
"At this stage, you have to set incremental goals for yourself and your organization. That's what we've done and we've achieved some of those goals. So we should feel proud of that, but we certainly recognize that we have a lot of work to do to get the ultimate goal of being consistently competitive and competing for a division championship every single year."
The Brewers obviously remain some distance from that level of achievement. But the trades made over the last two seasons by Stearns and his predecessor, Doug Melvin, have transformed the Brewers' Minor League system into an operation that is now rated as No. 1 in talent by MLBPipeline.com.
At the Major League level, progress will come, but not overnight. Craig Counsell has demonstrated that he is fully capable of managing under adverse circumstances. Those circumstances figure to improve, and there are valid reasons to believe that Counsell is the right manager for the entire process.
Mike Bauman is a national columnist for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.