Cubs make sweeping changes to front office: Fleita, Wasserstrom out; Kaplan, Nelson reassigned

Cubs make sweeping changes to front office: Fleita, Wasserstrom out; Kaplan, Nelson reassigned

Updated 1:04 PM

The Cubs are making sweeping changes to their front office.  According to Paul Sullivan, the Cubs have also re-assigned Ari Kaplan from Manager of Statistical Analysis to a consulting position and have eliminated Chuck Wasserstrom's position, which was Manager of Baseball Information.  They are also looking to find a new position for Scott Nelson, formerly the director of player operations, according to Toni Ginetti.

The Cubs have made a huge statement in the past few days about what works and what doesn't work in their front office.  They valued Tim Wilken enough to promote him, but the much-respected Oneri Fleita was not getting the job done.  He is on his way out, according to Bruce Miles.

Fleita's official title was Vice President, Player Personnel.

Translation: The scouting was good...the player development?  Not so much.

Fleita was signed to an extension before the Cubs hired Theo Epstein, as Tom Ricketts was afraid to lose him to the Detroit Tigers, who reportedly were considering hiring him in a higher capacity.

This one was a stunner.  The Cubs have done a good job recently in Latin America, but Fleita also led player development, an area where the Cubs have been really struggling for as long as Cubs fans can remember.  The Cubs have always drafted good talent, but they have almost always been ill-prepared for the major leagues.  One has to wonder if the recent struggles of Starlin Castro, Josh Vitters, and Brett Jackson had something to do with this.

With an influx of brand new top tier talent to the system, the Cubs really can't afford not to have a guy they don't feel is best for their proper development.

We'll have more as it becomes available but with the Cubs expected to become increasingly reliant on their farm system, whomever the Cubs decide to hire here will be among the biggest decisions they make this offseason.

One name to look for is David Finley, who is the Red Sox Director of Player Personnel.  The Cubs had shown some interest in bringing him over when Theo Epstein was hired.  Also, Allard Baird currently holds the same VP of Player Personnel position with the Red Sox that Fleita did here with the Cubs but I view the Cubs as more likely to bring Finley over with the lure of a promotion.

The Cubs will miss the inroads Fleita has made in Latin America, particularly with the Dominican complex, but that has increasingly been turned over to Jose Serra, who has been one of the most respected scouts in the game.  He holds the current title of Director of Latin American Scouting, so I expect his responsibilities to increase there.

Filed under: Front Office

Tags: David Finley, Oneri Fleita

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  • I have a lot of respect for Fleita. This is a poor move for the new front office in my opinion. The minor league system has grown by leaps and bounds over the past few years under his watch. With improved scouting and drafting it's only going to get better.

    Castro is a 22 yr old all star. Vitters improved his walk rate tremendously this year. Jackson...well OK, I'll give you that one. Fleita's work Latin America has given us Wellington Castillo and Junior Lake among others. On the other hand, the complete and utter lack of any pitching talent has to be what cost Oneri his job.

  • In reply to Ratmoss:

    I would have liked to have kept him on overseeing Latin America, but that was not logistically possible. Fleita probably would not have accepted a demotion like that.

    I like Fleita too, and I understand why they need to have their own player development people in there, but they did lose a good baseball man.

    As for Vitters, his walk rate was still well below MLB average at the AAA level and it would have gone down as a pro. And from the few games he's played, he just doesn't look ready.

    I'm not saying they're bad players at all, just saying they're not as prepared to be MLB players as the Cubs would have liked. Castro is basically succeeding because of his tremendous natural talent -- but he still needs a lot of development after 3 years in bigs.

  • In reply to Ratmoss:

    If you look at all the talent overall in the system, as you get higher up in the ranks the amount of talent get thinner and thinner, pitchers AND position players. It seems that the great majority of Cub prospects, pitchers especially, peters out future-wise as they stay in the system, or they get traded and then contribute almost immediately for their new team, like Ricky Nolasco and Dontrelle Willis. I'm sure that Theo & Jed already have in mind a replacement that will be an improvement.

    While the Cubs' Theocracy preaches patience, the rate at which they are making changes recently suggests otherwise, and I am encouraged by these changes.

  • Glad to see Fleita out. Hopefully the new regime keeps culling non-producers. Go Cubs.

