Wieland, Luebke appear to be in mix for starting spots
Hurlers showing signs of emerging from Tommy John rehabs
ORLANDO, Fla. -- The Padres are hopeful that left-hander Cory Luebke and right-hander Joe Wieland will be strong enough to vie for spots in the starting rotation when Spring Training opens this coming February, general manager Josh Byrnes said on Tuesday during the second day of the General Managers Meetings.
Both were top pitching prospects in the organization before undergoing Tommy John surgery in 2012.
"Luebke's been good," Byrnes said. "He's thrown off a mound a couple of times, and he's probably going to come out to San Diego in a week or two and throw to some hitters. Wieland threw in the Arizona Fall League the other night. They both appear to finally be where they need to be in their rehab.
"Now, including the six guys who finished the season in the rotation, we have two more to compete for starting spots. That area has been getting better and deeper for us."
The Padres finished with Ian Kennedy, Andrew Cashner, Tyson Ross, Burch Smith, Eric Stults and Robbie Erlin all starting games. Byrnes added Kennedy in a July 31 non-waiver Trade Deadline deal for left-handed reliever Joe Thatcher, making it less likely that Byrnes will be back in the market this offseason for starting pitching.
Last winter, the Padres stood pat in the market, only re-signing free-agent right-hander Jason Marquis, and their starting staff was considered a bit short as they opened the season 5-15 for the second consecutive year.
This year, Byrnes considers it to be one of his strengths as he begins searching the market to upgrade a team that hasn't made the playoffs since 2006.
"We're pretty deep," Byrnes said. "Our pitching is starting to get there. We need some left-handed help in our bullpen. Maybe we could use a left-handed bat that can play a few positions. That covers us. We're kind of in a mode of where, how can we get better? We're just narrowing our focus to guys who can bring us up a level. We're looking at more depth than impact in certain areas. We have a chance to get better by just being healthier, but we're looking for a piece or two or three."
As far as Luebke is concerned, he was one of the brighter lights to emerge on the Padres' scene in 2010, but his elbow broke down after making five starts early in 2012 and now hasn't pitched in a big league game in nearly two years.
The usual rule of thumb is that it takes a year to 18 months to fully recover from Tommy John surgery, and Luebke now is at the outer limits of that timeframe. That's why Byrnes is hoping Luebke will be ready to compete again before he turns 29 on March 4.
"You know, I've talked to a lot of GMs," Byrnes said. "His surgery was May of 2012. Based on the Tommy John timeline, yeah, he should be ready. Based on how he's recovered, we're not sure. Some guys have taken 20 months. I asked those GMs, 'When did you know?' Suddenly the guy goes out in Spring Training and he's back. Hopefully, that's the case with Cory.
"The past month is the best he's felt. 'Now I feel like myself again,' he told me. This is his 18th month. It's taken that kind of time."
Barry M. Bloom is a national reporter for MLB.com and writes an MLBlog, Boomskie on Baseball. Follow @boomskie on Twitter. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.