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Yoenis Cespedes was very close to being a Cub

Yoenis Cespedes

Yoenis Cespedes

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Updated: April 19, 2012 8:44AM



PHOENIX — Cuban superstar Yoenis Cespedes said he was willing to sign with the Cubs and had reason to believe this winter that he might wind up in Chicago.

The bottom line, Cespedes told the Sun-Times on Saturday, was that the Cubs offered six years for the same $36 million that the Oakland Athletics offered for four years.

In addition to the significant difference in annual salary, the center fielder told his agent he didn’t want a six-year deal from anybody. If not four, he wanted eight or more.

The A’s agreed to allow him to become a free agent at the end of his contract, when he’ll be 30, instead of binding him to the arbitration process.

Would he have signed with the Cubs if they offered the same deal as the A’s?

‘‘If they make the deal before Oakland, probably,’’ he said through team translator Ariel Prieto, the former major-league pitcher who also defected from Cuba. ‘‘You never know.’’

One thing’s for sure: Nobody got closer to Cespedes during the winter. Cubs officials from the upper front office all the way through the scouting department spent time with him at games and away from the field.

‘‘A lot of time,’’ he said. ‘‘They had dinner with me three or four times.’’

Besides the big commitment for an unknown commodity who already was in his mid-20s, the Cubs didn’t push as hard for Cespedes as other teams. They’ve had their sights set on 20-year-old outfielder Jorge Soler, another Cuban defector who has yet to be declared eligible to sign.

Cespedes said he knows Soler and is aware of the Cubs’ interest, but he hasn’t talked to Soler about the outfielder’s interest in the Cubs.

In his first look at Cubs pitching, Cespedes went 0-for-4 on Saturday with two strikeouts and a line out to center.

Starter Paul Maholm’s impressions:

‘‘I struck him out and blew up his bat [on a grounder], so …’’ the left-hander said. ‘‘Obviously, he’s got all the tools in the world. I’m sure he’s going to make adjustments. From everything you hear, he’s a hard worker. He’s just got to get acclimated to being over here.’’

Maholm ‘stronger’

Maholm spent the last six weeks of last season on the disabled list because of a strained shoulder. Then it took more than a week into the schedule to get him into a game this spring after a bout with the flu.

But the projected No. 3 starter said Saturday he hasn’t had so much as a twinge in the shoulder.

‘‘I did what I was supposed to do in the offseason. I rested, rehabbed,’’ he said after throwing three innings without allowing an earned run against the A’s. ‘‘Ever since I started throwing, it’s felt great. It feels normal. The strain wasn’t a serious thing.

‘‘My shoulder feels a little bit stronger. I’m still not going to blow up the radar gun, but to me it feels good.’’



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