Spared in the Juan Soto trade, Clarke Schmidt ‘thankful’ to be thriving with Yankees

SAN DIEGO — Clarke Schmidt figured he’d pitch at Petco Park this season. He just didn’t think he’d do so in a Yankees uniform.

Instead, he expected a trade to San Diego over the offseason, as he knew the Bombers wanted Juan Soto from the pitching-needy Padres. Schmidt had heard things — not just rumors, he specified — and so the right-hander braced himself for a westward move that never happened.

“I thought I was definitely gonna be probably involved in that, for sure,” Schmidt told the Daily News before giving up one earned run over five innings in the Yankees’ 5-2, series-ending loss to the Padres on Sunday.

Instead of trading Schmidt for Soto and Trent Grisham last December, the Yankees parted with pitchers Michael King, Drew Thorpe, Jhony Brito and Randy Vásquez, as well as catcher Kyle Higashioka. King served as the centerpiece after an eye-opening transition from the bullpen to the rotation at the end of last season.

Yankees senior advisor Omar Minaya, heavily involved in the Soto trade due his longstanding relationship with Padres GM A.J. Preller, told The News that King “had to be in it.” He also said that the Yankees didn’t consider trading King and Schmidt, who logged his first year as a full-time starter in 2023.

Still, the two friends spent the first few months of the offseason wondering which would be included in the trade. King and Schmidt attended a few of the same weddings. There, the conversations mimicked the speculation that could be heard across the baseball world.

“We basically kept saying, ‘It’s going to be one of us,’” King told The News. “We were thinking there was a chance it could be both, but we kept saying it’s going to be one of us.

“Every rumor that went out had one of our names in it. There was never one that didn’t have either of our names in it. So we were expecting it.”

After the trade finally happened late at night on Dec. 6, King and Schmidt wished each other good luck. The two still check in with one another, and they keep tabs on how the other performs.

“I’m always rooting for him,” Schmidt said.

His numbers a tad inflated by a few bad starts, King has a 4.28 ERA over his first 61 innings with the Padres.

Meanwhile, Schmidt has taken off in his second year of starting at the big league level, recording a 2.52 ERA over 11 starts and 60.2 innings. Before Sunday, Schmidt’s previous outing saw him tip pitches against the Mariners on May 21, yet he still held Seattle to just two earned runs over five innings.

Schmidt hasn’t allowed more than three earned runs in a start this year.

“He’s a stud,” King said.

Schmidt has certainly looked like one this season, improving his K%, Whiff%, Hard-Hit%, WHIP and FIP. According to Baseball Savant’s Pitching Run Value and Breaking Run Value metrics, he’s been great.

That wasn’t always the case last year, as Schmidt, an injury replacement in the Yankees’ aching rotation, recorded a 6.30 ERA through his first nine starts.

He flipped the script mid-year, pitching to the tune of a 3.12 ERA over his next 15 games (14 starts). An eight-run shellacking in Atlanta followed on Aug. 14 before Schmidt finished his season with a 4.32 ERA over his last eight starts.

“Obviously, I’m in New York, so the expectation to be great is instant,” Schmidt said. “Whenever you’re here, you have to win now and perform. The expectations are hard. There are guys that come in the league and they do really good and then you see that next year or the year after that, maybe there’s a major adjustment period. There’s always adjustments that you have to make, whether you have it figured out early and then you have to make adjustments or the [other way around]. For me it was kind of the latter.

“I had to go through some struggles to figure out who I was.”

That’s not to say that Schmidt has it all figured out. He’s still adjusting and learning; the pitch-tipping incident against Seattle served as a perfect example.

But consistency is a goal — along with going deeper in games — that the 28-year-old has realized so far.

“He wants the ball,” Aaron Boone said on May 10. “He’s got a lot of confidence. He’s super competitive, and he loves pitching. He loves the game, the fire. He likes the action.”

It would be easy to assume that all of the offseason trade talks have motivated Schmidt this season, but he says that’s not the case.

“To be honest with you, I find motivation in everything,” he said. “I could be doing great and people are saying great things about me, and I’m thinking to myself, ‘I could still do better’ or ‘I’m trying to prove people right.’ And then I could be doing terrible and people are saying the worst things about me, and I’ll use that as motivation. So I’m a self-motivator.”

On a similar note, Schmidt says that he hasn’t thought about any “What if? scenarios since the Soto trade went down. He was excited to pitch at Petco Park for the first time on Sunday, but he’s glad the stadium didn’t become his home over the winter.

He’s perfectly happy with where he’s at.

“I’m thankful to still be here,” Schmidt said. “I’m definitely where my feet are and kind of enjoying where I’m at right now and focused on what I’ve got going on over here.”