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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.

  • Deez

    If Fleita & Wilken are “that good,” explain our lack of production of every consistent players & pitchers?
    Castro has been good
    The jury is still out on Barney.
    Soto’s a respectable catcher, but not the same output as his Rookie year.
    I respect Ricketts as our Owner & the need for organizational continuity, but the next GM will have very little say in his(or her) baseball operations staff.
    That’s why It’s gotta be Ng all the way.

    • CubFan Paul

      “That’s why It’s gotta be Ng all the way.”

      why?

    • http://www.bleachernation.com Brett

      A possible explanation: a lack of investment in the minor leagues on the part of ownership. The Cubs – for the last 15 years – have never spent much on the amateur side. Gotta pay to get talented kids and to get talented staff. The Cubs haven’t until lately. Could be that Wilken and Fleita were just doing the best with what they were given – which wasn’t much until the last year or two.

  • CubFan Paul

    from Greenberg -
    Ricketts said the new GM will make decisions on key personnel and has to have “the freedom” to hire whomever he wants to hire. Now he’s proved those words false — unless, by some miracle, he’s already surreptitiously landed his GM. But there’s no sign that’s happened.

    I wonder if Ricketts has hired a GM on the down low or has a handshake deal with someone who would support Ricketts making decisions now ..if not, I fall in the negative category to Ricketts making moves now

  • packman711

    For all we know Ricketts has the new GM picked out, but can’t make anything offical anything for months. Maybe the mystery GM wanted these resignings?

    • http://www.bleachernation.com Brett

      I won’t say I know *for certain*… but… he doesn’t have the new GM picked yet.

      • http://Bleachernation Bric

        Sources tell me that an individual has already been offered and has accepted the position but isn’t allowed to disclose the deal until after the season. Due to an apparently huge question mark concerning the ability to keep this guy’s name out of the papers, Cubs front office execs are referring to him only as Ace.

        • http://www.bleachernation.com Brett

          Why do you think I changed my name…

          • Ron Swanson

            So does this mean I didn’t get it? How about hiring me as your assistant GM? Assistant to the GM?

            • http://www.bleachernation.com Brett

              Assistant to the Traveling Secretary is the only position I haven’t yet filled…

              • Ron Swanson

                Done.

                • http://www.bleachernation.com Brett

                  But, I swear to God, if you put us up in that Houston Holiday Inn Express again this year…

                  • hansman1982

                    How about an Assistant to the Assistant to the Travelling Secretary – I can make sure that we get the Holiday Inn Express down the street…it’s pool is clean, I swear.

  • Jim

    I would guess that the new GM is going to say how both Fleita & Wilkens acquire and develop players, so I don’t see too much of a problem if both are extended and kept on. I’ll be more pissed if the direction of the organization stays the same.

  • baseballet

    Like Deez, I’m also suspicious of the need to bring back Fleita and Wilken. I don’t see a lot of star players in the pipeline for the Cubs as a result of Fleita’s and Wilken’s genius. While our amateur drafts may have been hampered somewhat in the past by cost cutting, isn’t it true in general that our player development system has failed us? Our farm clubs have been a better pipeline to Japanese baseball than to the Cubs.

    Someone please make me feel better and post a definitive defense of Fleita and Wilkin.   In the meantime, someone tell Josh Vitters that he better start developing a taste for sushi.

    • http://www.bleachernation.com Brett

      You won’t find me doing the full-on defense of Fleita or Wilken. I like ‘em, but not enough to fight for them. I tend to like Ricketts enough to fight for his decisions, though.

  • TWC

    That pic of Fleita really freaks me out every time I see it.  I’m betting that he’s holding a blood-drenched meat cleaver just below the frame.

    • http://www.bleachernation.com Brett

      WIN.

  • Caleb

    Well put. I heard the WGN guy saying this was a bad call, and instead of articulating along the lines of your arguments, I just said “shut up, idiot.”

  • EQ76

    what does everyone think the possibility of Brenly being the next manager is?  This isn’t an endorsement at all, just curious if he’d be a manager candidate, assuming Quade’s a goner.

