Monday, Sept. 19, 2011
Posted: 1:11 p.m. Updated: 10:40 p.m.
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Even if Tom Ricketts doesnt know who exactly will be the next Cubs general manager, the chairman has a clear vision for how he wants baseball operations to be run.
In trying to find a balance between the new wave of statistical analysis and old-school scouting, Ricketts has reassured the Jim Hendry loyalists left in the front office.
Ricketts met with scouting director Tim Wilken for roughly 90 minutes on Sunday and gave him the authority to renew contracts which are set to expire at the end of October and make new hires within his department.
Wilken, who was already signed through 2012, was also informed that he will be retained next season. Several front-office advisors have gathered at Wrigley Field during this homestand to review the minor-league system and analyze the 40-man roster.
Im looking forward to seeing who the next general manager will be and working with him, Wilken said Monday. Nothings slowed up here and Toms always been supportive and pretty darn active.
Wilken who has not been approached by another organization yet did not get an extension. Vice president of player personnel Oneri Fleita recently leveraged interest from the Detroit Tigers into a new four-year contract that voided the existing season left on his deal.
The idea is to keep some sense of continuity as the Cubs head into a pivotal offseason. Combined Wilken and Fleita are responsible for departments that employ roughly 90 scouts, coaches and staffers.
Ricketts graded them both out at A during Hendrys exit press conference last month. The chairmans betting that those two employees will be viewed as assets, not liabilities. This executive search could last beyond the end of the World Series, so the Cubs will need people in place to smooth the transition.
Ricketts clearly respects the scouting infrastructure Hendry already built and doesnt want to see it completely torn down. Perhaps the last thing the chairman will want to hear from a prospective candidate is this: Youre doing it all wrong.
The Milwaukee Brewers have won with a homegrown core that includes Ryan Braun and Prince Fielder (at least for the next few weeks). Their magic number to clinch their first National League Central title remains at four after Mondays 5-2 loss to the Cubs at Wrigley Field.
Though vague in many public comments, Ricketts has consistently said that he wants to build a team from within.
The chairmans promised that Wilken will be given the resources to essentially find the next Fielder and Braun, the kind of high-impact position players the Cubs havent developed since, perhaps, the days of Billy Williams and Ron Santo.
Wilken is well-respected throughout the industry after working for Hall of Fame executive Pat Gillick in Toronto. He spent 25 seasons within the organization, helping the Blue Jays become World Series winners in 1992 and 1993. He ran drafts that yielded Roy Halladay and Chris Carpenter.
Gillick also designed playoff teams in Baltimore, Seattle and Philadelphia, but when he arrived in a new city, he didnt automatically call for mass firings and tried to work within the framework of the organization.
Adaptable is a leadership quality that Ricketts will likely look for in his next head of baseball operations.
Wilken left the Toronto organization nearly a decade ago, not long after J.P. Ricciardi, a Billy Beane disciple, cleaned out the front office. Moneyball has gone Hollywood, but all the best franchises now use a blended approach that combines sabermetrics with traditional scouting. Its not one or the other.
From the outside, it may look like Ricketts is meddling. But its significant that both Wilken and Fleita have been energized by the commitment new ownership has shown to player development. Theyve set aside their personal feelings about Hendry and will tell you that its a good place to work.
Wilken grew up with Hendry in Florida and they later played together at Spring Hill College, a Jesuit school in Alabama. Fleita played for Hendry at Creighton University and has described him as a father figure and an older brother.
Fleita speaks Spanish and has become a point man for the new academy the Cubs are planning to build in the Dominican Republic, where they want to find the next Starlin Castro.
Wilkens budgets were unstable during the final years of Tribune Co. ownership. Hes still found useful pieces in the draft, though Andrew Cashner and Tyler Colvin took steps back this year. He restocked the farm system enough to pull off the Matt Garza deal.
Affiliates at Double-A Tennessee, Class-A Daytona and Class-A Boise each made the playoffs this season, though the pitching at the higher levels didnt come as fast as the Cubs had hoped.
This summer Ricketts approved almost 20 million for international signings and draft bonuses. The mandate going forward will be to find more game-changers.
Hopefully were on to something, Wilken said. We can build this all together as a unit and put together a winner.
Patrick Mooney is CSNChicago.com's Cubs beat writer. Follow Patrick on Twitter @CSNMooney for up-to-the-minute Cubs news and views.