Expecting one of their top young arms to return and help an unheralded starting rotation, the San Diego Padres and Cory Luebke were dealt a major blow on Tuesday when the left-hander was ruled out for the 2014 season. An MRI revealed a tear in the ulnar collateral ligament in Luebke’s left elbow, according to MLB.com’s Corey Brock. Tommy John Surgery appears likely.
Luebke missed the entire 2013 season while recovering from the same procedure. The first operation took place in May 2012 and he’s been sidelined since.
By undergoing the second procedure sooner rather than later, the Padres can hope that he’ll be ready to return this time next year.
Now 28, the Padres had high expectations for Luebke. 2011 was his first full season in the Major Leagues, though he split the year between the bullpen and rotation. Overall his numbers were still impressive: 3.29 ERA, 1.067 WHIP, 9.9 K/9, 2.8 BB/9 in 139.2 IP. He’d continue to impress the next Spring, earning a spot in the starting rotation. He’d make five starts, pitching 31.0 innings with a 2.61 ERA and 1.161 WHIP, going 3-1 in the process.
That Spring, as Brock notes, was when the team signed Luebke to a three year, $12 Million deal to buyout his arbitration years. There are also a pair of team options that would look like absolute bargains in the current pitching market if Luebke had been able to remain healthy. He’s still got $10 Million (including the buyout of the first option) owed to him over the next two years.
There are examples of pitchers who’ve recovered from undergoing Tommy John Surgery more than once. They are, of course, fewer and farer between. Perhaps it’s fortunate that this was caught now, rather than even a few weeks into Spring Training. San Diego is expected to rely mainly on internal options to replace Luebke in the starting rotation. There are options on the free agent market, but it’s unclear whether or not the team has any payroll space they are willing to spend to bring in one of those arms on what would likely only be a one year deal.