Rounding Up the Front Office Turnover – Fleita, Wasserstrom, Kaplan, Kenney, Bush, Epstein, Castro, Marmol

Yesterday was a hectic day for the media, and undoubtedly a sad one for a number of folks in the Chicago Cubs’ organization. There were a handful of departures, and there are expected to be more. This is a process that started more than a year ago when General Manager Jim Hendry was fired (first in July, and then he officially departed almost a year ago to the day), and Cubs Owner and Chairman Tom Ricketts started the process of overhauling the operations of the Cubs organization.

I suppose it’s yet another reminder that these things take time, and that there is pain along the way.

The big departure yesterday was VP of Player Personnel Oneri Fleita, who was fired after more than 15 years in the organization. On the departure, President of Baseball Operations Theo Epstein was complimentary, and Fleita was magnanimous.

“It’s been a really, really difficult day for everyone involved,” Epstein told Bruce Miles. “First I just want to thank Oneri. I know it was in the press release. He was a tremendous contributor to the Cubs for a long, long time and helped get the organization to the point where it’s at now. He certainly deserves everyone’s thanks and will be an asset to whatever organization he joins next …. Ultimately we reached the conclusion that there would be a change in personnel atop player development. Once we reached that determination then the question was if it would make sense to keep Oneri in the organization but in a different role and ultimately decided it was best for him and the organization at that point to move on. It’s hard, I’ve been around other situations where there’s a change in responsibility or a change in roles especially in the player development where hierarchy and reporting structure is really important. It can be hard to make that work. When I talked to Oneri about it he actually saw it the same way. He couldn’t have been more professional in how he handled things. I think he genuinely cares more about the Cubs, more about some of the people who work for him than he cares about himself sometimes. He was really impressive with how he handled it.”

“This is just the progression of things that happen in an organization when new people take over,” Fleita told ESPNChicago.com’s Bruce Levine of the decision. “I’ve enjoyed my time with the Cubs. I think we’ve accomplished a lot of good things here.”

So, both sides move on.

According to Dave Kaplan, Fleita had three years and $900,000 left on his contract, which the Cubs will eat (at least I believe they’ll eat the difference between that and whatever Fleita might make should he join another organization – you don’t hear about this offsetting much in the executive context (obviously it comes up regularly with respect to players), but I’m quite certain I heard about it when Josh Byrnes, who’d been fired by the Diamondbacks, was hired by the Padres). Tom Ricketts is getting blasted in all corners for his decision to extend Fleita last September, before Epstein had been hired. To that, I can say only: is $900,000 really that much to pay to ensure that your incoming President (1) has the opportunity to assimilate information and contacts from an important guy like Fleita, who’s been in the organization for more than 15 years and has a host of connections in Latin America, and (2) has the option of keeping an important guy like Fleita if he felt it was a good fit? When hiring Epstein, Ricketts explicitly told him that the decision of whether to keep Fleita long-term was entirely Epstein’s. Where exactly did Ricketts go wrong?

Epstein says he’ll consider internal candidates to replace Fleita, as well as at least one outside candidate. Does he already have someone in mind? The Boston Red Sox’s current Director of Player Personnel is David Finley, a guy who was rumored to be coming over to the Cubs last Fall, but the Cubs agreed in December not to take any more Red Sox employees for three years. Perhaps there’s some way around that, or perhaps Epstein will look at someone like Craig Shipley, who was his Senior VP of International Scouting and Player Personnel with the Red Sox, but who was dismissed shortly after Epstein left for Chicago. As near as I can tell, Shipley, 49, hasn’t taken a new full-time gig since then. Maybe Shipley has been hanging around for the last year, waiting on this opportunity? I’m only speculating, of course.

There’s more coming, too. Not only will the Cubs now be searching for a replacement for Fleita, but they’ll also be quietly letting go of some other folks in lower visibility roles, eliminating other roles, adding new roles, and hiring replacements. In sum, Epstein believes the front office’s recent expansion will continue. You’ll recall that, at the time he took over, the Cubs’ front office was one of the smallest in baseball.

