This weekend, Chicago Cubs’ Chairman and Owner Tom Ricketts made a surprising move by extending the organization’s farm and international scouting director, Oneri Fleita. The move, which came in response to some other teams sniffing around, was particularly surprising given the Cubs’ currently-vacant general manager spot. The presumption has been that the new GM would be hired on the understanding that he’d fill jobs like the one Fleita currently holds with “his own guys.”

Reactions to the move have been wide-ranging, and largely negative. Some of the more interesting takes:

Ken Rosenthal says Ricketts jumped the gun, and should have let the chips fall as they may.

Never mind that Fleita reportedly had interest from the Tigers; Ricketts is now on a slippery slope. Cubs scouting director Tim Wilken logically is next in line for an extension; some rival executives consider him more invaluable to the team than Fleita. The new GM might be left to hire a few special assistants, and nothing more.

It’s the wrong way to operate, and it shows that Ricketts may be dangerously naive. Just as managers must be allowed to pick their coaches, GMs must be given authority over baseball operations — and that includes the selections of their farm and scouting directors.

Whether or not Ricketts’ move scares off GM candidates remains to be seen; the Cubs’ job is highly coveted, and a new GM might have kept Fleita, Wilken and other quality employees, anyway.

The question is one of control. Ricketts, highly regarded by Cubs executives, could develop into a fine owner. But he already has diminished the power of his next GM.

Jon Greenberg sees Ricketts increasingly inserting himself into the baseball operations of the Chicago Cubs, and says it could be a good thing or a bad thing.

Firing Hendry needed to be done, in my opinion, and I give Ricketts credit for making the move. I don’t discount the good things Hendry did in his Cubs tenure, which get overlooked, but the franchise needs change, and Hendry’s dismissal was the first step. “Wait ’til next year” is the steady refrain surrounding this team, and a move away from the longtime regime was welcomed in most quarters.

But Ricketts’ surprising extension of Fleita is another story. In fact, it’s almost unheard of, and is raising eyebrows across baseball.

Ricketts gave Fleita a four-year deal and a raise, despite the executive having another year left on his deal. The Detroit Tigers were reportedly interested in his services, which likely precipitated the deal. Ricketts is supposed to meet with scouting director Tim Wilken in the next two weeks to discuss his future. Expect another extension. Ricketts also brought in his own advanced stats guy in Ari Kaplan. Cross off another important hire for a prospective GM.

Both baseball guys, and Kaplan, are well regarded around the sport, but these proactive moves go against the very words Ricketts spoke on Fleita’s and Wilken’s tenuous standing after Hendry’s firing.

The Sun-Times discusses Scouting Director Tim Wilken, who might be next in line for an extension, cautioning that:

Locking up such high-ranking and influential members of the front office doesn’t necessarily mean the Cubs are hamstringing the next GM and hampering the hiring process, although it’s anything but standard operating procedure.

Steve Rosenbloom also slung some vitriol in Ricketts’ direction, but, as Rosenbloom is currently the subject of a discussion and linking embargo (for being an incorrigible douche), I’ll say no more.

As I said this weekend, while I do think the move is suggestive of Ricketts’ intentions with respect to the stature of the next GM, I think the move is being blown a bit out of proportion for at least three reasons.

First, Fleita is a universally-respected, very-important piece of the Cubs’ international development efforts (which are strong, and getting stronger every year). Given that not every player in the farm system will be leaving the Cubs, nor will every scout, it makes sense to preserve some institutional memory, lest the Cubs be unnecessarily set back by the front office turnover. Even still, Fleita is but one piece of the front office puzzle – there will still be plenty of spots for the new GM to fill with “his guys.”

Second, if Ricketts plans to be the “baseball president,” which seems to be the case, these are decisions he might well be making anyway. That doesn’t necessarily mean the Cubs won’t bring in a big-time GM, it simply means that Ricketts plans to be involved in the decision-making process.

Finally, and most importantly for the purposes of the hey-dudes-chill-out discussion, Fleita’s extension could very easily be structured with the GM change in mind. Sure, it’s a “four-year extension,” but there could be any number of options built in – including a healthy buyout – that make the move easily-explainable to the new GM, and mutually-beneficial for the Cubs and Fleita. Heck, the new GM could have the ability to just re-assign Fleita to a different role within the organization. The point: we know very little.



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