  • Fleita has produced tons of MLB talent from Latin America. It has more to do with philosophy on player development.

  • In reply to John Arguello:

    The current state of the Cubs' player development system speaks for itself. Fans may blame the Tribune Company or say the system is getting better, but the bottom line is the system is what it is. Eventually employees need to be held accountable if their results aren't successful.

  • I'm with you Ray, up or out. Just proud of Theo for having the stones to do it

  • I have no argument on the development side, where Fleita has fallen short. I'm just saying he's produced, but it's been more in terms of his work in Latin America. That isn't enough to keep him on, however.

  • In reply to John Arguello:

    John, I wouldn't characterize what he has done in his 10+ years in the post as "tons". Castro, a few relievers who can't manage to stay in the league, a couple of catchers?

  • In reply to Rob Letterly:

    Zambrano, Marmol for starters...With exceptions of TX, Yanks, and a couple of other teams, I think if you look around the league, the Cubs have done fine.

  • Another Mcphail/Hendry era guy gone. With the difficulties of Cubs top prospects living up to their hype when they hit the bigs; probably past time for this change. The recent moves of players in the minors may have proven the problems in getting things done with player development to the new front office, any difficulties and differences of opinions would have been clear to see when making these moves. This also doesn't bode well for Castro's future with the Cubs, Fleita loved the Dominican.

  • In reply to eddie35:

    I think that was the key. The Cubs have drafted some nice talent but they haven't done a good job of developing it and bringing it to the majors.

    I don't know about Castro's future, but I do think it signals that the Cubs believe that he is more of a talented guy who still has a lot more to learn than a player who's been in the bigs for 3 years should.

  • Thanks. Great point about being measured and giving these guys a chance to prove they could adapt. It seems Wilkens did and Fleita did not.

    The one thing I'll miss is his presence in Latin America.

  • Pretty surprised by this but I like it for the developmental reasons stated, I liked fleita's Latin connections but we have had way too many high ceiling busts that all seemingly have the same issues like lack of plate discipline and poor fundamentals. It seemed like just swing at everything while saying dont worry about defense and discipline was the order of the day. Obviously prospects bust out constantly but the FO must have seen something they thought could be better and went for it

    Another thing I really like about theo/Jed is their measured approach on this kinda stuff, they let 2/3 of the season go by for evaluation purposes before making moves ,really seeing what they had in action before judging.

    Good stuff

  • In reply to Andrew13:

    I've been pretty supportive on everything Theo and Jed have done, but this one has me scratching my head a bit. I understand the justification based on the developmental issues, it is just a move that seems to have more to it than meets the eye. Why now? I am a big proponent of getting a new pair of sneakers before walking around barefoot. This is the toughest decision of the new regimes for me to blindly support.

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    In reply to Break The Curse:

    There is a LOT we don't know yet. I'm not saying blindly support, I'm saying lets see what happens. If the Cubs are flailing in their Latin Amercan presence next summer -- and the Castros, Amayas, and Candelarios of the world no longer sign with the Cubs -- then we can and should hold Epstein's feet to the fire for this one.

  • In reply to Break The Curse:

    This is definitely the one that has caught me most off guard as well, the only reasons i can think it happened now are because as John pointed out above the new FO gave him time to assimilate and see if he meshed and he didn't and I also wonder if they waited for the whole draft/international FA period basically to be over before making a change of this magnitude. Maybe they wanted to use fleita's international connections one more time or wanted continuity in what was a pretty hugely important draft/signing period.

    I agree though that there seems like there is more to the story. All we can do is see who they bring in and what explanation the FO gives.

  • In reply to Break The Curse:

    Definitely shocking to me. Fleita has incredible respect in this game based on conversations I've had. I have to think that the Cubs think Latin America is covered with Serra and the Cubs simply needed better player development.

  • In reply to John Arguello:

    Speaking if Latin America, have we spent our allotment on the IFA draft yet? If not, do ou have a guess on who we coul be waiting on?

  • In reply to SFToby:

    Cubs still have about 700K + 6 slots at 50K max, I believe. I thought they wanted Rivero, but no deal as far as I know. I've been trying to find out who else they might be interested, but info not easy to get.

  • In reply to John Arguello:

    Thanks John.