Among the notable quotes on/reactions to/details about yesterday’s changes:

  • Assistant GM Randy Bush – another Jim Hendry holdover – will remain in his current role. Epstein described Bush as in “very good standing” with the organization (an odd way to phrase that … ), and said Bush has been a big help with the transition.
  • Also sticking around is important Latin America scout and Director of Latin American Operations Jose Serra. I wonder if he’ll be one of those internal candidates considered for Fleita’s job.
  • As noted in the original post yesterday, Cubs “Manager of Baseball Information” (a title that probably sounded cutting edge 15 years ago) Chuck Wasserstrom was let go, and his position was eliminated. By all accounts, Wasserstrom was a likable guy and a good employee, but I suspect the changing times simply caught up to his role.
  • Ari Kaplan, a stats guy brought in by Tom Ricketts, was “reassigned” to be a consultant to Ricketts. In other words, Kaplan’s formal role with the team was eliminated, and, probably because of his relationship with Ricketts, the baseball ops department decided he could keep a loose connection to the organization by way of a direct connection to Ricketts. (And, hey, if the Cubs are now in the business of adding outside “consultants,” might I submit my resume as an online media consultant? I won’t even ask for an office or nothin’!)
  • Director of Baseball Operations Scott Nelson was offered a lesser role in the organization (I can’t quite tell you what the “Director of Baseball Operations” does, or what a “lesser” role might be).
  • You’ll recall, this process actually started last week, with the hiring of new Scouting Director Jaron Madison (from the Padres), and the promotion of Tim Wilken to Special Assistant to Theo Epstein.
  • Phil Rogers used the carnage as an opportunity to blast President of Business Operations Crane Kenney, a most popular whipping boy (something I still can’t tell whether it is deserved or not). Why wasn’t Kenney let go, too, Phil wonders. Well, setting aside the fact that the decision to let go of Fleita and Wasserstrom was Epstein’s, and the decision to let go of Kenney would have to come from Ricketts, the current reorganization process is clearly about the baseball side of operations. That’s not to say that business operations won’t also be shuffled at some point in the near future, but, for the purposes of personnel decisions, one has nothing to do with the other. There are any number of reasons to keep Kenney right now, however unpalatable his presence might be to some. The ongoing efforts to secure funding for a Wrigley Field renovation is obviously the big one. We don’t sit in on those meetings, so it’s hard to say how integral he is or isn’t to the process.
  • Two of Fleita’s closest players – Starlin Castro and Carlos Marmol – reacted with sadness to the news. “I’m sad for him because I know Fleita and he knows me since I was 16,” Marmol said. “This is the guy that gave me the opportunity in the minor leagues and it was hard for me to hear that. He did a lot of good things for me and I feel very sad …. Oh yeah, no doubt [he was a father figure]. He knew me since I was 16 and I learned a lot from him. I feel very sad for him. He gave a lot of players opportunities, especially in the Dominican. He’s great out there and everybody loves him there. That’s what I see, everybody, players. He’s a nice person, too.” And from Castro: “I feel real bad. He was like my father. I talked to him all the time here and in the Dominican. I just feel real bad but it’s a business.”
  • Carrie Muskat wrote about how devoted Fleita was to the organization’s Latin American operations.
  • My lone personal memory of Fleita was meeting him, briefly – and as a fan, not in any kind of “writer” capacity – at the Cubs Convention this past year. It was at the “Cubs Prom” portion of the festivities, and Fleita stopped to chat with a group of us on the way to the roped off VIP area. He was incredibly nice, and was clearly having a good time. And he was rocking a jean shirt, to boot.

Brett Taylor is the editor and lead writer at Bleacher Nation, and can also be found as Bleacher Nation on Twitter and on Facebook.

71 responses to “Rounding Up the Front Office Turnover – Fleita, Wasserstrom, Kaplan, Kenney, Bush, Epstein, Castro, Marmol”

  1. Flashfire

    I think, if you look up “backhanded compliment” in the dictionary, this quote is there: “He was a tremendous contributor to the Cubs for a long, long time and helped get the organization to the point where it’s at now.”

