Cubs dismiss player personnel head Fleita

Cubs dismiss player personnel head Fleita

CHICAGO -- Oneri Fleita, who has overseen the Cubs' Minor League organization and international scouting operations for 12 seasons, was dismissed on Wednesday.

"I'm very grateful for the opportunity for my years with the Cubs," Fleita said. "I wish the Ricketts family and [president of baseball operations] Theo [Epstein] the best. I can't wait for the day the fans get to see the [World Series] trophy hoisted here."

Epstein said he talked to Fleita about taking another position within the organization, but both felt that would put Fleita in an "awkward position" because of his close relationship with the players and staff.

"I've been around other situations where there's a change in responsibility or a change in role, especially in player development, where hierarchy and reporting structure is really important," Epstein said. "It can be hard to make that work. When I talked to Oneri about it, he saw it the same way. He couldn't have been more professional in how he handled things. I think he genuinely cares more about the Cubs and more about some of the people who work for him than he cares about himself sometimes."

Fleita joined the Cubs in 1995 as a Minor League manager and had overseen the development of the club's Minor League players, as well as establishing the Cubs' presence in the Dominican Republic.

Last September, Cubs chairman Tom Ricketts gave Fleita a four-year contract after general manager Jim Hendry was dismissed. In November, Jason McLeod was named the head of scouting and player development, joining Epstein and GM Jed Hoyer in the Cubs' front office. McLeod took over Fleita's duties, but Fleita was retained and named vice president of player personnel.

The news came as a surprise to the Cubs' players.

"I feel sad," Cubs outfielder Alfonso Soriano said. "He helped a lot of people in the Minor Leagues, especially in the Dominican. [The front office] has their reasons -- I don't know why, but if they do something like that, they have their reasons."

"Oneri was someone I've been with the entire time," rookie outfielder Brett Jackson said. "He's a big figure in my upbringing. It's a sad day to see him go. He's a great guy, a great baseball person."

Cubs closer Carlos Marmol, 29, was 16 years old when he met Fleita in the Dominican Republic, and he signed shortly after that with the Cubs.

"He was like a father to me," Marmol said. "He did a lot of good things for me."

Fleita did far more than decide which shortstop would play at Class A Peoria or High A Daytona. He made sure players knew what they had to do to transition into the big leagues.

"He'd say, 'Man, you need to learn English,'" shortstop Starlin Castro said. "The first time I did an interview in Spring Training, [Andres] Blanco was the translator. [Fleita] told me, 'I don't want to see that. You do your interview yourself. Learn your English. [Blanco] plays the same position you play. If he wants to say something bad about you, he will.' That's why I worked hard on my English and I do my interviews by myself."

And then Castro winked. He's been a good student.

Fleita served as an area scout, cross-checker and coordinator of Latin American operations before being tabbed to oversee the organization's Minor League system and international scouting operations in 2001.

Last Friday, the Cubs promoted Tim Wilken from director of amateur and professional scouting to special assistant to the president/GM and hired Jaron Madison as the director of amateur scouting. Epstein said to expect more changes now that they've had 10 months to evaluate the baseball operations staff.

"Frankly, there will be [changes]," Epstein said. "There's nothing immediate to announce, because of the need for respect for confidentiality and privacy for the people involved."

There were two more front-office changes on Wednesday. Chuck Wasserstrom, manager of baseball information, was dismissed, as his position was eliminated. And Ari Kaplan, manager of statistical analysis, was reassigned as a consultant.

Assistant general manager Randy Bush, a holdover from the previous regime, was in "good standing" and will continue in his role, Epstein said.

The search for a new farm director will begin immediately, Epstein said, and some internal candidates will be considered.

"There's a lot of work to be done here, there's a lot of great people who have contributed in the past," Epstein said. "Some people will be moving on. Hopefully it proves to be best for the Cubs, and best for them."

Carrie Muskat is a reporter for MLB.com. She writes a blog, Muskat Ramblings, and you can follow her on Twitter @CarrieMuskat. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.