D.C. GM Mike Rizzo was reportedly in Puerto Rico earlier this week to see Javier Vazquez pitch for the Criollos de Cagua in the Liga de Beisbol Profesional Roberto Clemente where the 36-year-old veteran of 14 major league seasons is testing the waters for a potential return to the majors a year after the one-time Montreal Expos' starter decided to call it a career. Vazquez pitched for the then-Florida Marlins in 2011, putting up a 3.69 ERA and a 3.57 FIP in 32 starts and 192.2 IP in which he walked 50 (2.34 BB/9) and struck out 162 (7.57 K/9).
Thus far in Puerto Rico, Vazquez is (1-3) in five starts with a 3.52 ERA, six walks (2.35 BB/9) and 30 Ks (11.74 K/9) in 23.0 innings. Washington Post writer Adam Kilgore reported earlier this week on the Nationals' interest in Vazquez should he decide to return to the majors, quoting an unnamed team official who suggested Washington might offer the starter a minor league deal with a clause that allows him to opt out should the right-hander fail to make the major league roster.
Mr. Kilgore's colleague at the Post, James Wagner, wrote Friday night that Vazquez's GM in Puerto Rico, former major leaguer Alex Cora, "... said he sat near the scouts and noticed that Vazquez consistently hit 94 mph on his fastball," with Rizzo and special assistant to the GM Derick Ladnier in attendance. Rizzo told El Nuevo Dia reporter Luis Santiago Arce, as quoted on Twitter, that Vazquez, "... looked great,'" and was, "'in very good shape.'" In spite of the fact that the Nationals' rotation is set barring any injuries or unexpected circumstances this Spring, Cora told the WaPost's Mr. Wagner that in his opinion, "...they’re obviously interested," in Vazquez.
When reports of a potential agreement surfaced Friday night, one of Mr. Arce's colleagues at El Nuevo Daily, Ruben Rodriguez wrote on Twitter that he had spoken to Vazquez, who told him (as roughly translated by Google Translate) that any reports of a deal with Washington were "completely false" since the pitcher had yet to even begin negotiations with any major league teams. MLB Network Radio host and ESPN writer Jim Bowden reported earlier this week that the Nationals were one of about 15 teams to express interest in Vazquez if he decides to return.
USA Today writer Bob Nightengale reported on Twitter tonight (@BNightengale) that scouts who have seen Vazquez pitch in Puerto Rico have come away impressed:
Scouts are raving about Javier Vazquez, who is throwing 92-95 mph in Puerto Rico. He will pitch in the WBC. The #Nats showing heavy interest— Bob Nightengale (@BNightengale) January 12, 2013
How much more seriously the reports should be taken now that the adjective "heavy" has been added to reports of the Nationals' interest is unclear, and there's still no word from Vazquez that he is definitely set on returning to the majors. The pitcher is expected to take the mound for his home country in the upcoming World Baseball Classic and then make a decision on whether or not he'll try to come back to MLB.
Rizzo, in a press conference announcing the team's signing of veteran starter Dan Haren earlier this winter, confirmed that the Nationals were still in the market for pitching, with depth in the organization a concern after recent deals in which the Nats traded away some of their top prospects. "We feel really good about our five starters in the rotation," Rizzo told reporters, "We feel that we have options below that. I think what I've always said [is] we're never satisfied with what we have. If we can do better, we'll certainly attempt to do better and I'm always after depth."
Will Vazquez sign with a team that already has five starters at the major league level who are expected to be a part of the rotation on Opening Day? That remains to be seen...