  • I'll be interested in Epstoyer's comments. Perhaps it was a thing where Fleita and Epstoyer just didn't mesh. Perhaps they were going to do this the whole time but since he was under contract they bided their time until the could secure a replacement. But this, along with the promotion of Wilken, marks for some interesting times.

    And to counter those interesting times.....I'm off to see Germano v. Norris. I'm looking for the cheapest ticket possible and possible Blog ideas. I'll set the over/under for ticket at $7........

  • In reply to felzz:

    Have fun! Looking forward to your first hand account of the game. Maybe make it about the entire experience instead of just the game?

  • In reply to felzz:

    Hey Felzz, I know it's the day after, but it would be great to hear about the intricacies of getting a cheap same-day ticket from an "entrepreneur" outside the stadium....legally, of course !

  • My only concern is his connections with Latin countries. I think
    it is very important to have a Latin/Hispanic to be the first
    contact with prospects that speak Spanish.

  • In reply to emartinezjr:

    That is my concern as well. The Cubs have one of the best Latin scouts in baseball in Jose Serra, wonder if he gets a promotion. He's already the Cubs Director of Latin Scouting.

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    Looks like Theo has finished evaluating people in the organization and is ready to start making moves to redesign it in his image. If I were a betting man, these last two moves mean Crane Kenney's days at Clark and Addison are numbered.

  • In reply to Mike Moody:

    I hope so. The thing about Kenney though is he has reportedly been exorcised from baseball operations and is on the business side only. If that is true, then I'm not sure Theo can fire him, since his title is President of Baseball Operations.

  • In reply to John Arguello:

    IMO, regardless of Crap Kenney's title if Theo wants him gone he will eventually be gone.
    Might take a little time to talk TR into giving him the axe but it would happen.

  • Two words. Jaron Madison.

  • In reply to Bill:

    Maybe he'll get more responsibility in player development, I don't know. I still think the Cubs will hire a guy who can concentrate on the development side and allow Madison to focus on amateur scouting.

  • In reply to John Arguello:

    Sorry for being vague. I was just thinking that the Madison hiring was the first domino in that philosophical direction. I concur with your thoughts recently in which you think that the F.O. is trying to allocate resources for out-scouting and out-developing the competition.
    On a side note, I wonder if Theo and co. would have taken the job, if they knew what the new collective bargaining agreement would be.

  • I've been following the Cubs' minor league system closely for over a decade. I've been very critical of the revolving door approach to minor league coaching and the apparent lack of communication between the new and old coaches and between the coaches and the front office. I'm very hopeful that Tom, Theo, Jed and the others will make major improvements in player development.

  • In reply to cubsin:

    Well said.

  • In reply to cubsin:

    Agreed. That's been the big sore spot for the Cubs. They've had good scouting (though they'd been cheap about it until last year), but they haven't yet made the investment to actually develop the players. That has to change.

  • In reply to cubsin:

    You got it Cubsin! Forever it seems like they never had a complete organizational approach. They would have four to five minor league managers who each had their own philosophy and approach to the game. These kids would learn and adjust their play to the manager, then when promoted, have to change again all the way up the ladder. One coach stresses aggressive hitting, the next stresses OBP. Most of those kids didn't have a chance. Now, finally, we have a comprehensive approach and "way" throughout the organization. This reason alone is enough for me to have hope.

  • The Astros haven't won a road series all season. Here's hoping the Cubs help them maintain that streak today.

  • wow! didn't see that one coming, but being part of player development and not doing a good job of developing the talent that is acquired would definitely get you fired.

  • In reply to lokeey:

    That must be what got him fired and I think the Castro, Jackson, and Vitters aspect in that none of them are as ready as they should be at this point was the final straw.

  • In reply to John Arguello:

    John you also have to blame quade,and lou pin for not helping some of the young guys on the major league level. This is not the young guys fault that the old front office did not think obp, defense were important. Its going to take the jacksons,vitters, and castros more than one year to take this approach. Its going to be alot of growing pains, I think it would be a huge mistake for the front office to listen to the media and give on the kids like steve rosenblooms piece said they should with castro. I can't stand that guy.

  • In reply to seankl:

    That's part of it, but they have to have this instilled when they're still young. It's much harder to teach at the MLB level. I think Castro's incredibly talented, but they rushed him through before he was a complete ballplayer. I think he'll get there, and probably soon, but you want guys to be more prepared mentally.

