A lot of negative attention has been given to Tom Ricketts re-signing Oneri Fleita for 4 years. A lot more negative attention will be given when Ricketts re-signs Tim Wilken. My first thought when I heard about the signing was that it was odd. Immediatley after that I realized we’re talking about an inconsequential amount of money so firing them, if they chose to, would not be a big deal. We are talking about a team looking to eat upwards of $60 million in contracts for Alfonso Soriano and Carlos Zambrano. I don’t think another $4-6 million (Fleita and Wilken) is going to bother them.
Despite that, the media seemed convinced that this was a horrible signing. Even the national media got in on it so I couldn’t help but question whether or not I had it all wrong. I already knew that Andrew Friedman didn’t find his own guy to run to be the Scouting Director when he took over as GM. The Rays didn’t have a position for Farm Director, but he kept Tim Wilken on. After the 2005 season, Wilken left to take the same job with the Cubs for what I’m sure was a lot more money. Friedman is considered one of the best so I wanted to see what some of the other notable GMs did when taking over. I looked at Theo Epstein, Billy Beane and Brian Cashman and none of them hired their own scouting and farm directors. The same ones that held that position, if the Farm Director position existed in that organization, remained on in the same position. Now that I had looked at 3 of the brightest GMs and a fourth who is one of the most successful, I was even more convinced.
Actually, I was convinced that these two positions are ones that do not change immediately. It makes sense. A new GM will barely have enough time to learn the major league side of the organization. He’s definitely not going to know what’s going on in the minor leagues right away so he needs people who do. Still, I wanted a larger sample than just those 4 GMs. So last night I started looking at various GMs and the Scouting and Farm Directors the organization had at the time they were hired. I looked at about 10 current GMs and 1 recent GM in Patt Gillick. Of all these GMs, the only one who fired one of those directors was Omar Minaya. When Sandy Alderson took over after Minaya was fired, he cleaned house.
I wanted to know more. Thanks to Baseball America’s executives database, I was able to collect all the information I wanted. They have GMs, Scouting Directors and Farm Directors going all the way back to 1950 for each organization. The Farm Director is a position that hasn’t always existed for many clubs, though I do believe that all 30 currently have one. Even in 2008 that wasn’t true. Some organizations had one in the early 90s, got rid of the position and then brought it back 5, 10 or 15 years later. The database was up to date as of 2010.
I’m not too concerned about the information going back to 1950. The game has changed since then so I wanted to look at 1990 through 2010. There were 4 teams currently playing that were not yet in existence in 1990. Since I cut the data off at 1990, I’m ignoring whether or not any of those GMs replaced one from 1989. There are a couple of other important things to note before I post the results.
First, I paid no attention to whether or not these guys were fired, promoted, replaced, resigned or even died. When the Cubs promoted Jim Hendry to GM, there wasn’t any reason to think he’d get rid of the directors and the same is true in other organizations who promote the GM to a President position and an assistant to GM. All new GMs are considered the same as every other one. Second, it’s an almost certainty that some of these guys moved to a different organization for better pay when their current team would have been more than happy to keep them around. I don’t care.
Take Omar Minaya as an example. There was a new Scouting Director in his first year as GM, but the same Farm Director. It’s entirely possible the Scouting Director left for any number of reasons other than being fired. I don’t care. The Rays wanted to keep Tim Wilken, but he left. This is has certainly happened when a new GM has come in, but I don’t care. Basically, I looked to see if there was a new GM, and if there was I then looked to see if there was a new Scouting and/or Farm Director. Simple as that. There were 3 or 4 teams who didn’t have a Scouting Director all 21 years either.
Before we move onto the data, let’s take a look at Oneri Fleita in his current position and how the Cubs farm system has improved, stayed the same or gotten worse during his tenure. After the 2007 season Fleita was promoted to Farm Director. It’s a position the Cubs hadn’t had since 1998. The 2008 season was his first as Farm Director or whatever his official title is. Since 2002, the Cubs farm system ranked 1st, 3rd, 7th, 10th, 15th and then 18th in 2007. In 1994 they ranked 27th (out of 28), which is the lowest ranking Baseball America has ever given the Cubs. Fleita became a scout for the Cubs in 1996. He became the Director of Latin American in 1997. The Cubs didn’t have a footprint in Latin America and thanks to Fleita, they do now. Within a few years the Cubs farm system ranked in the top 5 including 1st overall once.
The Cubs began spending a lot more money on MLB free agents and traded some prospects so it was no surprise to see their minor league system take a fall. Not only did they spend more at the MLB level, they also spent less at the minor league level. Prior to trading for Garza, the Cubs system was ranked 8th overall. It’s also worth noting that we’ve heard a lot of discussion about the Cubs building a new academy in the Dominican Republic. It’s a safe bet that Fleita was the one who sparked that conversation.
Anyway, this isn’t about how good or bad Fleita is. I don’t even know so I can’t pretend as if I do. What we want to know if we’re going to criticize Ricketts for re-signing Fleita (and probably Wilken) is what other organizations have done with those positions when hiring a new GM. In other words, does the new GM immediately hire new Scouting and Farm Directors? Based on the dozen I looked at the answer is obviously now, but there’s a lot more data available than those 12.