CHICAGO -- Chicago Cubs chairman Tom Ricketts made the unconventional move this week of giving a new four-year contract to the team's vice president of player personnel, Oneri Fleita, without having a general manager in place, sources told ESPNChicago.com on Saturday.
Ricketts' hand may have been forced. Sources indicated the Detroit Tigers expressed interest in hiring Fleita in a similar capacity. Although Fleita will be reporting to the team's yet-to-be named GM, Ricketts felt he couldn't lose Fleita before the completion of the Cubs' search for their next top baseball executive.
Fleita, a native of Key West, Fla., was named VP of player personnel in December 2007. Team president Crane Kenny promoted Fleita when the Baltimore Orioles approached the Cubs for permission to offer him a job running their minor league system.
After a minor league baseball career and a brief stint in the Orioles' organization, Fleita began working for the Cubs as a minor league manager in 1995. In 1996, he was promoted to coordinator of Latin American operations.
Under Fleita, the Cubs' farm system has flourished recently, with three affiliates qualifying for the playoffs in 2011 and the ascension of players such as Starlin Castro, Darwin Barney, Geovany Soto and Carlos Marmol to the big league level. The Cubs also have top minor leaguer Brett Jackson ready to begin his major league career in 2012.
Fleita's extension is the latest in a line of moves made by Ricketts to shape the team's front office.
Last month, the team announced the firing of Jim Hendry, who had been the team's GM for nine seasons. Last summer the Cubs hired Ari Kaplan to be their director of statistical analysis. In March, Ricketts hired Stephen Walters, a professor of economics at Loyola (Md.) as a consultant. Walters is in charge of overseeing spending and budgeting for all the team's departments, including the major league payroll.
Bruce Levine covers the Cubs for ESPNChicago.com.