  • In reply to John Arguello:

    I think your right, but I was just saying that the philosophy has changed quickly on the young players. Before theo and company came there was no ''cubs way''. Every prospect does not learn every thing in the minors. Castro. jackson.vitters, and rizzo still have things to work on at the major league level. Rizzo could not learn much else in AAA. Thats why dale and bosio are always teaching after each inning.

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    I'm not shocked that the front office wanted Fleita out of player development. Lets face, the job just wasn't getting done, and my guess is that he probably viewed statistical analysis much the same way Hendry did. I am surprised that he is out completely. Latin America was starting to produce for the Cubs. My guess is it made sense to keep him around until the Dominican facility was finished or close to it. As for his scouting network, we'll see if it can be kept in tact minus him.

  • In reply to Michael Caldwell:

    Fleita was definitely cut from the old school cloth. I'm curious to see how much the Cubs keep from his team as well.

  • In reply to Michael Caldwell:

    I thought the Dominican facility held a lot of promise; I hope it still will but don't fully understand how it might operate with an international draft for instance. But would like to continue to hear more on this if others are following this too. thanks.

  • Wow this is a bit of a stunner. I understand their disappointment in player development especially in pitching but disappointed they were not able to keep him on in some capacity with his great work in Latin America. Seems to me like we might need two hires to replace Fleita cause wasn't he basically wearing two hats or does Jose Serra get promoted now on the international front?

  • In reply to Holycow!78:

    Serra was already Director of Latin American scouting after a great career as a scout. I'm thinking he has to get more responsibility now, if not a formal promotion. He probably was already getting more and more work.

  • How did Randy Bush survive the bloodshed?

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    In reply to Ratmoss:

    Presumably he got the job with Hendry because he's a nice guy that doesn't necessarily do anything wrong -- which is a useful skill for that position.

  • In reply to Mike Moody:

    It helps to be nice in this business. Almost everybody I've met in this game has been very friendly.

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    From the Tribune:

    "Epstein said (Randy) Bush is in "good standing" with the organization. The Cubs also eliminated two positions belonging to Baseball Information Manager Chuck Wasserstrom and Statisical Analysis Manager Ari Kaplan. Wasserstrom left after 25 years in the organization, while Kaplan was hired as a consultant."

    Did those moves happen now or did that happen previously?

    Here is Sullivan's article on Fleita's firing:

    http://www.chicagotribune.com/sports/breaking/chi-cubs-fire-player-personnel-director-oneri-fleita-20120815,0,1195164.story

  • In reply to Just Win:

    Thanks JW!

  • I'm sure that between now and April of next year there are still
    many changes to be made by the organization. Having the right
    scouts and coaches is vital to any team. This next draft might
    be the last one where we have a great pick (3-6), so we need the
    right people in this organization.

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    Theo and Jed wanna bring in there guys.. Like you said Dave Finley wouldn't suprise me at all..

  • In reply to Colman Conneely:

    Can't blame them for that and they do have a beef with the development issues.

  • I kind of expected this, it's a simple case of clashing philosophies. I still say Ricketts jumped the gun by extending Fleita's contract, that should be up to the new regime. Basically Theo and Jed want to bring in their guys, nothing wrong with that . I expect to see some more of Theo's proteges from Boston over here in the next year or so.

  • In reply to Steve Flores:

    It didn't affect the Theo hire, which is the important thing. Probably hurts Ricketts more than anyone since it's his money.

  • In reply to Steve Flores:

    If memory serves me correctly, when they resigned Fleita, there was no guarantee that they were going to land Epstein who was still under contract in Boston. So I'm not sure Ricketts jumped the gun considering the worst case scenario would have involved missing out on Epstein and losing Fleita. I have to give props to TheoJed for taking their time to make personnel eliminations after a seemingly lengthy evaulation process. It was certainly within their right to clean house immediately upon arrival.

  • In reply to DemonBerryhill:

    Ha! Just said the same thing! Like the handle, by the way.

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    And if I'm anyone affiliated in the Boston red sox organization and there in their last year of a contract I'm on the first plane out of town.. Boston has turned into a bomb waiting to explode..

  • In reply to Colman Conneely:

    Yeah, that place is turning into a disaster. Let Ben Cherington run that show. He's the best baseball man in that organization, let him do his thing

  • In reply to John Arguello:

    Ben Cherington may be the best man for the messy job in Boston, but he must evade the sneaking machinations of LexLuthorLucchino.

