Any doubts about Theo Epstein being fully empowered were put to rest Wednesday. That's if there were any doubts to begin with.
The new Cubs president of baseball operations fired longtime minor-league and player-development guru Oneri Fleita, a fixture in the organization since 1995 and seemingly a favorite of team owner Tom Ricketts.
Contact information ( * required )
Just last September, Ricketts gave Fleita a four-year contract extension, more than a month before Epstein came aboard.
But Epstein and his new management team came in with a clear mandate for change, and Epstein is following through on that mandate.
Shortly after he was hired, Epstein brought in Jed Hoyer as general manager and Jason McLeod as senior vice president of scouting and player development. Fleita's most recent title had been vice president of player personnel, reporting to McLeod.
Last week, the Cubs hired Jaron Madison from the San Diego Padres to be director of amateur scouting and promoted holdover Tim Wilken to special assistant to Epstein and Hoyer.
In the new structure, Fleita seemed to be the odd man out.
"It's been a really, really difficult day for everyone involved," Epstein said. "First I just want to thank Oneri. He was a tremendous contributor to the Cubs for a long, long time and helped get the organization to the point where it's at now. He certainly deserves everyone's thanks and will be an asset to whatever organization he joins next.
"We've taken the last 10 months to really evaluate the organization. With the personnel, I think it's my responsibility to determine the structure that's going to put the Cubs in the best position going forward. Ultimately, we reached the conclusion that there would be a change in personnel atop player development."
Although there had been talk internally of keeping Fleita in another role, Epstein determined that might have been unwieldy and potentially awkward.
"When I talked to Oneri about it, he actually saw it the same way," Epstein said. "He couldn't have been more professional in how he handled things. I think he genuinely cares more about the Cubs, more about some of the people who work for him, than he cares about himself sometimes. He was really impressive with how he handled it."
The Cubs will begin their search immediately for a successor. Epstein said there are internal candidates as well as at least one external candidate.
Fleita joined the Cubs in 1995 as manager of their Class A Williamsport club and their extended-spring-training team. He has been a longtime associate of former Cubs GM Jim Hendry, who was fired a year ago.
Fleita moved up in the ranks to become coordinator of the organization's Latin American operations and director of player development, overseeing the minor leagues. His scouts in Latin America discovered starting shortstop Starlin Castro, a two-time all-star.
He expressed no bitterness at the move.
"I had a nice run," he said by telephone. "I've been very fortunate. I've been a lucky guy. I'm very proud of everything we did, and I've worked with some great people."
Other changes became apparent Wednesday. Chuck Wasserstrom, a longtime Cubs employee, was let go. His position of manager of baseball operations was eliminated. Ari Kaplan, manager of statistical analysis, was reassigned to a consultant's role.
Even though change is inevitable as new leadership comes aboard, Epstein said this was not a case of bringing in "his guys" while letting go of a past administration's people.
Not only did he cite Wilken, but also assistant GM Randy Bush, whom he said is in "good standing," along with several others from the past regime.
"I know that's always out there, and it's easy to see it that way," Epstein said of sweeping out the old. "There have been a lot of folks empowered here, too, from Randy Bush to Tim Wilken.
"If we were to apply any type of lens like that, we would be doing a disservice. There's a lot of work here. There's a lot of great people who have been contributing in the past and are going to continue going forward. And some people will be moving on. Hopefully, it proves to be best for the Cubs and best for them."