CHICAGO – If there were any lingering questions about Theo Epstein’s decision-making power, wonder no more.
This is Epstein’s time to shine, and as the Cubs’ president of baseball operations, he’s molding the organization to his standard. Epstein took another step Wednesday to remake the remaining personnel from the Jim Hendry era.
The Cubs fired Oneri Fleita, vice president of player personnel, a day after he was a part of the official team photo and hung around batting practice. Cubs Chairman Tom Ricketts signed Fleita to a four-year contract last year. Epstein determined the Cubs needed to head in another direction after evaluating the organization for the past 10 months.
The search for a new farm director begins immediately. Internal candidates will be considered as well as at least one external candidate, Epstein said. Fleita, who joined the organization in 1995, is free to pursue other opportunities without restrictions.
“Once we reached that determination then the question was if it would make sense to keep Oneri in the organization but in a different role and ultimately decided it was best for him and the organization at that point to move on,” Epstein said. “It’s hard. I’ve been around other situations where there’s a change in responsibility or a change in roles, especially in the player development where hierarchy and reporting structure is really important. It can be hard to make that work. When I talked to Oneri about it, he actually saw it the same way.”
Fleita’s dismissal is only the start of Epstein’s plan to restructure the Cubs’ baseball operations department. The Cubs eliminated the manager of baseball information position, held by Chuck Wasserstrom, which ends a relationship spanning at least 20 years.
Stats guru Ari Kaplan, who held the manager of statistical analysis position since 2010, is moving to a consultant role with the organization. A team source said Scott Nelson, director of baseball operations, is considering a different position with the Cubs. The source spoke on the condition of anonymity because no announcement has been made. Nelson has spent the past 30 years working various jobs in the Cubs’ baseball operations department.
Other potential moves are still pending as some personnel consider their options. Assistant General Manager Randy Bush, one of the few holdovers from the previous front office, is in “very good standing,” Epstein said, and he has a clear role moving forward.
“This is not a repudiation of any one department or any one person at all,” Epstein said. “It’s just the reality that our responsibilities to set things up the right way to put the Cubs in just the right position going forward, taking things from my past and my background and the background skill sets of others in the organization and shaping it just the right way for this organization.”
Fleita was largely responsible for the top Latin American talent on the Cubs’ big league roster and throughout the farm system, including reliever Carlos Marmol and All-Star shortstop Starlin Castro.
“I didn’t know until somebody told me that they fired Fleita,” Marmol said. “I’m sad for him because I know Fleita and he knows me since I was 16. This is the guy that gave me the opportunity in the minor leagues, and it was hard for me to hear that.”
Under Fleita’s watch the past 12 seasons, during which he was in charge of overseeing both the minor league system and international scouting operations, the Cubs have built a strong presence in Latin America, especially in the Dominican Republic. Fleita also worked closely on the project to construct a state-of-the-art baseball academy in the Dominican and played an intricate role in its development.
Epstein is confident the Cubs still have a strong Latin American presence despite Fleita’s departure. But for some Cubs, it will be tough to replace him.
“I feel real bad,” Castro said. “He’s like my father. I talked to him all the time, in the Dominican and here. I feel real bad, but it’s a business.”