While the Yankees created some excitement by bringing Carlos Rodon into the fold, giving them the best projected pitching rotation in the American League, there are likely a few people on the inside who are less than thrilled.
Winning has a way of making everything OK, but for one guy that’s been patiently waiting for his turn to be an every-fifth-day starter, the Rodon signing leaves him out in the cold. Clarke Schmidt, the 26-year-old who has long been regarded as one of the team’s best pitching prospects but has rarely been given a chance to prove that, is now in limbo.
With Rodon in the Bronx and Frankie Montas gearing up for his first full season there as well, both Schmidt and Domingo German are without a rotation spot. German is a much more logical candidate to shift to the bullpen, both because he already has major league experience in that role, and because his fastball-curveball heavy arsenal can play in the bullpen, where most pitchers only throw two or three pitches anyway.
Schmidt, meanwhile, profiles much better as a traditional starter. Schmidt did make 26 appearances out of the Yankee bullpen last season, but the two most recent ones ended in calamity. He was thrown into a pretty unfair situation during Game 3 of the ALDS in Cleveland, eventually giving up the tying and winning runs in the bottom of the ninth while a resting Clay Holmes was nowhere to be found. In Game 1 of the ALCS, he was at least given a clean inning, but he promptly made a mess of it by giving up home runs to two of the first three hitters he faced.
That broke a tie in the sixth inning, got the ball rolling toward the Astros’ commanding sweep, and effectively ended Schmidt’s season. He did not pitch again for the rest of the postseason as either a starter or a reliever.
At this point of his baseball journey, though, Schmidt has earned the right to be on an MLB roster. In looking at the Yankees’ current bullpen, Clay Holmes, Jonathan Loaisiga, Wandy Peralta, Lou Trivino and Tommy Kahnle all have a chair reserved so long as they’re healthy, and Ron Marinaccio absolutely pitched well enough to be included too, though he has two minor league options remaining. That already puts the head count at six, with most teams preferring to carry eight relievers at any given time.
This leaves German, Schmidt and Albert Abreu as the most logical internal options fighting for the last two spots, but the club could also audition a few relievers during spring training who would love to wrestle that spot away. Let’s also not forget that Michael King will be back at some point during the season as well.
It certainly seems as though Schmidt, who has one more minor league option remaining, will begin the year as a starting pitcher for the Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre RailRiders. Schmidt already has 42 minor league starts under his belt, though, and just five in the big leagues. At a certain point, the Yankees need to see what they’ve got, and if they are not willing to give him a look, they should trade him and let someone else do it.
This is something we’ve seen on the position player side of things recently. Estevan Florial, who just turned 25, has also been stuck riding the shuttle for the last two seasons. Florial has only received 63 plate appearances in The Show, a number that regulars can hit in the span of about two weeks. Miguel Andujar also similarly found himself on the outside looking in when it came to consistent playing time, and though injuries were part of the equation for him, he also received far more reps in Triple-A over the last two seasons than he did in the big leagues.
That doesn’t really do anyone any good, and when the Yankees finally designated him for assignment in late September, the Pittsburgh Pirates swooped in and immediately put Andujar in the starting lineup for their final seven games. Granted, the Yankees were in a playoff race while the Pirates were playing out the string, but the Yankees also had plenty of chances to see what Andujar could do, just like they’ve had with Florial and Schmidt.
If the team truly is against the idea of giving large chunks of playing time to guys like this, who they may view as Quad-A types, it’s not totally fair to make them hang out in Scranton and wait for someone on the MLB roster to get hurt. Professional baseball is, of course, a business, and businesses do not typically care about what is fair. But from a business standpoint, it makes much more sense to trade those players to another organization and try to get some actual big leaguers back. A package of Schmidt, Florial and Andujar would have been more than enough to get someone who the Yankees at least felt comfortable putting in actual games.
Entering the 2023 season, Schmidt has thrown just 20 MLB innings as a starting pitcher. The Yankees have now put themselves in a position where there’s no room for him in the big-league rotation, and other teams haven’t seen nearly enough from Schmidt as an MLB starter to know what they’re getting. This is not necessarily a bad problem for the Bombers to have, as minor league depth is important, but so is adding talent to a roster that’s trying to win the World Series.
Schmidt is one of several intriguing candidates for a Bryan Reynolds trade with Pittsburgh, where he could join fellow castoff Andujar and spin yarns about how the Yankees never gave them a fair shake. If the Yankees hold on to him, don’t expect to see Schmidt until the first pitcher of the year hits the injured list, and even then, there’s no guarantee he’ll be used outside of garbage time.
As has been the case for years, it’s not clear how exactly that benefits the Yankees or Schmidt, who was once seen as a foundational piece of the prospect wave that would sustain the team through the 2020s.
Now, he’s just another guy stuck in no man’s land. The least the Yankees can do is give him a permanent home, whether that’s with them or another team that will take good care of him.