The Padres announced earlier today that they’ve declined their $7.5MM option on left-hander Cory Luebke in favor of a $1.75MM buyout. The news comes as no surprise, as Luebke hasn’t pitched since the 2012 season due to a pair of Tommy John surgeries that have derailed his once promising career. As Dennis Lin of the San Diego Union-Tribune notes, Luebke’s most recent Tommy John comeback was halted when a flexor strain slowed him in Triple-A, and he eventually had surgery to remove loose bodies from his left elbow.
Luebke, though, has five-plus years of Major League service time and is therefore still under team control via arbitration. However, he’d have to make at least 80 percent of the $5.25MM that he earned in 2015, making it highly unlikely that the club would retain him via that process. It’s possible that Luebke could be passed through outright waivers, at which point his service time would afford him the right to elect free agency. San Diego could then work out a new minor league deal after that fact.
The Padres have interest in keeping Luebke around, it would seem, as MLB.com’s Corey Brock quotes GM A.J. Preller: “I think we’re going to talk to him about it and get his sense for it. As I explained to him, talking about our club and our needs, any left-handed pitching we’re going to be on the look for.” Luebke wasn’t surprised by the decision, he told Brock and Lin in their respective pieces, but the 30-year-old still hopes to return to the Padres for his age-31 season. “I still have a chance to do something special,” Luebke told Brock. “…I still believe there’s going to be a happy ending with all of this.”
Suffice it to say, this isn’t how the Padres expected Luebke’s four-year, $12MM contract to play out when they locked him up after a strong rookie season in 2011. Luebke logged a 3.29 ERA with 9.9 K/9 against 2.8 BB/9 in 139 2/3 innings that season, and the modest $12MM guarantee on his four-year pact would’ve bought out a pair of pre-arb seasons as well as his first two arbitration years while giving San Diego control of his final arb year at $7.5MM and his first free agent year at $10MM. Had Luebke remained healthy for even a couple of years, he likely could’ve delivered more than $12MM worth of value, but he’s pitched just 31 Major League innings since signing at the end of Spring Training 2012. While the deal seemed club-friendly at the time, it serves as a reminder that even contracts that look to favor the team on the surface can ultimately result in misses.