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Vazquez agrees to three-year extension

Vazquez gets three-year extension

TUCSON, Ariz. -- For the first time since the 2002 and 2003 seasons, Javier Vazquez started consecutive springs with the same team.

After agreeing to a three-year, $34.5 million contract extension with the White Sox on Tuesday afternoon, barring a trade, Vazquez now knows his baseball home will be in Chicago at least through the 2010 season. The affable right-hander will receive a salary of $12.5 million in 2007, as called for in the final year of his four-year deal with the Yankees signed in 2004, and the extension will pay him $11.50 million over the ensuing three years.

It's a comfort zone that Vazquez believes will help him reach his full potential as a starting pitcher with probably the best stuff in the White Sox rotation. It's also a new deal that will heap a little extra pressure on the veteran entering his 10th season in the Majors.

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"Hopefully, Javy [will] come out of his shell and throw the ball the way we think he can help this ballclub," said manager Ozzie Guillen. "The White Sox have the confidence in him and we expect a lot from him now. We spend a little more, and I think this kid has the stuff to have a great year coming up and hopefully he'll do it."

"This is really important," added Vazquez of being with the same team for possibly five straight seasons, after moving from Montreal to the Yankees to Arizona in consecutive years. "Not only in just one place, but in a good place. Last year, even though things didn't go as planned, I had a lot of fun in Chicago. Hopefully, I'll have more fun from this year on."

Talk of the extension began with Vazquez's representatives approaching the White Sox last week about staying in Chicago long term. When they contacted Vazquez, he gave the go-ahead to work out a new deal. White Sox general manager Ken Williams said Tuesday terms were agreed upon very quickly.

Protection for Vazquez exists with a no-trade clause to teams in the National League West and American League West because of those respective franchises' distance from his home in Puerto Rico. Vazquez explained how his little girl has juvenile diabetes and likes to go to Puerto Rico to get checked out, even though they have found good doctors in Chicago.

That long-distance relationship pushed Vazquez into requesting a trade from Arizona after the 2005 campaign, landing him in Chicago in exchange for Orlando Hernandez, Luis Vizcaino and Chris Young. Vazquez's fourth Major League team quickly felt like home.

"I'm surprised it went really quickly and there weren't any hold-ups or anything," said Vazquez, after allowing four runs on six hits over three innings against Colorado Tuesday, while striking out three.

"Javy expressed a desire to stay here," Williams added. "He made a commitment to pitch in Chicago and try to win."

Even with the excitement from both sides over the deal, reverberations should be heard loud and clear around the White Sox clubhouse. Vazquez has a 100-105 career record with a 4.34 ERA and 1,602 strikeouts over 290 games, including an 11-12 mark, 4.84 ERA and a team-high 184 strikeouts in 202 2/3 innings during his first season in Chicago. His presence gives the White Sox three veteran hurlers locked up through 2008, including Jon Garland and Jose Contreras, with Vazquez and Contreras signed through 2009.

But where does this Vazquez deal leave Mark Buehrle, arguably one of the most valuable players on the White Sox roster? Despite having a below-.500 record for his career, the arbitration-eligible Vazquez most likely would have earned more in 2007 by going through the process. If Vazquez pushes himself to elite status among familiar environs in 2007 and 2008, as the White Sox believe, he almost was certain to get more years and probably more money with the exploding value of pitching in the current market.

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Clearly, Vazquez picked the White Sox over greater financial gain, and now all eyes will be focused on whether Buehrle will do the same. The southpaw with a 97-66 career record seemed perfectly willing to play through the 2007 season and then explore the available options, a point reinforced when he confirmed turning down a reported three-year, $34 million deal with an option midway through the 2006 campaign.

As soon as all the Is were dotted and Ts were crossed on Vazquez's deal, Williams sat down and explained the situation to Buehrle on Tuesday. Williams said the conversation went well and the overture was appreciated by Buehrle, who had vacated the Kino Sports Complex by the time the deal was announced, but preferred to keep quiet the bulk of the talk.

If a multi-year deal is to be struck with Buehrle, it would have to take place before the end of Spring Training. The talks also would have to be initiated by Buehrle's side, as Williams explained, a move that started the Vazquez deal in motion.

"We made it clear to the entire camp that if someone brought to us a proposal that made sense in the short term and the long term, we would engage in conversation," Williams said. "The position hasn't changed. That's with all of them."

"I love Buehrle, and I don't have to come here and say to the media how much I love Buehrle," Guillen added. "He knows personally how much I feel for him. He's been great for my clubhouse. He's great for the city. I have a ring because of him and a couple guys here who are going to be free agents. I think Kenny will take care of that. If not, you can't do nothing about it. That's one thing I hate about baseball, when you get rid of guys you love."

Much like Guillen, Vazquez expressed his respect for Buehrle, calling him "one [heckuva] pitcher," and hoped something could be worked out by both sides. Vazquez also understands a thought process that worked perfectly for him might not play out the same with Buehrle or other potential free agents such as Jermaine Dye and Tadahito Iguchi.

"It's something that's going to be individual," Vazquez said. "After my last contract that I signed with the Yankees, getting traded all the time, it really took a toll on me and my family.

"That was really disappointing for me in all these years and I'm fortunate and blessed and thank God that I had security with that contract with the Yankees. Having this contract, I'm just thrilled I'll be able to stay here and hopefully, for many years."

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

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