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Tim Wilken up next for contract extension despite Cubs’ GM search

***FILE ART OF TIM WILKEN*** 01-10-06 Wrigley Field Chicago  -  Tim Wilken Cubs Director Amateur Professional Scouting -

***FILE ART OF TIM WILKEN*** 01-10-06 Wrigley Field, Chicago - Tim Wilken, Cubs Director of Amateur and Professional Scouting - Photo by John J. Kim/Sun-Times

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Updated: November 26, 2011 12:26AM

With the Cubs’ general manager search ongoing, could the Ricketts ownership be on the verge of locking up another top organizational figure before hiring the new GM?

‘‘Naturally, you think about things like that, but I think things take care of themselves,’’ said scouting director Tim Wilken, the other half of the Wilken-Oneri Fleita scouting/player development leadership tandem that former GM Jim Hendry put together and that chairman Tom Ricketts has repeatedly praised.

Farm director Oneri Fleita was just given a four-year extension in a move touted as a sign of continuity, while viewed as puzzling by some in baseball.

Wilken, who was backed with a Cubs-record $12 million to draft and sign the best players available in the 2011 draft, was already expected to meet with Ricketts during the next homestand.

‘‘I haven’t had any direct talks with Tom on being re-upped,’’ said Wilken, who is under contract through 2012. ‘‘Sure, you think about it. But I’ve got more important things to get done at this point. I’ve said it before: I want to be a Chicago Cub for the long term.’’

Locking up such high-ranking and influential members of the front office doesn’t necessarily mean the Cubs are hamstringing the next GM and hampering the hiring process, although it’s anything but standard operating procedure.

The Detroit Tigers pursued Fleita before the Cubs extended him. Wilken, similarly, would be coveted by several teams if considered to be a lame duck.

‘‘We’ll see what happens. I’m not really sure,’’ said Wilken, who has watched Ricketts get involved with the player-evaluation and draft processes, Latin operations and minor-league affiliates.

‘‘I think it’s more than just a gut feeling or instinct on Tom’s part,’’ he said. ‘‘I think he’s got an idea what he wants to do and hopefully we’re part of it.’’

Whether Ricketts’ attention to those key spots is a sign that ownership isn’t confident a GM hire can be completed within a month after the season ends, it’s definitely keeping the September spotlight on 2012 for a team that was officially eliminated over the weekend.

Even Monday’s 4-3 victory over the Cincinnati Reds was about 2012, start to finish. Start as in Matt Garza (8-10), who earned the win. Finish as in Carlos Marmol, who pitched a 1-2-3 ninth two days after blowing his major league-leading ninth save.

Like it or not.

‘‘Why, you want [the closer] to be somebody else?’’ said Marmol, whose status next year has been openly questioned, despite having two years left on a three-year, $20 million contract.

‘‘I can’t make that call,’’ Marmol (32 saves. 4.20 ERA) said. ‘‘I’m going to be here, every time they hand me the ball. Unless they trade me.’’

Garza, acquired last January from Tampa Bay in Hendry’s last big trade, has won back-to-back starts for the first time this season despite being the top pitcher on the staff all season and putting himself in position to become next year’s Opening Day starter.

‘‘He’s such an important part of this thing,’’ said manager Mike Quade, who left Garza in the game with two outs in the eighth Monday despite trouble. ‘‘Down the road for this organization, we’re going to need this guy to give us eight, nine innings at times. I think he’s a horse. I think he’s capable of better, and I think we’ll see better.’’

Marmol, who had one of his worst ninth-inning meltdowns of a rough season on Saturday, backed Quade’s faith in him Monday with better location and a better slider, putting off, for now, the Sean Marshall-for-closer speculation.

‘‘When you’ve got Kerry Wood and Marshall in the bullpen, you’ve got all sorts of options,’’ Quade said. ‘‘But as good as both of those guys have been, when Marmol’s right, nobody here has eclipsed how dominant he is late in a game, and nobody’s handled it as well. We’ve just got to get him right again, that’s all.’’

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