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Hoyer labels report of Soler deal ‘bogus’

SAN DIEGO - MARCH 18: Yoennis Cespedes #51 Cubruns third base after hitting incorner outfield againts Japan during 2009 World

SAN DIEGO - MARCH 18: Yoennis Cespedes #51 of Cuba runs to third base after hitting into the corner of the outfield againts Japan during the 2009 World Baseball Classic Round 2 Pool 1 Game 5 on March 18, 2009 at Petco Park in San Diego, California. (Photo by Jeff Bottari/Getty Images)

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Updated: April 23, 2012 11:42AM

MESA, Ariz. — The Cubs have one big-shot Cuban
defector in their minor-league camp, missed on another who signed with the Oakland Athletics and still have hopes of landing the one they’ve coveted the most all winter.

But general manager Jed Hoyer wants to make one thing clear about the last guy, 20-year-old outfielder Jorge Soler:

‘‘The rumors that we have a deal with him are completely bogus,’’ Hoyer said, referring to a report by at least one Chicago outlet in mid-February that suggested the Cubs had a deal done with Soler, pending Major League Baseball declaring him a free agent.

Soler still hasn’t been made a free agent, a process that involves federal authorities in at least two countries as he reportedly tries to
establish residency in the Dominican Republic.

While baseball insiders expect Soler to become a free agent by the July 2 deadline to avoid MLB’s new signing-bonus restrictions, nobody seems to know for sure when it will happen. And making even a handshake agreement with Soler before then would violate MLB rules and federal law.

‘‘I don’t know where that started, but those rumors have no merit,’’ Hoyer said.

That doesn’t mean the Cubs aren’t interested in Soler. In November, sources
told the Sun-Times the Cubs coveted Soler more than they did 26-year-old outfielder Yoenis Cespedes, who eventually turned down a six-year, $36 million offer from the Cubs to sign with the Athletics for four years and the same money.

Along the way, the Cubs also signed the top Cuban pitcher available, 19-year-old Gerardo Concepcion, for $7 million. He just joined the Cubs’ minor-league camp and has started throwing bullpen sessions. He’s not expected to pitch on the big-league side of camp.

NOTES: The Washington Nationals announced 2010 phenom and 2011 Tommy John surgery graduate Stephen Strasburg will start Opening Day against the Cubs on April 5 at Wrigley Field. Who will start opposite Strasburg?

‘‘I told you, you’ll be the first to know,’’ said manager Dale Sveum, who has toyed with fragile media minds for more than two weeks by continually moving back his promised answer to the marginally intriguing choice between Ryan Dempster and Matt Garza.

† Despite Bryan LaHair’s struggles and Anthony Rizzo’s strong showing this spring, Hoyer said the plan remains for LaHair to be the starting first baseman on Opening Day and for Rizzo to start in the minors.

† After closer Carlos Marmol left a spring game Tuesday because of a hand cramp, a precautionary MRI exam showed ‘‘no significant nerve injury,’’ the team said. He will be re-evaluated in the next day or two.

† Lefty Paul Maholm
retired 15 of the 18 batters he faced, allowed one run and struck out seven in a five-inning start in a Class AAA game at Fitch Park.

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