Cubs trying to build a global empire

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Cubs trying to build a global empire

Tuesday, March 29, 2011Posted 8:00 p.m. Updated 8:35 p.m.

By Patrick Mooney
CSNChicago.com

MESA, Ariz. Not that long ago, Oneri Fleitas territory included Georgia and the Florida Panhandle and all of Latin America. This was the late 1990s and Venezuela and the Dominican Republic basically fell to an area scout running a one-man operation.

There was nothing, Fleita recalled. We were starting in Latin America from ground zero.

Heres how far the Cubs and Fleita have traveled: The vice president of player personnel now has around 20 scouts covering 25 different countries, all hoping to find the next big thing.

Fleitas portfolio includes the minor-league system and international operations. Hes at the center of everything the Cubs are trying to do under chairman Tom Ricketts and a new ownership group. Soon they will break ground on a new complex in Arizona, and build a new academy in the Dominican Republic.

Sources insist that the overall budget for baseball operations remains the same in 2011. Major-league payroll has been slashed by about 10 percent, with more funds pumped into player development.

Fleitas job is to keep the pipeline flowing with talent and produce more Starlin Castros and Carlos Marmols.

Within the past few years, the Cubs have added a director of international scouting, Paul Weaver, who reports to Fleita. They also hired special assistant Louis Eljaua, the point man who helped the Red Sox and Pirates build facilities in the Dominican Republic.

Fleita has fair skin and blue eyes, but hes of Cuban descent. He grew up in Key West, Fla., some 90 miles from Cuba. As a kid, he spoke Spanish and went by his given name David.

Future Cubs general manager Jim Hendry recruited Fleita to play for him at Creighton University. Between his junior and senior years of college, Fleita returned home to Florida to visit his grandfather, who was on a deathbed with terminal cancer.

The Cuban immigrant had always wanted his grandson to be Oneri Fleita III. So Fleita changed his name to honor his grandfather, who wound up living for several more years.

He was so happy and so appreciative, Fleita said. (But) then I got to live with this name the rest of my life.
Lost in translation

Fleita smiles and laughs often while talking about his past, perhaps because it was so important to his future.

Fleita signed with the Orioles and went to his first spring training in 1989. He surveyed the room and saw all these young Latin players who didnt speak a word of English.

There were no official translators, so Fleita would grab them in the corner and try to explain what was going on. His language abilities if not his overall skill set drew the attention of Oriole officials like Roland Hemond, Doug Melvin and Jerry Narron.

They kind of looked around and said, Hey, you really cant play, but you do have a tool. Well make you a coach and you can help us out, Fleita recalled. That opened the door for me.

By 1995 Fleita had jumped to the Cubs and began to work his way up the organizational ladder. Once he started to oversee the farm system, he went to then-president Andy MacPhail with one request: Do I have permission to send my coaches to Latin America?

I had sat in enough meetings behind closed doors and heard guys use the word stupid or un-coachable, Fleita said. That bothered me because I thought if you had the opportunity to go and see where these guys grew up and understood their backgrounds and who they are you might become a better teacher (and) think of a different way to (reach) that person.

To broaden their horizons, Fleita had every one of his coaches visit the teams academy in the Dominican Republic during a three-year window. What might be normal in that culture walking out to your position is completely unacceptable here and theres value in knowing that difference.

You cant build an organization like you think youre going to build a new neighborhood, Fleita said, and have cookie-cutter homes (with) the same dimensions and (floor plans). You have to learn to work with them individually.

Father Fleita

The Ricketts family views Fleita as a father figure to all the prospects in the Dominican Republic.

Fleita lives with his wife and three children in the northern suburbs, not far from OHare, and there have been many winters where hes picked up Latin players at the airport and driven them to Northwestern Memorial. Who else is going to talk to their doctors and sit in the hospitals waiting room?

Though Fleita has a compassionate side and an advanced worldview, he knows that he doesnt have a job without the 25 guys in the Wrigley Field dugout. He understands that the Cubs have to win now.

Were all living what takes place at the major-league level, no matter where were at in this organization, Fleita said. Were going to sink and swim together. You cant forget that. You cant lose sight of that.

Baseball America recently completed its audits and ranked the Cubs system at No. 16. Its a drop from the industrys top tier in 2010, the cost of obtaining Matt Garza from Tampa Bay.

Thats exactly why Fleita does this. These departments arent waiting around to see what shortstop Hak-Ju Lee and pitcher Chris Archer might look like in 2015. They created an asset by converting Robinson Chirinos to catcher. They evaluated outfielders Brandon Guyer and Sam Fuld as expendable.

The bottom line is that the Cubs needed a frontline starter to account for 200 innings this season and beyond.

