Zinicola's Toronto tenure comes to end
Rule 5 Draft pick heads back to Nats; Fien released
DUNEDIN, Fla. -- Zech Zinicola's locker was emptied out and his Blue Jays' equipment bag was stuffed with his belongings on Thursday morning. The pitcher looked up and then removed his nameplate off his locker, tossed it inside and zipped up the bag before leaving the clubhouse at Dunedin Stadium.
"Mom will like having that," Zinicola said with a smile.
Earlier in the morning, Zinicola learned that he was being sent back to the Nationals, ending his brief tour with the Blue Jays, who selected him in December's Rule 5 Draft. When it became clear that Zinicola was not going to be a realistic option for Toronto's Opening Day bullpen, the club was forced to offer him back to Washington.
Blue Jays general manager Alex Anthopoulos said he attempted to swing a trade with the Nationals in order to keep Zinicola in Toronto's system, but Washington declined. As a result, the Nationals sent $25,000 to the Blue Jays -- half the cost of selecting Zinicola in December -- and decided to bring the right-hander back to Viera, Fla.
"They wanted to have him back," Anthopoulos said. "I told Zech that's a good thing for him. They wanted him back. Hopefully he's going to get an opportunity there and they like him. From a selfish standpoint, we would've loved to have kept him. But we still care about the person and Zech was first-class when he was here."
In two Grapefruit League appearances for the Blue Jays, the 25-year-old Zinicola allowed one run on three hits over 2 1/3 innings. Toronto has a crowded field of contenders for four vacancies in the bullpen, and Anthopoulos said Zinicola was simply behind the rest of the pack. Also on Thursday, Toronto reassigned pitchers Zach Jackson and Lance Broadway to Minor League camp and released right-hander Casey Fien.
"I thought I had a good shot," Zinicola said. "But I can hold my head up high and go back and take what I've learned here, and hopefully go back and do well with the Nationals."
2010 Spring Training - Major League Baseball
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As things currently stand, veterans Scott Downs, Jason Frasor and Kevin Gregg -- three closing candidates -- are the only locks to earn roles in the bullpen for the Jays. That leaves four spots up for grabs for Jeremy Accardo, Shawn Camp, Jesse Carlson, Casey Janssen, Josh Roenicke, David Purcey, Merkin Valdez and Dana Eveland, among others.
Within that group, Valdez, Camp and Eveland are all out of options, meaning they would need to clear waivers if Toronto decided to send them to the Minor Leagues to open the year. Camp is a favorite to win a spot in the bullpen, and Valdez and Eveland have both impressed Toronto this spring. Anthopoulos noted the fact that they have no options remaining will play a role in the Jays' decision at the end of spring.
"All these guys are in the mix," Anthopoulos said. "We don't know how it's going to line up one way or the other. I think one thing we've been very consistent with -- whether it's talking to the players or talking internally in meetings -- is you're trying to balance two things. You want the best team that you can to break camp, but at the same time, what will take priority over that is the best team over a six-month season -- a 162-game season.
"So part of this is controlling as many players as you can and trying to keep your depth. They understand that guys that don't have options tend to get the benefit of the doubt a little bit more or tend to stick around a little bit longer, because we don't want to take the chance that we might lose some of those players. Sometimes you make the decision that you can't carry him, like a guy like Zinicola, for example.
"We like the arm, but just with the guys we have, they're just much further along than him right now, so we had to make a decision."
Zinicola, who split last season between Double-A Harrisburg and Triple-A Syracuse in Washington's system, said he was "bummed" to be leaving the Blue Jays. He added that he appreciated the opportunity that Toronto gave him this spring, though. Zinicola said being in big league camp gave him a chance to learn from more veteran players.
Beyond that, it helped Zinicola believe he could reach the Major Leagues soon.
"When you're in the Minor Leagues for a couple years," Zinicola said, "the big leagues and big league camp seem so far away sometimes. Being here on a day-to-day basis, and just seeing everything up close and personal ... I definitely can't replace that with anything."
Jordan Bastian is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.