MILWAUKEE – The Cubs seem determined to ramp up their bullpen for this week’s crosstown series – and possibly for a series or two later in the year.
A few hours after the Cubs debut of a six-time All-Star closer, the front office appeared close to adding 105-mph left-hander Aroldis Chapman to their World Series plans for top prospect Gleyber Torres.
Torres, 19, who’s one of the top shortstop prospects in baseball, was pulled from the lineup for advanced-A Myrtle Beach Sunday as talks heated up.
Although it was widely reported through the evening that a Chapman-Torres deal was imminent, two major league sources close to the talks said other teams remained in play for Chapman.
What’s clear is that the preseason favorites to win the World Series were in the driver’s seat to land what’s expected to be the top bullpen arm to be traded this summer as talks continued late.
Chapman, 28, who is signed only through the end of the season, has a 2.01 ERA and converted 20 of 22 save chances for the Yankees. The four-time All-Star also served a 30-game suspension at the beginning of the season under major league baseball’s domestic violence policy.
Torres, who ranks among the top 50 on every major prospect list, is the Cubs’ top-ranked prospect and has been among the youngest players in his league at each minor-league stop since signing as an amateur free agent out of Venezuela for $1.6 million three years ago.
Considered by some the top fielding shortstop in the organization, he’s hitting .275 with nine home runs at Myrtle Beach.
The Cubs have the luxury of depth at that position, with two starting-caliber shortstops under age 24 on the big-league roster in Addison Russell (22) and Javy Baez (23).
News of late-stage talks developed soon after the Cubs came from behind – then held on in the ninth – to beat the rebuilding Brewers 6-5.
Closer Hector Rondon, who has blown four of his last 10 save chances, gave up a home run in the ninth before getting the final out.
Chapman would become the Cubs’ closer, lengthening a Cubs’ lineup of power setup pitchers to include Rondon, Pedro Strop, Justin Grimm and recently acquired Mike Montgomery.
That doesn’t even count six-time All-Star closer Joe Nathan, who made his Cubs debut in a sixth inning that started with butterflies and closed with three consecutive strikeouts, his velocity increasing along the way (to 94 mph).
Nathan, 41, who was activated from the DL before the game after a lengthy rehab from a second Tommy John surgery, blamed “adrenaline through the roof” for the pitch that Jonathan Villar hit for a leadoff triple and the walk that followed.
He then struck out Ryan Braun, Jonathan Lucroy and Chris Carter to finish what turned out to be a significant inning after the Cubs answered with a five-run seventh to take the lead.
“That was just experience,” manager Joe Maddon said.
And that’s exactly what the Cubs are counting on as they take the best record in baseball into a four-game stretch against the Sox, with an eye on making American sports history in October.
Even before the Chapman talks reached the final phase, Nathan talked about whether he could become the equivalent of an impact deadline acquisition.
“Time will tell,” he said. “These guys have obviously done something special the first half of the season and given themselves a great opportunity to make the postseason, and I’m sure [the front office is] checking to see what’s out there.”
It’s why he’s a Cub and didn’t sign somewhere else when he had the chance early in the season.
“At first I thought it was going to be just about getting back in the game and trying to find a spot,” Nathan said, adding that changed when the Cubs got serious. “It went from me trying to get back in the game to, `Man, I could join a club that really has a shot to do something special.’ Really quickly it became, `If there’s a [place] I’d want to win a championship, why not here?’ “