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Sunday, September 4, 2011
Ricketts made risky move with Fleita deal

By Sahadev Sharma

When Chicago Cubs chairman Tom Ricketts made the decision to give vice president of player personnel Oneri Fleita a four-year contract, it definitely came as a surprise.

Not because of the job that Fleita has done, but that Ricketts extended a key piece of the front office prior to finding a general manager. It’s possible the decision could hinder Ricketts’ pursuit of a well-established, top of the line GM like Theo Epstein or Andrew Friedman.

“This is more about the staff that’s here and keeping some continuity,” Fleita said. “Obviously when the next general manager comes in, hopefully we’re gonna serve him well.”

Whether keeping Fleita around prevents a big-name candidate from accepting the general manager’s position won’t be known until one is named later this year. Even then, we likely won’t know if Fleita’s presence affected the hire. However, there is no doubt that Ricketts is taking a risk by committing long term to Fleita before completing his search.

Fleita and Ricketts developed a strong connection over the past two seasons. Clearly Ricketts felt compelled to make a strong push to keep Fleita from leaving for another organization, in particular the Detroit Tigers, who were believed to have a serious interest in Fleita.

“At the end of the day, the truth of it is it was a match between Tom and I, the family, and something I believe in,” Fleita said. “They’ve been giving support to sign players internationally this year that I’ve never had. (Cubs scouting director) Tim (Wilken) was given great support to go out and do what he did in the draft. This is an opportunity now to work for a great family, the Ricketts family. We’ve been given resources to go out and compete, that makes it a lot of fun for everybody involved.”

Looking at both international signings and the bonuses handed out in this year’s amateur draft, the Cubs spent nearly $20 million, far and away the most they’ve invested in such signings. When Ricketts came to the Cubs, he stressed how important building a strong farm system was to him and with the money they’ve spent the past few months, he’s started to execute that plan.

“I think Tom and his family have made the vision,” Fleita said. “They bought 50 acres of land in the Dominican Republic . . . we’re gonna build a new facility in Arizona, it’s exciting to be part of the design. There are a lot of great things that have happened. So the vision is very bright, it’s exciting.”

Fleita added that it was great to be able to tell his scouts that they could be aggressive in attempting to sign some of the players who were expected to be difficult to get in the fold. Shawon Dunston Jr. and Dillon Maples were among the surprise signings by the Cubs, as many expected both were strong college commits.

“These scouts spend a lot of time on the road, they’re away from their families,” Fleita said. “If they come across a player that they have a gut feel on, to tell them, ‘Yeah go for it,’ that was exciting. They feel like they’re contributing to the organization, that’s what it’s all about.”