Cubs "Black Wednesday" has silver lining

When the news came down today about the Cubs dismissal of Oneri Fleita one of my first thoughts was “How Cubs is this”?

The only difference is the old Cubs way wouldn’t have had the guts to correct the mistake this quickly.

The guy who was just given a 3-year extension prior to Theo Epstein’s arrival has now been fired. This announcement comes on the heels of Tim Wilken being kicked upstairs days beforehand. Special Assistant to the GM doesn’t exactly scream pivotal position in the organization does it?

You can speculate what kind of role Wilken will really have, but he isn’t going to be doing what he is supposed to be an expert at. The truth is they replaced both of these guys and it comes as no surprise to me.

 I questioned at the time how Tom Ricketts could seemingly jump the gun when Detroit came sniffing around Fleita and give him an extension before a GM was in place.

The reality is neither move to retain either guy hurt the Cubs chances to land a guy like Epstein in the end. Though Epstein already had one foot out the door trying to escape Larry Lucchino and now Phil Rogers reports that Epstein only took the job with the promise he could fire Flieta if he so wished.

Rogers also makes some sense of all this with his sources telling us the Flieta extension was a Crane Kenney move. This all ties in since it was Kenney who had earlier promoted Flieta to keep him away from Baltimore.

It does seem to be somewhat of a personal embarrassment for Ricketts now to have neither of these guys in their positions less than a year later. It just proves you have to let generals like Epstein chose their own men to go to war with.

It is completely clear this is Theo’s show. Egos and money be damned.

Let’s give some serious credit to Ricketts for getting that and staying out of the way. Furthermore, Ricketts has done some serious eating of dough to give this organization the clear path it needs. These are costly moves, but moves that will hopefully pay off big in the end for the Ricketts family.

Epstein and Jed Hoyer were smart and patient enough to come in and survey the landscape before they started moving bodies around. This plan seems to be kicking into the next gear now. It was no secret that Jason McLeod would have full autonomy over the scouting department and he will soon have more of his own people working under him.

Today we got further away from the Hendry regime and we got even further into the Epstein era. You should see this front office and organization continue to evolve.

“We already have increased it,’ he said. “Once we’re finally set and we have the structure … in place, player development, scouting, front office … if you do an apples to apples of where we were, say last October, I think it’ll certainly see an increase.”

 “This is an unfortunate part of the business. It is my responsibility to identify the structure that makes the most sense for the Cubs going forward and that comes with some difficult decisions.” Says Epstein.

Some good people were let go today but it’s all about Theo and the gang’s vision now, a vision that won’t be clouded by ego or even cost.







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  • I have absolutely no problem with the front office shufflle, even though Fleita is a good baseball guy. It's the simple fact that a new GM/ President should bring in his own people he's comfortable with and not be forced to be someone who's philosophy clashes with his. I hope Ricketts learned a lesson here, let your baseball people make the decsions and keep out of it. I see Rogers today complaining about this ( roll eyes) and beating the dead horse that Crane Kenney has too much influence again....LOL . When are they going to stop fear mongering about Kenney?? It's quite apparent that Epstein is the captain of the ship and Kenney has lost a lot of influence, but once again the clowns we call the baseball writers in Chicago keep harping about Kenney, sheesh let it go.

  • In reply to Steve Flores:

    Rogers appeals to the negative fans, always finding fault over progress. I guess he thinks that wins him the day. Whatever.

  • In reply to Steve Flores:

    Yeah Steve I hear you but he really did raise some good points about Kenney. He really has had his hands on a lot of huge mistakes for the organization and if you are going to clean house then do it properly.

  • I guess, but appealing to the lowest common denominator all the time is tiresome. Kenney has become the "bogeyman" among Cub fans and writers and I believe as of now his power/influence has really dminished but the writers are too lazy to check that out.

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    In reply to Steve Flores:

    I've worked at a company that was going down in flames. There were huge rounds of layoffs every 3 to 6 months. That was obviously hard to deal with, period. But the thing that made it a killer for us was that the company's equivalent of Crane Kenney -- absolute incompetent who had made mistake after mistake that had doomed the company -- was kept on in a diminished role because of his invaluable contributions. Not a day went by when genuine anger wasn't expressed at ownership for firing our friends while continuing to pay that person. I can't see how that doesn't happen in the Cubs organization. Kenney really has to go.

  • Totally reassuring seeing Ricketts eat this money. Part of me still worries Ricketts will get in Theo's way on decisions, and this seems proof the other way, since like you said it's mildly embarrassing for Ricketts who just re-upped Fleita. And part of me worries Ricketts won't spend the money when it's time to have the biggest payroll in the division, and eating Fleita's contract seems proof the other way on that too.

  • In reply to Carne Harris:

    Bodes well down the line, I agree. Also willing to eat Soriano and Marmol money too if there are any takers, that is.

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    In reply to John Arguello:

    I believe Marmol will be dealt before the end of the month deadline. Not so sure about Soriano.

  • I feel the same way. It's just so much easier to deal a reliever and his contract is so much easier to work with. And his arm strength is back -- all it takes is one pitching coach who believes he can "fix" him.

