This weekend, Chicago Cubs’ Chairman and Owner Tom Ricketts took the bold step of extending the contract of the Cubs’ Director of Player Development, Oneri Fleita, for four years, despite the team’s ongoing General Manager search. The step, of course, was bold because that is a position you would think a GM would expect to fill on his own.
Would Ricketts take an even bolder step and extend the Cubs’ Scouting Director, Tim Wilken, too?
Sources tell Bruce Levine that Ricketts will be meeting with Wilken over the weekend of September 16 to discuss the state of the Cubs’ farm system and Wilken’s current contract, which takes him through 2012. Given what just happened with Fleita, and given Wilken’s standing within baseball (read: other teams would gladly hire him), it’s fair to wonder whether Ricketts will offer Wilken an extension as an enticement to pass up other opportunities.
If Ricketts did so, he would have filled two of the most important positions in the new GM’s regime before the new GM was even hired. It would be even more evidence that the Cubs don’t believe they can actually land an Epstein/Cashman/Friedman type.
But, you know…
A part of me does wonder whether these kind of moves aren’t as bold or suggestive as I think. Consider this: we fully expect the Cubs to dump Alfonso Soriano and Carlos Zambrano this Winter, eating tens of millions of dollars in the process. Would it really be so shocking for Ricketts to be willing to eat these personnel extensions, too, if the new GM wants to bring in his own guys?
I actually think the answer is yes, despite the apparent bent of my rhetorical question. Sure, the financial cost would be relatively low – I have hard time imagining that Fleita and Wilken, combined, make more than $1 million per year. But the personal cost would be quite high. What kind of name do you make for yourself when you sign guys – expressly so they don’t take opportunities with other clubs – and then can them a couple months later, knowing all the while that it was how you expected things to play out?
As cold and calculating as Ricketts might be (and that’s a compliment), I don’t think even he wants to start out in baseball with that reputation – it remains a “people” business.
Then again, Levine notes that Fleita’s deal – and whatever deal Wilken might get – will be structured to include flexibility (including healthy buyouts), should the Cubs want to make a change before Fleita’s four years are up. So maybe Ricketts can have it both ways.