The next collective bargaining agreement could regulate the amateur draft and the international market. In theory those changes might limit the financial resources the Cubs can pour into player development. But its not like those budgets were unlimited or consistent under the Tribune Co.

Fleita knows that his staffers are constantly telling players that they have to make adjustments. Why should management be any different? In this business, you always have to be creative and flexible.

One reason why Fleita believes hes been successful in converting players to different positions Marmol, Randy Wells, Geovany Soto is because everyone in the Dominican Republic wants to be the shortstop. You need vision just to field a team, and then see what they can become.

Fleita understands that part of this job is crazy, standing on a field in a foreign country and handing out bonuses to teenagers like its Monopoly money. But what really matters is that the Cubs are finally in the global game.

Were everywhere now, Fleita said. Were in a perfect position.

PatrickMooney is CSNChicago.com's Cubs beat writer. FollowPatrick on Twitter @CSNMooneyfor up-to-the-minute Cubs news and views.

Tyson Ross could be one of the final pieces for Cubs’ offseason puzzle

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AP

Tyson Ross could be one of the final pieces for Cubs’ offseason puzzle

Tyson Ross could be one of the final pieces of the offseason puzzle as the Cubs try to defend their World Series title while still planning for the future.

The Cubs left this week’s winter meetings in Maryland still involved in the Ross talks, sources said, monitoring an intriguing pitcher they had targeted before the 2015 trade deadline.

The San Diego Padres didn’t really buy or sell during that pennant race and made another curious decision last week when they didn’t offer Ross a contract for 2017. MLB Trade Rumors projected Ross would have made $9.6 million during his final year in the arbitration system.

After issues involving his right shoulder wiped out almost his entire season, Ross underwent surgery in October to address thoracic outlet syndrome.

Ross was San Diego’s Opening Day starter during a 15-0 loss to the Los Angeles Dodgers, but didn’t pitch again, clouding a future that once had him looking like a trade-deadline chip and one of the best pitchers in the free-agent class after the 2017 season.

That’s when Jake Arrieta will be looking for his megadeal and John Lackey might be in retirement and Jon Lester will be turning 34. That’s why the Cubs are so focused on pitching this winter and trying to balance out an organization tilted toward hitters.

[SHOP CUBS: Get your World Series champions gear right here]

Kyle Hendricks proved he will be a pitcher to build around – and the Cubs believe Mike Montgomery can evolve from a swingman into a fifth starter and maybe something far more valuable – but depth is a real issue.

Ross made 30-plus starts in 2014 and 2015, when he earned an All-Star selection and accounted for almost 400 innings combined. He will turn 30 in April and is seen as a positive force within the clubhouse. He has a 6-foot-6 frame, a second-round-pick pedigree and a Cal-Berkeley education.

Reports have already linked the Texas Rangers and Pittsburgh Pirates to Ross and not completely ruled out a return to San Diego. During an offseason where the free-agent market is essentially devoid of reliable frontline starters, there could be sticker shock, even with a rehabbing pitcher.

Trading for Wade Davis meant the Cubs were out of the bidding for Greg Holland, another All-Star closer who helped turn the Kansas City Royals into World Series champions. Holland spent this year recovering from Tommy John surgery on his right elbow, but he will still be in position to capitalize after Mark Melancon, Aroldis Chapman and eventually Kenley Jansen reset the market for closers.

With Ross, the Cubs will have to get a better sense of the medical picture and the price for all that upside.

Beyond a winning culture, the Cubs can sell the pitching infrastructure that helped turn Arrieta into a Cy Young Award winner and transform Hendricks into an ERA leader and keep the rotation remarkably healthy.

“Those really talented pitchers are going to be in demand, even those that are coming off an injury,” Cubs president Theo Epstein said this week at National Harbor. “We’ll stay engaged on some of those guys, but they’ll have to be just the right talent.

“We’ll have to feel good about the medical and the return to play. And the fit on the club would have to be right, too. But the true elite guys have a real market, even if they’re coming off down seasons.”

Cubs' MVP Kris Bryant signs multi-year extension with Adidas

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USA TODAY

Cubs' MVP Kris Bryant signs multi-year extension with Adidas

Kris Bryant just keeps on winning in 2016.

Two months after leading the Cubs to their first World Series title in 108 years, Bryant signed a multi-year extension with Adidas.

"It's a phenomenal time to be partnered with Adidas with all the energy and momentum that the brand has right now," Bryant said via a press release. "Adidas embraced me as part of the family from the start."

Bryant was named National League MVP after hitting .292 with 39 homers and 102 RBIs. He hit .308 with three homers and 8 RBIs in the postseason.

Bryant first signed with Adidas in 2014 after the Cubs made him the No. 2 pick in the 2013 MLB Draft.