Back in the big leagues! Lessons to be learned in Conley story

Back in the big leagues! Lessons to be learned in Conley story


By Joe Frisaro @ManOn2nd

The reemergence of Adam Conley in the big leagues is an interesting story.

The 31-year-old left-hander, formerly with the Miami Marlins, is once again in the big leagues. This time with the first-place Tampa Bay Rays, who continue to find value in other club’s castoffs.

Courtesy of a tweet I made yesterday, reminding critics not to give up too quickly on players, we see just how much emotion the mere mention of Conley is to Marlins’ fans. The pushback I received basically was, Conley had his chances, and it was the right call to cut ties.

My contention, and main point, remains the same. First, players with above average talent, receive a longer leash. Secondly, you look to trade someone that isn’t either getting it, or buying in. Thirdly, you seek to trade the player, before casting off for nothing.

Signed as a Minor League free agent with the Rays on May 3, the hard-throwing lefty was promoted by Tampa Bay over the weekend, due to a rash of bullpen injuries.

In his Tampa Bay debut on Sunday, Conley was lights out. In two scoreless innings of relief, he issued one walk with four strikeouts. His four-seam fastball maxed at 98.1 mph, and averaged, 96.3 mph. That velocity readings alone should get your attention.

That in the fact, it’s the Rays, who are in first place, who are rolling the dice on Conley. He isn’t part of a club playing out the season that is desperate for any relief help.

The Conley conversation is a good one, and he brings up a topic that is worthy of being addressed. When should an organization cut ties with a player, and receive nothing in return?

The answer should be, as infrequently as possible.

Because, that’s exactly what Conley has become. The Marlins drafted Conley in the second round in 2011, and in 2015-17, he was mostly part of the rotation. In ’16, he went 8-6 with a 3.85 ERA in 25 starts and 133 1/3 innings. A year later, his struggles as a starter began. The lefty went 8-8 with a 6.14 ERA in 22 games, with 20 starts.

In 2018-19, Miami switched Conley to the bullpen, and he combined for a 5.42 ERA in 112 games. Frankly, he wasn’t very effective.

Still, the Marlins signed Conley, who was arbitration-eligible, for $1.525 million for the 2020 season. Even with his shaky two seasons out of the ‘pen, as an organization, Miami opted to sign Conley. That offseason, they clearly could have looked to trade him. Even in Spring Training, they could have sought to move him. I was there, and several scouts from other clubs, asked me questions about Conley.

This was before the shutdown due to the pandemic. When the 2020 season got underway, Conley made the Opening Day roster, but he didn’t pitch in a big league game. A few days into the season, he was part of the long-list of Miami players who went on the IL due to COVID-19.

The Marlins became a surprise team in 2020, making the playoffs in the 60-game shortened season. Conley was designated for assignment on Aug. 30, and never threw a pitch in the big leagues in 2020.

Initially, Conley planed to pitch in Japan in 2021. He signed with the Tohoku Rakuten Golden Eagles, but opted out became of COVID concerns.

Adam Conley’s Statcast readings from Sunday

The fact that Conley is back in the big leagues, pitching in meaningful games for a first-place team, is a credit to him. It also shows how the Rays find a way to get out of players what other club’s couldn’t.

From a South Florida media, and fan perspective, it’s completely fair to ask why couldn’t it work out for Conley in South Florida? Some say, he was simply terrible. Actually, from 2015-17, he wasn’t. So that claim is based more on emotion than fact.

Fans are allowed to be emotional. That’s why they’re fans.

As a member of the media, I have no problem raising the question, asking why.

Is Conley going to follow the path of Brad Hand and Andrew Miller as ex-Marlins’ lefties who didn’t cut it as starters, but go elsewhere and become quality relievers? This is completely fair to question, because on Sunday, Conley’s fastball touched 98 mph.

Now, whether it is two innings, two days, two weeks or the last two months, Conley already proved he can make it back. Yes, the Rays have a ton of injuries, and they use their ‘pen as much, if not more, than any other club. So, they shuffle through relievers. And yes, there’s no guarantee Conley will be with the big league club very long.

Still, that doesn’t change the fact, the Marlins got nothing for him. So explain to me how this is a desired outcome for Miami in any way?

Even with Conley performing at Triple-A in the Rays’ system, he’s added value to their organization. He’s depth with big league experience. In 31 innings at Durham, he posted 34 strikeouts. His ERA was 4.35, inflated by two appearances in July where he combined to yield seven runs. Otherwise, overall, he was pretty good there.

Adam Conley stood out in his first appearance with Rays

Why I bring this topic up is because there are current players on the Marlins’ roster who fans have called for to simply be cast off. Again, for nothing. Cut your losses, is their argument.

Lewis Brinson has been their primary target.

Well, Brinson has been one of Miami’s hottest hitters lately, and at last showing signs of what people expected when he was acquired in the Christian Yelich deal.

Because of an opportunity, mainly Starling Marte being traded, opened the door for Brinson to make his case that he can be a productive big leaguer.

Yes, and I know, every team has their Adam Conley stories. And, yes, the Marlins have their own success stories on reclamation projects. Zach Thompson has been a pleasant surprise. Anthony Bender came out of nowhere and may be the closer in 2022.

This happens everywhere.

Still, the bottom line with Conley is, if all these red flags were up, months and even years before, then why keep him at the start of 2020? Why sign him for $1.525 million to avoid arbitration? If his fate was so obvious, then find a way to move him, for something. Anything.


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