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    Tremendous article, Tom! You're right about Wilken as well. Some people may spin it as a "promotion" but he's really been replaced. It's nice to see that the new front office values potential results over reputations.

  • This is a front office that values process, it doesn't look at bottom line results and make rash judgments (even though Wilken had tremendous results with Toronto and Tampa). A results-oriented FO is doomed to fall into short -term thinking and to false assumptions about outcomes. They don't look at results-oriented statistics in terms of their players, such as pitchers wins and RBI, why would they change that for their FO personnel? They also said they wouldn't measure team progress in terms of "results" such as wins early on. It's about process-- and if they didn't think Wilken fit in from that standpoint, they would have let him go, not offer him a job next to Theo with an extension. This FO has already shown it won't make moves simply to spare someone's feelings, why would they waste time and money if they didn't value Wilken?

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    In reply to John Arguello:

    Notice that I wrote "potential" results, and yes, Wilken did have tremendous results with Toronto and Tampa. His results in his former capacity with the Cubs are what they are. As for working "next to Theo", I don't believe it's going to be quite like that. Theo might have chosen to keep Wilken on, but make no mistake about who's going to be calling the shots going forward.

  • Here's the part that I vehemently disagree with: that this office is results-oriented. It is not. It's process-oriented. Fix the process and you get better results.

    You can make many false assumptions if you strictly look at results. The big picture is often more complex than that.

    If they didn't want Wilken running the draft, it was because of how he ran it, not because they think he's a bad talent evaluator. If he wasn't valued in the latter capacity, he simply wouldn't be here to.... this FO evaluate talent at the amateur and professional level. The Hendry FO may have been more about making friends, but this FO will only keep people they think fit into their overall process/vision that will help them eventually win games.

  • In reply to John Arguello:

    I think we can all agree with that.

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    In reply to John Arguello:

    I agree that the new front office only wants employees that will help the team eventually win games and hopefully someday the ultimate game. Since the Ricketts bought the team, the Big 3 (Hendry, Wilken and Fleita), are either gone or are no longer in their previous positions. I applaud those moves and expect more.

  • Sure, but moving and extending someone is a heck of a lot different than firing one. I know if I were Wilken, I wouldn't mind the chance to get my contract extended (likely for same or more money), leave a job that entails a ton of paperwork, and take one where I can concentrate on what I love the most about the game, which in Wilken's case is pure scouting/talent evaluation. If that's some kind of punishment, I'll take that every time.

  • In reply to John Arguello:

    I don't agree that 'results-oriented' management is, or has to be, focused on the short-term. Short-term thinking comes to be when you're only looking at the bottom line (e.g., Wall Street analysts).

    Long-term thinking must be looking at results as well otherwise you can veer of course so badly that it will take forever to get back on course.

    Measurement of metrics is all about finding errors and being able to correct those errors so that you achieve your target as quickly as possible without overshoot and minimal undershoot (e.g., your home HVAC system w/controller).

    I applaud the FO for having a process and using metrics to put a better product on the field. lt's too bad the previous front offices and owners didn't do it.

  • In reply to JeffK:

    Maybe it doesn't have to lead that way, but it's an easy leap. With regard to Hendry, one of his flaws was to pursue players and pay them for their most recent results, with little thought as to how they got there. It ended up in some pretty big mistakes and short term year to year thinking, quick fix band-aids, and no regard to how these moves would affect the team in the future.

    The truth is that you cannot control results, you can only control the process. If the process is broken, the results will almost certainly be broken.

    If the process works then it' s still no guarantee because results also depend on elements that are out of your control...luck, injuries, the surrounding environment. But process is the part you can control. Do it right and you'll be in a position to succeed every year.

  • Thanks Steve and yes Ray that is the real message delivered yesterday.

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    In reply to Tom Loxas:

    Thank you, Tom.

  • And to be clear, I made that comment based more on the fact they would make these moves without writing about stepping on toes.

  • I like the Wilken move The guy has been just the amateur guy for so long and, despite how smart this FO is, nobody knows scouting like Wilken in this organization. Part of it is to make things run smoother for the draft, by having guys who do things the same way, but I think this is good for Wilken too.

    I think his role will be more like the Hunsicker role in TB where he'll be that pure baseball guy that guys like Theo/Jed lean on. I think good teams like TB are starting to learn the value of having these guys around. The Yanks also did something similar with Hendry, who's been influential already in a few Yankees moves.

    They value his input, but to me it's more of keeping him close while also allowing them to run their usual system for the draft. He'll still have a big say in the draft, from what I've heard, but I think this will make it smoother for them as far as how they like to organize things.

  • In reply to John Arguello:

    Sure, if they truly use Wilken to their advantage then wonderful. The guy did some great things in Toronto.

  • In reply to John Arguello:

    Isn't there a difference in that Hunsicker is the clear #2 (mentoring a young GM like Freidman at the time) in TB while Hoyer and McLeod are certainly Theo's right hand men? However I think that he is a little like him and Hendry in his new role.

