CHICAGO -- The words "breakthrough performance" frequently were attached to Javier Vazquez's stellar effort encompassing his 2007 season. But that description of Vazquez's 15-win, 213-strikeout campaign immediately leads to an important question of baseball perspective. Can a pitcher's season be considered a breakthrough following a decade of success, with Vazquez standing as baseball's only man on the mound to have 10 wins, 30 starts and 150 strikeouts in each of the last eight seasons? This particular inquiry brought a chuckle from the low-key right-hander when asked during weekend SoxFest festivities at the Palmer House Hilton.
"It's funny because I'm coming into my 11th year, but if you ask people, 'Did you know Javier had 10 years in the big leagues?' they would say, 'Wow, really?'" Vazquez said. "I've had good years before, but the last two or three years [before 2007] were pretty inconsistent for me. "I needed to see something like last year just to put it all together." Vazquez, 31, led the 2007 White Sox starters in victories, innings pitched, fewest hits allowed per nine innings and strikeouts during his second season on the South Side of Chicago. Although Vazquez made adjustments within his pitching mechanics, that comfort level of being with the same team for two straight years made the biggest difference with his mound demeanor. Prior to the 2006 and 2007 campaigns, Vazquez had started the previous three years with the Expos, Yankees and D-backs, respectively. Vazquez begins a three-year, $34.5 million extension in 2008, giving him the chance to reach elite status at the front of manager Ozzie Guillen's rotation. The talent certainly remains in place for one of baseball's best-kept secrets. "Ask any starter and thy will say winning 20 games is awesome," said Vazquez, when asked about moving his performance up another notch. "But it's something nowadays that's hard to do. The most important thing is to be consistent. When I'm on the mound, I want the team to know I'm going to throw a quality game and give them a chance to win. "I'm feeling very confident, but I always have been confident in my abilities. My mentality is that I've never been down on myself. I always look forward, and I'm always very positive." Town Hall highlights: Round 2 of the fans' question-and-answer session with general manager Ken Williams and Guillen turned into a near all-out show of support for the 2008 White Sox on Saturday afternoon. The only time a disagreement really popped up came during this humorous interaction between Williams and Guillen concerning Guillen's choice of Andruw Jones over Torii Hunter as the better defensive center fielder. "Who's the best?" asked Williams, hearing Guillen's vote for Jones. "I disagree." "Good for you," countered Guillen, drawing huge laughter from the packed Red Lacquer Room. "See, I'm not afraid to disagree with him." After a brief pause, Williams quipped that the two would continue their discussion of the topic later. A.J. Pierzynski and Paul Konerko sat off to the side and took in their first SoxFest Town Hall Meeting. Just minutes after Konerko sat down, almost on perfect cue, a young fan stepped to the crowd microphone and asked Williams as to what the deal was with all the Konerko trade rumors. "We made a big mistake signing him to that contract, and I've been trying to move him ever since," said Williams with a broad smile, speaking in complete jest of his valuable captain. "But we can't find any takers." Williams quickly explained there was absolutely no validity to the latest Konerko trade rumor involving the Angels, with Williams going as far as to say that he sent a text message at 6 a.m. to Konerko on the day the story ran to express this exact sentiment. Pure speculation: So, how did Konerko handle the rumor mill churning out his name on a couple of occasions during this offseason? He relies on past experience to pay no real attention. "I've been traded twice when I was younger, and that kind of set the tone with me," said Konerko, who was traded by the Dodgers and the Reds. "It just rolls off your back. If you hear your name in rumors, that's usually when it doesn't happen. You can't control it, especially in the offseason. "Just let the chips fall, because you have no control, none. It looks like I'm here, and I guess something could happen before the start of Spring Training, but that's more a question for Kenny." It's a question that was definitively answered on Saturday, if there were any doubts leading up to SoxFest. Take the money and relax: During a two-week period last year, extending from late June to the All-Star break, Mark Buehrle's contractual status with the White Sox seemed to change on a daily basis. "You are going here, getting traded here," said Buehrle of the whirlwind period. "You are signing a 10-year deal. You are going to Japan." The left-handed ace ended up agreeing to a four-year, $56 million deal on July 8, deciding with his wife, Jamie, that it was important to stay in Chicago. Buehrle certainly doesn't miss the turmoil or media attention from outlets stationed even outside Chicago during this peaceful offseason. "No, not at all," Buehrle said. "I'm not a big media guy. I try to stay out of the media and don't say too much to get in trouble. "I was still happy last year because I was playing baseball. But I don't have to deal with contract stuff every day, so it's a lot nicer from that aspect." The X factor: Alexei Ramirez could emerge as the White Sox starting second baseman by the end of March, with the Cuban exile described by Williams as having a build similar to Alfonso Soriano. Ramirez also could find himself starting off in Triple-A Charlotte, according to Williams' comments on Saturday. While Ramirez proved his capabilities by hanging in against frontline pitchers during the World Baseball Classic, Williams believes that Ramirez could need some time to adjust while making the transition from Cuban competition to Major League Baseball. Around the horn: Any leftover thoughts concerning Joe Crede and Josh Fields playing in the same lineup were squelched by Williams. Once again, he made it clear that Fields will either play third base for the White Sox or Charlotte to open 2008. ... Guillen believes Freddy Garcia might not pitch during the upcoming season while rehabbing from August shoulder surgery.
Scott Merkin is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.