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US govt. clears Cuban flamethrower Lopez to sign

Cuban right-handed pitching prospect Yoan Lopez has been cleared by the United States government, and he is expected to sign with a Major League team before the start of Spring Training, according to industry an source.

The D-backs, Dodgers, Padres and Yankees are among the teams to express strong interest in the 21-year-old starter, although other clubs could be in the mix now that the pitcher can officially sign a contract.

Lopez throws a cut fastball, a changeup, a curveball and a slider, but he is best known for a fastball that has reached 100 mph and usually hovers in the 93-95 mph range. In Cuba, he played three seasons for Isla de la Juventud in Serie Nacional, the island's top league. Lopez sported a 3.12 ERA with 28 strikeouts and 11 walks in 49 innings in his final season before defecting.

It's already been quite a journey for Lopez. He established residency in Haiti and was declared a free agent by Major League Baseball late last year. Lopez was cleared by the Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) of the United States Department of the Treasury this week.

Lopez held a showcase for all teams in November, and he participated in private workouts in the weeks that followed. He has been working out in the Dominican Republic.

Because he is under 23 and did not play in a Cuban professional league for at least five seasons, Lopez is subject to the international signing guidelines. In accordance with the Collective Bargaining Agreement, each team is allotted a $700,000 base and a bonus pool based on the team's record in 2013 for the international signing period, which started on July 2.

It's uncertain how much money Lopez will command now that he is eligible to sign. What is certain is the Yankees, Rays, Red Sox and Angels have spent more than 15 percent of their allotted bonus pools and are in the maximum penalty range for the 2014-15 signing period. The penalty includes a 100 percent tax on their pool overage and prohibits them from signing any pool-eligible player for more than $300,000 during the next two signing periods.

The Angels were thrust into the maximum penalty on Tuesday after signing Cuban infielder Roberto Baldoquin for $8 million.

Jesse Sanchez is a national reporter for Follow him on Twitter @JesseSanchezMLB.