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12/06/09 6:04 PM EST

Royals nearing deal for Arguelles

Left-handed teen defected from Cuban national team in '08

INDIANAPOLIS -- Even before the Winter Meetings began, the Royals were involved in some smoke surrounding Cuban fire.

The Royals are believed to be close to finalizing an agreement with highly touted free-agent left-hander Noel Arguelles on a five-year Major League contract worth about $7 million. The rich deal figures to make Arguelles the organization's top pitching prospect.

A defector from Cuba, the 19-year-old Arguelles and shortstop Jose Iglesias left the Cuban national team in June 2008 during a tournament in Canada. Despite a long layoff from game action, the 6-foot-3, 215-pound lefty impressed a group of approximately 100 scouts, executives and agents during a late November workout in the Dominican Republic.

Among them was Royals general manager Dayton Moore, but Moore wouldn't comment Sunday on a report that the Royals had reached an agreement with Arguelles.

"The only thing I can say is it'd be inappropriate for me to talk about any perceived negotiations," Moore said before boarding a plane in Kansas City for the conclave at Indianapolis.

Moore, who was in the Dominican on a family vacation during Thanksgiving week, apparently turned the visit into a working trip. He visited the Royals Dominican Academy and also had a look at Arguelles.

"We scouted the player very similar to the way that many other teams scouted him -- in workouts and simulated games," Moore said.

The A's, Red Sox, Rays, Yankees and Mariners also were believed to be interested in Arguelles, who likely would be fast-tracked to the Majors after starting next season in the low Minors, probably Class A.

Reports from the workouts indicated that Arguelles was throwing his fastball in the 89-to-93 mph range, a touch below the 94 he reached in his national team days. Control of his fastball could be a concern but his command of his changeup and curveball was good.

If an agreement is reached on a Major League contract, the Royals would have to clear room on their 40-man roster as they did when they signed their top pick in the 2009 First-Year Player Draft, Aaron Crow, last September. Crow has a three-year contract worth $3 million plus incentives.

The Arguelles deal is believed to be for an amount just under $7 million but with incentives that could take it above that level, all spread over five years.

It could take weeks before any deal is finalized because Arguelles would have to receive the necessary travel documentation, a work permit and a physical examination in the United States. With several hurdles to be cleared, there seems to be little hope for a quick resolution, at least before the Winter Meetings end on Thursday.

The Royals are going into these Meetings searching for left-handed pitching and, with this report, they might have already connected although the pitcher's arrival in the Majors could be years away.

Such a large expenditure would emphasize the Royals' commitment to build up their prospect pool in the Minor Leagues. It also might serve to temper any signings from the Major League free-agent class. Moore already has said the Royals would concentrate on trades rather than the pursuit of free agents this offseason.

Iglesias, Arguelles' former teammate, signed a four-year, $8.25 million deal with the Red Sox in September. Cuban left-hander Aroldis Chapman, who defected in July and is said to be looking for a deal in excess of $15 million, remains unsigned despite interest from several clubs.

Dick Kaegel is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.