The Cubs have significantly increased their chances of competing in 2024 by bringing in Craig Counsell to manage their team, but the offseason is just getting started and there is still work to do. As the Brewers' skipper for nine seasons, Counsell became known for getting the absolute most out of players even when his roster seemed sub-par on paper.
Counsell's arrival on the Cubs could open up new options in free agency and make Chicago an even more enticing landing spot. Additionally, Counsell's fresh set of eyes could convince the front office that certain players are worth taking a shot on when they wouldn't have otherwise. Here are three players with ties to Craig Counsell that the Cubs could target this offseason.
1. LHP Josh Hader
There was a time not too long ago when I would have wanted the Cubs to pass on closer Josh Hader. That time has passed since starting pitcher Marcus Stroman surprisingly opted out of his $21 million player option for 2024. Clearly, that leaves a massive hole and that money should be used to bolster the starting rotation with someone like Aaron Nola or Sonny Gray. However, the Cubs will be well below the luxury tax threshold going into 2024 with Jason Heyward's contract also coming off the books.
In my eyes, now is the time to spend and who better to solidify your bullpen than arguably the best relief pitcher in all of baseball? Since his MLB debut in 2017, Hader has collected the fourth most saves (165) in the league, 11.3 Wins above replacement, and a league-leading 15.01 strikeouts per nine in that time frame. Five and a half of Hader's six seasons came with Counsell calling him out of the bullpen so nobody on the planet knows how to utilize Hader's talents better than him.
Slotting Hader into ninth-inning duties would take a lot of pressure off a bullpen that struggled to solidify an identity for much of the season. Adbert Alzolay can move into the eighth inning set-up role with Julian Merryweather and Mark Leiter Jr. moving down as well. Hader's high velocity and experience would be a huge weapon for this team and signing him would transfer to more wins, plain and simple.
The thing is, Hader is probably going to net the largest contract ever signed by a relief pitcher, with an average annual value likely being $20 million a year or more. But with Hader coming off the best season of his career (1.28 ERA, 86 Ks, 56.1 IP) and his 30th birthday coming next year, it may be a gamble worth taking.