    1. Kev

      Yowza! I was thinking the exact same thing as I read that quote.

    2. terencemann

      I noticed that, too. Probably not the best way to word things. “He’s responsible for a lot of talent in the organization,” would have been a little cleaner.

      1. DocPeterWimsey

        tsk, tsk. Now you are implying that there is other talent in the organization for which he’s not responsible. OR you are connecting it to past statements about there not being a lot of talent in the system and saying that he’s responsible for the talent level being what it is.

        After 12 years of marriage, I think I’ve probably learned how every line can be twisted!

  2. beerhelps

    I’ve said it before and I’m sure i will say it again …. Phil Rogers is just awful at his job.

    1. aCubsFan

      I think Phil Rogers makes a very valid point. Why is Crane Kenney still around? Especially, since he has had such a long time to get just one thing accomplished and he hasn’t gotten it done. And, why would Ricketts allow himself to get sucked into the nonsense that Kenney created on the baseball side of things.

      Speaking of baseball, isn’t the ball park and its renovation a very big ingredient to getting better players and better play from the players? Just think what could have been with respect to players if the renovations completed and the triangle building had already been built?

      While it was nice to have a period of time to harvest critical knowledge from Fleita, it does beg the question of the Cubs and most corporations, why aren’t they constantly harvesting and cataloging the intellectual property of the employees? Because people retire, die, move on, transfer and get fired all the time. If they had a system in place to gather this information, Kenney wouldn’t have had to extend Fleita’s contract before the Cubs hired Esptein or any other President of Baseball Operations.

      1. Cubs1967

        Kenny Crane is around becuz Ricketts is a pussy; he makes the McCaskey family look like biker outlaws. it’s a joke. he should of been launched long before Hendry.

        1. Cubbie Blues

          There are minors who visit Bleacher Nation. I respectfully request you tone down your explicit language.

          1. Leroy K.

            Krane Kenney is a kitty kat?

            1. Fishin Phil

              You should see his pajamas.

              1. TWC

                Boom.

          2. BeyondFukudome

            From what I’ve seen around here, you probably should be asking the minors to tone down their language.

            1. TWC

              Heh.

              I blame Hendry for that.

          3. Randy

            Exactly… he is out of control

      2. Cubbie Blues

        why aren’t they constantly harvesting and cataloging the intellectual property of the employees?

        Relationships can’t be placed in a database to be mined. They have to be cultivated. Fleita has many contacts and relationships in the DR. Just look at the quotes from Marmol and Castro. He has a great reputation down there and that only helps bring in more kids.

        1. Hee Seop Chode

          Oh contraire. It’s called CRM. Someone developed an entire data base for corporations to do exactly that.

      3. Hee Seop Chode

        I don’t know if any of you have ever had the chance to do a Wrigley Tour (if not, you should, it’s great!), but I got to go for the first time today. It was beautfiful and interesting, and I now know the press box’s wifi password. The thing that stood out the most for me was how limited both locker rooms were. My high school hockey locker room looked a bit nicer than the visitor’s room, and even the Cubs locker room was pretty tiny. Improvements are well over due.

  3. Flashfire

    I’ve noticed that over the last year Epstein has been the king of making statements that just beg to be ready between the lines. The masterpiece above takes the cake.

    1. mudge

      The whole team begs to be ready between the lines.

  4. ichabod

    is it a slap in the face to say that oneri had helped the organization over the last 15 yrs. to get where it is today. i mean, look at where they are. i would say that after that much time it was appropriate to go in another direction, for both parties. good luck oneri, good job theo

    1. AB

      I’ll say it again, without the Latin American talent he helped faciliatete during that time period, this team would have been far worse off the last decade. He did not run the drafts of the early 2000s and has only been responsible for player development since 2007, so if anything he is only responsible for the poor development during the last 4-5 years, and one could argue he could only do so much, since the Cubs drafted relatively cheap, safe, high-floor low-ceiling players during that period with a couple notable exceptions from 2006 on.