  • In reply to Tom Loxas:

    In title yes, but I think the role is the same, perhaps not to the same degree, but I think they greatly value what Wilken has to say about talent.

    As far as his old spot, I think they want to set up their draft process/system here and Wilken has always done things differently. I think removing him from heading the draft makes things run more efficiently. They want his input, but they're used to doing things a certain way. They want to tap into Wilken's vast knowledge of the game without changing how they run things, and I believe they feel this was the best way for them to accomplish that.

  • In reply to John Arguello:

    I think Hunsicker is a great comparison John. I agree that is a great move if that is how Theo plans on utilizing Wilken. I also wonder if Wilken has any aspirations of a larger role in a front office somewhere down the road if so this will be great experience for him. He has been running drafts for so long maybe he was a little burnt out and looking for a new challenge before reaching his retirement years.

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    I think though that Theo and Jed must see some value is having Wilken around. Otherwise, he would be gone as well. Wilken's pre-Cubs reputation was well deserved. You don't hit on the number of first round picks he did with the Blue Jays and D'Rays by shear luck. Of course, it helps when you have an ownership group that's not cheap and clueless like the Tribune Company was. It also helps when you have a good system in place to develop that talent. Wilken had neither in his early years with the Cubs. He was set up to fail.

  • In reply to Michael Caldwell:

    No question Mike. I wonder what Wilken's drafts would have been like if Ricketts had owned the Cubs sooner.

  • Yeah, the re-assignment of Wilken to me is key. It's not like Wilken couldn't get another "head of scouting" job. But Wilken took this new assignment and signed an extension to do it. My guess is it involves being more of a special assignment guy and less of the everyday.

    I didn't see how all those guys were going to mesh in the first place. So I don't need to see the Silver lining. The whole darn thing looks silver to me....

  • In reply to felzz:

    Well the silver lining was in response to what looks kind of embarrassing for the organization and letting some really good guys go. My personal experiences with Flieta and Wasserstrom were always very nice.

  • In reply to felzz:

    Plus you are just jealous that I'm good at headline writing :p

  • In reply to Tom Loxas:

    I'm jealous of a lot of things.

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    In reply to felzz:

    Wilken may have wanted this as well. The scouting life is tough, and I think Wilken, who is married, has been divorced twice already. It's hard enough to keep a woman happy when you are home regularly. Imagine how hard it is when you're never home.

  • In reply to Michael Caldwell:

    Agreed. I think it fits on both sides. As Felzzy said, if Wilken wanted to head amateur scouting somewhere else, he'd have no problem finding that fairly quickly based on the respect he has in this game.

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    In reply to John Arguello:

    Not only that, but I will bet the second he was promoted a couple teams put out feelers just to make sure he really was happy with the new gig. He would be long out of here if this was a bad move for him.

  • In reply to Mike Moody:

    Excellent point...and if the Cubs were not happy with him, they'd be more than willing to let him leave and take such a job.

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    In reply to Michael Caldwell:

    Is it really possible to keep a woman happy?

  • The two magic words that assure a happy relationship:

    "Yes, Dear"

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    In reply to StillMissKennyHubbs:

    No wonder I never married!

  • In reply to Michael Caldwell:

    Classic British comedy line: "Vera, Oh Vera, where are you? That's funny, she was here three years ago, the last time I was home...."

  • In reply to StillMissKennyHubbs:


  • I reread a nice article by Bruce Levine regarding Wilken after Fleita was extended. In it, he said, "Fleita’s deal (and a possible one for Wilkens) will be structured creatively with buyouts and options to benefit both the team and the executives. It’s possible that some GM candidates may initially balk at having both a minor league director and scouting director in place. However, Ricketts is staunchly supportive of the current and future value of Fleita and Wilken in the Cubs organization."

    That last line shows the small embarrassment Tom alluded to about Ricketts. You have to admire his willingness to let the baseball guys do the baseball things. This is why Kenney doesn't bother me at all. He is not involved in the baseball side and is therefore Ricketts' guy to fire or keep.

  • In reply to Break The Curse:

    Thanks Curse. I do admire Ricketts taking this on the chin and moving on. As far as Kenney is concerned, if he was strictly biz than sure, whatever. However, you hear things like he was giving out extensions and promotions in the past and the hair in my neck is standing at attention! WTF was Ricketts thinking?

  • I've been pretty impressed with Ricketts. While I would have liked him to cleanout upon arrival, the truth was he didn't know enough to do that. He Liked Hendry, he gave him a chance, and he learned. And when he learned enough, he made his move, now he's letting Theo run the show, and I'm sure he's learning even more. I know he gave Fleita that deal then gave him to Theo, but he is eating the contract. Now if he can only prevent his father from ruining all his plans....

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    In reply to felzz:

    If the neighborhood, city and state would leave the Ricketts alone to do with their property as they please. I'm opposed to public funding for private business, but when you regulatory agencies and commissions, whose only real purpose is to make sure the parasites get their cut, there is now other way. I'd still rather they abandon Wrigley and let Chicago have its museum.

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