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    Off topic, but Rizzo is really, really struggling this month. I'm hoping its a case of the league adjusting to him and him just not having the opportunity to adjust back yet. However, I remember in July, I used to expect him to get a hit, but now I expect him to be down two strikes and to make an out.

  • In reply to Mike Moody:

    I think he's made some nice adjustments here and there. I don't think he's going to be a .320 hitter, so some of it is regressing to the mean a bit. He's struggled a bit, but I think he'll be okay

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    John, is there anywhere that shows the contract situation of FO people and the like for each team? Example: Is there anyone in Boston that the Cubs would want that is in the final year of their contract?

  • In reply to Demarrer:

    I don't know of one. I usually depend on Cots but they only do GM and manager, I think.

  • Wonder how long it will be before we see sweeping changes in the minors as far as instructors, coaches and managers. I think its safe to say Buckner is safe. I have a feeling in two years we will be the team others will be trying to rape for front office and scouting talent like we have been doing with San Diego and Boston.

  • Don't we have a deal with the Red Sox that we can't hire anybody from their organization for 3 years? If I remember right, Finley and Baird are off limits.

  • In reply to elusivekarp:

    Yes, there is something like that in place, but I believe (and I could be wrong here) that Finley's contract expires after the season, making him a free agent of sorts.

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    In reply to John Arguello:

    I'm almost positive we get him.. It's to tempting to say no

  • In reply to elusivekarp:

    Yes I remember something to that effect. Wonder if that is just for lateral moves though or anybody under contract. If that is the case wonder how they could get Finley unless Boston would be more apt to let him go with Boston's decline the last couple years.

  • In reply to elusivekarp:

    Not too keen on Allard Baird; his track record with the Royals wasn't exemplary.

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    I know what happened here. Jed and Theo saw that John was about to give his mid-term grade on the front office, and so they're just cramming to get their grade up.

  • In reply to Mike Moody:

    LOL!!

  • Nice article and discussion, John. If you've already started writing part 4 (Front Office) of your 5 part series, today's events will cause you to scrap what you had and start over!

    As far as player development, I trust Theo is looking at more than just the front office positions. I'm one of those people who think the Cubs could improve their minor league player development with more / better minor league coaches and instructional assistants. As you've written many times, our AA and AAA pitchers have ALL seriously regressed this year - Coleman, Wells, McNutt, etc. Maybe Theo could hire some proven pitching gurus to figure out and fix the problems. Names that comes to mind include former Cubs Fergie Jenkins, Ken Holtzman, Greg Maddox, Rick Rueschel (sp?), Dennis Eckersly, Rick Succliffe, Lee Smith, ... How about making an offer to Leo Mazone? And has anyone noticed that our AA and AAA teams haven't had a winning season since Ryno left the organization?

    Thanks and have a good one!

  • In reply to DropThePuck:

    Haha..just notes, so not to much to re-write.

    Sandberg is a great manager for winning games and I think the Cubs wanted to bring him back, but he wanted to move on to see if he could get another opportunity.

    As for Mazone, I don't know what he's up to these days. He's been retired for awhile.

  • I'm shocked, absolutely! Why not just find a better role for Fleita?

  • In reply to ChiRy:

    I don't think he'd take a demotion. He might for now, but he'd leave as soon as he got a better offer....which he will.

  • As long as the Cubs are so willing to eat salary...would they be willing to PAY FANS to come out to watch this product rather than people actually PAYING THEM for the "privilege?"

  • In reply to gposner:

    Haha! Don't think they'll go quite that far.

  • I almost feel like I should offer condolences. I know you were a big fan of Fleita, John.

    I don't know much about the man. But I do know our player development is bad. I haven't paid attention to prospects till this year but it jumped out at me that Wellington Castillo couldn't frame pitches, Tony Campana has an uppercut swing, and Jackson and Vitters offensively and defensively don't look nearly as polished as they should, especially when comparing them to Rizzo from the Red Sox/Padres system. I'm glad they're addressing the issue, that's for sure. It was glaring.

  • In reply to Carne Harris:

    I was a big fan, but mostly for his work in Latin America and I think he'll be missed, but it's hard to defend the Cubs track record in player development. Lots of things that should have been taken care of at the minor league level.

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