    2. AB

      BTW to be fair, I like this move and completely disagree with much of the way Fleita handled promotions and methods of player development.

  5. Matt

    There was some internet and local hoopla over these firings because of the amount of time Wasserstrom and Fleita had spent in the organization. I never really bought into the concept that seniority is equitable to un-firability.

    Realistically, Epstein and co. could fire anybody they wished with a simplistic reasoning: “Oh you’ve been with the Cubs 25 years? How has that worked out for the Cubs?” Not winning in baseball= no job security for anyone.

    Not to mention the stark lack of player development anyway…

  6. ichabod

    sorry didnt read previous

  7. anotherjp

    Brett, the recollection that you, Marmol, Castro, and others have of Fleita are a good indication of why Theo needed to make a change. Despite a checkered record of development of Cub prospects over the years, many people- including Ricketts- were in favor of keeping him on because he was a “nice guy” and a “good baseball man”. Letting those personality traits control personnel decisions is a recipe for failure.

    It couldn’t have satisfied Theo when there were rumblings that Fleita might drag along some of “his people” if Ricketts hadn’t given him an extension last year. From all indications it appears that this FO plans to focus upon youth at all levels and agressively promote prospects, in spite of what Theo says publicly about keeping them at each level for a full season. The large amount of upward movement in the minors over the past few weeks is a reflection of that and probably wasn’t consistent with Fleita’s philosophy.

    1. AB

      Yea, there’s alot of fuzziness with Theo’s quote about a year at each level. If a player passes through Boise, Peoria, and Daytona in one year is that technically a year at A-ball level??

  8. Daver

    Excellent comprehensive and reasonable take on things, Brett.

  9. Cubbie Blues

    Anyone with over 10 years with the team should be on alert. It was Epstein who said when he came over that he thinks after 10 years it is time for a change.

  10. butlerdawgs

    I met Oneri at Cubs Convention this year as well. He was extremely nice, and it was impressive to hear him start a conversation in English and then transition into fluent Spanish with the person. The person was not as well-versed in Spanish as Oneri, and Oneri joked with him afterward “So, how did I do there?” and the guy said “better than me.”

  11. Leroy K.

    How does Kenney still have a job?

  12. mudge

    They should sell it as a spicy apple treat at Wrigley – the Front Office Turnover.

  13. cubzforlife

    I still don’t understand why Kenney is so hated. I know most reporters don’t like him but as fans what has he done? His job is to run the business side of the Cubs and answer to Ricketts. Look at his credentials he’s not an idiot. You don’t get and keep the jobs this guy has had.

    1. mudge

      Well, whom would you have us hate then?

      1. BeyondFukudome

        We could start with people who say “whom.” ;-)

        1. mudge

          Pretentious? Moi?

  14. Curt

    Now I know and understand changes would b made but are the cubs not starting to overkill the front office personel, some of these seem redundant , I don’t think the cubs had enough ppl before , how many more are needed just askin.or is it just Epstein putting his own ppl in place

  15. Ogyu

    My boss just came into my office and told me I’m “in good standing with the organization.” Why don’t I feel better?

    1. Spriggs

      oh-oh… your boss didn’t even say “very” good standing? You should definitely not feel better.

  16. Mick

    Must be a rough week in Wrigleyville this week with Donald Epstein roaming the halls. Who are you? What do you do? You’re fired!

  17. paul

    Boy what a mess Hendry and Kenney and the old FO made. Hendry just about made it in 2003 good teams 08 09 hope the new FO has good teams every yr .

  18. Stu

    Theo has 5 years to make this work. He wants there to be no doubt that he is in charge, he constructed it, he is responsible for the Cubs winning.

    Now the only thing left for him to do is actually win. I still think the Cubs are 3 years away.

    1. Hee Seop Chode

      I’m interested to see if he goes all FA crazy around year 4. Most people on this board understand an overhaul at almost every level of the org was needed; what is more in question is does that need to take 5+ years.

