Latin Link: Cagey Vazquez a wealthy warrior

The much-traveled Javier Vazquez was more than happy to take a Miami discount to be closer to family in Puerto Rico. (AP photo)

It was hard not to feel sorry for veteran pitcher Javier Vazquez last season. He battled through every start for the New York Yankees en route to a 10-10 record and was given the “Bronx Cheer” almost every time he walked to the mound. Apparently, the fans thought they deserved more from a guy who was making $11.5 million a season.

As a free agent this year, the Puerto Rican right-hander took a Miami discount, settling for a mere $7 million to play one year with the Florida Marlins and manager Edwin Rodriguez.

“I’ve known Javy since he was a teenager,” says the Marlin’s skipper. “He took less money so he could play closer to his family.”

It’s not surprising that Rodriguez does most of the talking. Vazquez is a private person who has always shunned the spotlight. He is a family guy with three beautiful kids, an art collector and a wine connoisseur. Your typical pro jock he is not. Yet, the mild-mannered Vazquez has always been a high-profile pitcher who has made a lot of money. Going into his 14th year in the major leagues, he has compiled a mediocre 153-151 lifetime record. He will be 35 years old in July and no longer lights up the radar gun.

Vazquez, however, has always been a battler, a competitor. He keeps his team in the game. He is also durable, tossing 198 innings or more for 10 consecutive seasons. Always known as a strikeout pitcher, Javy can still throw a 92 mph heater, and his breaking pitches and “cambio” are ridiculous. All totaled, he has 2,385 career strikeouts over 2,666 innings. I’m not a “stat” person, but that’s impressive.

Vazquez broke in with the ill-fated Montreal Expos in 1998 and remained in Canada for six seasons before being traded to the Yankees, his first stint with the team, prior to the 2003 season. He was the principal pawn for New York in a swap with the Arizona Diamondbacks for Randy Johnson in January of 2005. But Vazquez felt uncomfortable out west in the desert and ended up with the Chicago White Sox where, in 2007, compiled a 15-8 record and was eventually awarded a three-year, $34.5 million contract.

But at the end of the following season, Chicago General Manager Kenny Williams got cold feet and moved Vazquez and the lucrative pact to the Atlanta Braves for a package of minor league players. And Javy rewarded then-manager Bobby Cox with a career season in 2009, including a 15-10 record and a 2.87 ERA, finishing fourth in the National League Cy Young voting.

Why the Braves elected to trade Vazquez back to the Yankees prior to the 2010 season, in exchange for Melky Cabrera, remains a mystery. As it worked out, it was a bad exchange for both teams. Javy was miserable in his return to New York, refused arbitration and decided to move on.

Vazquez’ agents, Sam and Seth Levinson, listened to lucrative offers for their client’s services this past winter. Several teams, including the Colorado Rockies, who employ a talented pitching rotation, bid higher than the Marlins. But the fit seemed better in Florida and the contract wasn’t too shabby.

Javy’s oldest daughter, Kamila, has Type 1 diabetes, which prompted Vazquez to found “K’s For Kids” to help cure juvenile patients of the disease. He also  is also active in numerous charities in his native Ponce, Puerto Rico, all designed to assist the lives of medically challenged children. Playing closer to home eases his mind.

“I think I’m making a small difference,” he understates in a rare interview. “I think it stems from my Christian values when I was a kid.

“I’m just thankful that I have the resources to make things happen.”

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