Cubs' myriad of changes impacting Smokies

By Adam Greene / Knoxville News Sentinel | August 11, 2012 6:00 PM ET

SEVIERVILLE - As of Saturday morning, the Tennessee Smokies were six games back in the Southern League North standings. Meanwhile, their parent club, the Chicago Cubs, were 23 games behind the NL Central-leading Cincinnati Reds.

The Cubs are 1-9 in their last 10 games and the Smokies just ended a five-game losing streak Wednesday. It's safe to say these aren't the seasons that Cubs owner Tom Ricketts expected either team to have.

"Every year you go into it thinking you've put a good team on the field," Ricketts said Wednesday during a visit to Smokies Park. "I thought we did that this year. We knew this might be a transitional year and it's worked out that way. The good thing is we've got a lot of good guys coming up. There's a lot to build on for next year."

Part of that building process happened two weeks ago when the Cubs made multiple moves before the trade deadline. Chicago sent starter Ryan Dempster and catcher Geovany Soto to Texas in separate deals and acquired three prospects. They also traded starter Paul Mohlolm and outfielder Reed Johnson to Atlanta for two prospects.

One of those prospects, right-hander Jake Brigham, has made two starts for Tennessee, though he was put on the disabled list Thursday.

Ricketts said getting the prospects was the goal of the moves and dumping veteran salaries wasn't a consideration.

"Those are (President of Baseball Operations) Theo (Epstein's) decisions," Ricketts said. "My job is to support him and his guys. I think they're doing smart things that are building a better future for us. We had a pretty good trade deadline. I'm looking forward to seeing the new players we brought into the organization."

Wednesday was Ricketts fourth trip to Smokies Park since his family bought the Cubs in 2009. Though Ricketts stays clear of Epstein and Cubs general manager Jed Hoyer in running the team, he knew there were a lot of changes that would need to be made.

"When you looked at the opening-day lineup when we bought the team, we knew most of those guys would have to move on," Ricketts said. "We had a veteran team. We knew we'd have to replace a lot of those players to build for the future and we're in the process right now."

The Smokies have been a perennial postseason team since joining the Cubs, only missing the Southern League North Divisional Series once in 2008. This season, with 21 games to go, Tennessee has an uphill battle if it wants to continue that streak.

"You always prefer wins," Ricketts said. "You want to develop players that know what to do to win games, not just compete in games. Ultimately, though, the goal is to get these guys ready for the major leagues."

The Smokies have done that, with eight players promoted to Class AAA Iowa this season. The Cubs' 25-man roster has 11 former Smokies Park regulars, including five - Brett Jackson, Josh Vitters, Steve Clevenger, Brooks Raley and Alberto Cabrera - that have made appearances for Tennessee in 2011 or 2012. With the four new prospects moving through the system, that number should only increase.

Adam Greene is a freelance contributor.

This story was not subject to the approval of the National Association of Professional Baseball Leagues or its clubs.

View More