  19. BluBlud

    People who think Oneri ran the farm system into ground must remember one thing, he had no control over who was drafted. He was a player Developer, not a GM. The guys he brought from the DR have had plenty of success. Soto, Marmol, Castro comes to mind for me. And technically, Soler and Conception(while Cubans), also was signed from the DR. The guy can only work with who he has to work with. You can turn a guy with a ceiling of a middle reliever into a CY young type of pitcher. Good Luck Oneri.

    S/N: Lets not turn into the Red Sox and bash every person that leaves our organization just because they aren’t there anymore.

    1. BluBlud

      ****You can’t turn a guy with a ceiling of a middle reliever into a Cy Young type of pitcher.****

    2. Flashfire

      The other part of his job was picking and signing Latin American free agents, so he had control over about half of who came into the system.

      1. BluBlud

        Right. Is there any coincedence in the fact that the latin American side of things have actually produced some verydecent to good baseball players. he never found a super star, but he found some very good players.

        1. Flashfire

          You could make the same argument with the post-Wilken draft, though: Shark, Barney, Cashner, and Watkins were all drafted and developed by the Cubs.

          And to say that Castro isn’t a superstar with his natural skills is kind of the point about the issues he has with development.

          1. BluBlud

            I agree about Castro. But I think Castro’s main problem is Age. He may have been rushed through the system to fast. I think he will turn into a star, with the potential to turn into a super star. Im not saying Oneri didn’t make mistakes, I’m just saying he wasnt horrible as some are trying to say.

            1. DocPeterWimsey

              Castro rushed through the system rather than being rushed through it. He was putting up numbers that were too solid to leave in miLB. Moreover, if Castro was putting up his current numbers in AAA, then people would still be saying: “this kid could be a superstar.” Remember, a lot of guys his age have just finished their senior year in college!

              1. hansman1982

                Ya, if he were still in AAA he would be a top-5 prospect in all of baseball and everyone would have him slotted at #3 in their 2015 lineups.

              2. BluBlud

                I don’t mean skills. He definitely has the skill. Maybe he wasn’t mentally ready. I still think he cam be as good as Matt Kemp. If I’m correct, he may have even had more early success then Kemp. His mental may still need to catch up.

          2. Chris

            I don’t think you can make a one for one comparison of international scouting and the draft. Scouting guys in the Dominican Republic at the age of 16, and factoring in all of the other shady practices that take place outside of U.S. athletics, is much more difficult. And while only seeing a few international players that have actually made it to the majors and had success, you have to consider the fact that the Cubs NEVER had any non-drafted players that came up to the majors and had significant roles. It wasn’t until Fleita came along that we had guys like Jeremi Gonzalez, Zambrano, Juan Cruz, Marmol, etc. While most are not superstar-type players, Fleita factored into pushing the Cubs into that marketplace and the organization did a much better job at developing these guys on his watch than at any other point prior. Having said that, I fully expect Theo to push this to the next level or two, but I don’t think it’s warranted to rip Fleita for a lack of team development. The organization is in better condition now than when Hendry/Fleita took over. Not trying to diminish the mistakes, just trying to point out that these guys did do some good.

  20. Steve

    My boss just came in and asked me about the TPS reports…

  21. MWL observer

    I can’t quite tell you what the “Director of Baseball Operations” does, or what a “lesser” role might be

    DoBO is an administrative position that oversees things related to the team both on and off the field, especially with the farm system. The DoBO makes sure the baseball side of the organization is running like a well-oiled machine and takes care of things that are beneath guys like the GM and farm director.

    1. Ogyu

      things like getting comfy, all-cotton uniforms for the players and having fermented chicken beverages sold in the stands…

  22. wingit

    Jed Hoyer just gave a great 20 minute interview on Comcast Sports Net. Was peppered with questions from 4 different reporters.

  23. die hard

    Kill 2 birds with 1 stone and move Soriano to do Oneri’s job…of course at guaranteed salary but Soriano may enjoy challenge…at least interview him