Cubs interim GM: Ricketts happy with scouting, development system
By GORDON WITTENMYER firstname.lastname@example.org August 21, 2011 10:22PM
CHICAGO, IL - AUGUST 21: Chicago Cubs interim general manager Randy Bush talks to the media before a game against the St. Louis Cardinals on August 21, 2011 at Wrigley Field in Chicago, Illinois. (Photo by David Banks/Getty Images) R:\Merlin\Getty_Photos\121689045.jpg
Updated: November 16, 2011 1:28AM
General manager Jim Hendry’s firing might signal a new approach and infusion of ‘‘fresh ideas’’ that Cubs chairman Tom Ricketts seeks, but the changes figure to stop well short of an organizational overhaul.
Specifically, a scouting and player-development system that was rebuilt under Hendry and bolstered with vastly increased budgets in 22 months of Ricketts family ownership might survive with most key personnel intact.
Interim GM Randy Bush, who has met with Chicago-based staff and held a conference call that included Ricketts with scouting and development staff Saturday, said that’s one of the messages Ricketts seemed to impart.
‘‘I followed that up [Sunday] with another message that went out to all of our scouts and player-development people,’’ Bush said before the Cubs’ 6-2 loss to the
St. Louis Cardinals at Wrigley Field. ‘‘I just tried to assure them I was going to do everything possible to make this transition smooth and try to smooth out any concerns that they would have about their futures. I understand that there can be some uncertainty when you have a change in leadership like we’ve had.
‘‘Tom has spoken about how happy he is and how impressed he is with our scouting department and player development. He’s happy with [farm director] Oneri [Fleita’s] leadership and [scouting director] Tim Wilken. And I expressed to them that he has those feelings about the job that they’re doing, and that we could see a path we could go down where a lot of things that are in place would stay in place.’’
During the height of speculation over Hendry’s future, one recurring theme was the potential impact his firing might have on valuable, high-ranking members of the organization with deep and loyal ties to Hendry.
If anything, Hendry’s message to his top people on the way out last week was to stay the course in his absence.
‘‘The message was the Rickettses are great people, it’s going to be a great place to work, and he wants to know that we’ve gotten this done one day,’’ Fleita said, ‘‘and carry on the mission we’ve been on for a number of years here. Obviously, the loyalty is to him, but to the new ownership, the Rickettses, as well.’’
Fleita and Wilken are widely respected as among the best at what they do, and the talent pipeline in the system has improved, in particular since Wilken was hired from Tampa Bay in 2006 and took over the draft for the Cubs.
It doesn’t mean anybody in the organization is resting easy with the uncertainty of who the next GM might be and what key personnel he might want to bring with him.
Wilken was the assistant to the GM in Tampa Bay under the predecessor of Andrew Friedman, who’s expected to be one of the Cubs’ top candidates to replace Hendry. And he was the Toronto Blue Jays’ scouting director before that, responsible for drafting Roy Halladay, Chris Carpenter, Michael Young, Vernon Wells and several other All-Stars.
Fleita has overseen the Cubs’ Latin American scouting effort, leading to such signings as Carlos Marmol and Starlin Castro, and he was the guy who converted Marmol and Randy Wells from failed minor-league catchers to big-league pitchers.
For his longtime friends and colleagues, regardless of their standing in the organization during this transition, Hendry’s departure still is painful.
‘‘He did a hell of a job here,’’ said Fleita, who played and coached under Hendry at Creighton. ‘‘He served as a father figure to a lot of people. He’s a dear friend. He’ll be missed.’’