- Bruce Levine, Chicago baseball beat reporter
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CHICAGO -- Our talk shows at ESPN 1000 have been debating the logic of Chicago Cubs chairman Tom Ricketts extending the contract of vice president of player personnel Oneri Fleita four years before hiring a new general manager.
The reasoning behind the extension was based mostly on present need in the organization.
According to sources, this is how Fleita's extension went down:
Two weeks ago, the Detroit Tigers approached Fleita, who had one year remaining on his contract with the Cubs, and asked him if he would be interested in a three-year contract with the Tigers. Detroit was told that Fleita was staying put. However, Tigers team president Dave Dombrowski then called Fleita and offered him a four-year deal at a significant raise.
According to the sources, Fleita then went to Ricketts and let him know about the offer on the table. At that point, Ricketts offered a new four-year contract, tearing up the last year of Fleita's present deal.
Fleita got a significant raise in pay to go along with the four-year extension.
The reasoning behind all this is not that difficult to figure out. Simply put, Ricketts felt he couldn't let Fleita go for a number of reasons. The most important and pressing issue is the building of the Cubs' new baseball complex this offseason in the Dominican Republic. Fleita and Ricketts' brother, board member Todd, are the point men for this big undertaking. Both have spent an enormous amount of time and energy getting this facility up and running.
Ricketts has also developed a close business relationship with Fleita, having traveled to all the minor-league affiliates in 2010 and 2011 with Fleita.
Fleita's minor league and Latin American development is starting to produce, especially since scouting director Tim Wilken joined the organization in 2006. Wilken and his scouts have identified some top caliber draft picks, and Fleita and his coaching staff have taken those players and started to develop a solid group.
Other sources said Ricketts believed Fleita's job will not be a hindrance for any prospective general manager candidate that may interview. Fleita agreed to a deal that allows the new GM to eventually move Fleita to a different position in the organization after a certain period of time.
The Tigers were not the only team that wanted a shot at Fleita. A number of major league teams are in the midst of replacing their minor league directors. Fleita's impact in Latin America has been significant. Being bi-lingual is just part of what he brings to the table for the Cubs. Fleita's top assistant, Louis Eljua, is an expert in Latin American scouting and developing. He is another person Ricketts identified in his press conference, along with Fleita and Wilken, as employees he hoped would continue on.