  • Jeff

    I’m just curious if any of these journalists who are criticizing the move have taken the time to think it through.  Fleita’s job right now is farm and international scouting director.  I don’t see why he couldn’t be moved into a new position, if the new gm wants to bring in his own guy(s).  Couldn’t Fleita simply move to director of international scouting and leave the farm to the new guy?  Doesn’t it make sense to keep the guy who has been spear heading the scouting in Latin America and Asia, not only for the Cubs, but all of baseball since the early 90′s?  The way things sit, letting Fleita walk with all of his connections and scouts before the long planned Dominican project even breaks ground, wasn’t really an option for the Cubs.  If Fleita is to the Cubs what he and Ricketts are painting him as, I see no reason his title couldn’t be shifted to welcome in a new farm director who works hand in hand with Fleita.

    • TWC

      Right, Jeff, but thorough, thoughtful analysis doesn’t sell papers!  (Hopefully it does buy houses is Ohio.)

    • dreese

      I agree Jeff, I think people are going too deep into this. From what I have read about him It would take a while to rebuild the relationships we have with him. I think it was a good move but I dont think Ricketts should have done this now, I think he should have waited

  • Cheryl

    i like the idea of Brenley as cubs manager. I even like the thought of him being GM but don’t think he fits Ricketts criteria.

  • philoe beddoe

    I think that if Brenly was a good manager he wouldn’t have been run out of Arizona 1 year removed from World Series win…remember he left Randy Johnson in the game with a 15 run lead in game six…he used him anyway in game 7 but that was probably not smart….with Johnsn and Schilling Quade could win a series…

    he hasn’t sniffed a job since …just find it curious…..

  • Cheryl

    I guess his frankness about the cubs appeals to me. He seems on top of things in terms of the cubs, maybe he was too honest for his own good. But if he left Johnson in it might have been a request by Johnson. But with that big a lead Johnson should have been pulled.

  • Coal

    I think it’s tough to argue after the fact that Brenly left Johnson in too long in game 6. once he’d warmed up and thrown 3-4 innings it was pretty clear that he was going to be an “emergency” option only for Game 7. At that point you may as well use him to keep some of the bullpen arms fresh for Game 7. But yes, it does seem curious that he didn’t last longer in AZ after the Series win. That does make me think he still doesn’t get much credit in baseball circles for winning with Schilling and Johnson, or that he did something to piss somebody off there (or along the line somewhere).

    (Side note – the most underrated contributor to the Game 7 win was Mark Grace, who calmly slapped a base hit off of the unhittable Mariano Rivera to start the bottom of the 9th.)

  • ramin

    The new gm has to get a manager that is willing to play kids and good at teaching youngsters the right way of playing the game and that’s why I think sandberg will be the new manager because he was with most of the upcomin players at the minor leagues. Y not bringing in sandberg with will give this team a buzz they have been missing.

    People seem to forget the diffrence between sandberg, frank robinson and ted williams as a manger is that sandberg pays his dues in the minor leagues and won at a consistent bases

  • Jeff

    Chuck LaMar resigned from his post as assistant gm in Philly today.  The same Philly which employs Rickett’s adviser Pat Gillick, the same Phillies that employ one Ryne Sandberg.  Chuck LaMar is part of a winning organization, an experienced gm, and has a solid track record of developing players.  Is there fire with this smoke Brett?

    Tim WIlken was a special assistant to gm for him in Tampa?  There are a lot of connections here.

    • Ron

      Yikes, didn’t have alot of success in Tampa over 8 years.

    • http://www.bleachernation.com Brett

      There is definitely smoke, but only because we’re squinting very hard and trying to see it. I’ve got a new post up about LaMar. Not sure what to make of it.

  • http://bleachernation.com ricosanto

    Jeff and Ramin I think are on the right page.
    1, ricketts can not wait until Nov 1 for a GM 2. Ricketts really wanted Ryno but let hendry talk him into the QBALL. 3, The iron pigs never had a winning season until NOW.4. The iron pigs never made the playoffs until NOW, Ryne did not know one player on that team and look what he did. We need a manager for the long haul teaching,having the same philosphy, like Mike Scioscia, Gardenhire, Francona.

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