Your 2006 Giants: Schmidt's Last Stand
I think Schmidt is ready to lead the way again but just don't expect another year like 2003's 2.34 ERA with lows of H/9, W/9, WHIP. However, I think something along the lines of his other three successful seasons with us (2001, 2002, 2004 with ERA's respectively of 3.39, 3.45, 3.20) is very doable for a number of reasons. The only question is which (not whether) injury will hit him this year and how long will he be out and how long will he be ineffective.
Free Agency Year
A reason why he should be able to do well this season is because he becomes a free agent at the end of the season. There have been many players who do well in their year that they go free agent, motivation for that big contract always have been a good motivator for some players. Not that I think Schmidt needs that type of motivation, but that has got to play in his mind a little bit. In fact, in an off-season interview he briefly noted that he kind of wished the Giants didn't pick up his option so that he could have joined in on the riches being passed around, so it is in his mind, somewhere.
Goodbye Mr. Schmidt
If I were a betting man, I would bet that Schmidt is gone after this season. As a fan, I want the Giants to sign him to another contract so that he could be with us for the rest of his career (not with just the one contract but 2-3 years then another contract). As a fanatic, I cringe at the thought of signing him to the money that was being handed out like candy this past off-season. If A.J. Burnett can get 5 years at $55M and Kevin Millwood 5 years at $60M, I don't see why Schmidt cannot get 3-5 years at $13-15M per year, perhaps more if the Yankees jump in. And with his injury history (not one season without missing at least one start), it don't look good to throw that much money at one player.
In addition, I was leafing through my copy of The Graphical Pitcher 2005 (by John Burnson and published by Ron Shandler's company) and I noticed that most pitchers who reach 3500 pitches (or approximately so) tend to see their skill levels, as measured by their proprietary GOG metric, fall that year or the year afterward, and if they were over 30 at the time, that became a milestone of when their skill levels started declining, either to new lows or a lower skill plateau. Schmidt reached that pitch level in 2004 and you saw what happened to him in 2005. So I would not count on another 2003/2004 and hope that he can plateau at the 2001-2002 level for this year at least, before the decline comes. He could be the unusual player like Randy Johnson or Roger Clemens who can throw 4000 pitches in a season and not blink an eye, but given his injury history, the better bet is that his career has entered or is about to enter his decline phase.
Might Pull a Kent
Then again, who says that Schmidt even wants to stay. He hasn't really said anything positive in that way to the press, he has been leaning more towards anger and an inkling towards moving on and away from SF. I think the media helped in making Schmidt less than enamored with Giants management when they were asking him last season what he would do if the Giants management don't pick up his option for 2006 and he reacted as if the Giants didn't pick up his option. Which, obviously, didn't happen but now his feelings are immortalized in print. It's kind of like asking a wife what she would do if her husband beats her, of course she'll be angry, but what if he's not, and never will be, a wife-beater?
In addition, he is definitely clearly less than happy with Felipe as manager, especially after that playoff start flap that Felipe started by saying Schmidt backed out of the start. I think the only way Schmidt stays with the Giants is if the Giants win the World Series, Felipe Alou retires with his accomplishment and takes on the full-time role they had envisioned for him in Player Development, perhaps he'll head our Carribean branch to recruit new prospects - he can flash his shiny new ring - and can go fishing anytime he wants plus spend time with his young children in Florida, while the Giants name someone internal, probably Ron Wotus but maybe Dave Righetti as manager, who Schmidt would be happy with, and sign a AJ Burnett-sized contract (which would be a home discount by next off-season...) to stay with the Giants. Unfortunately, no matter what the scenario, the spector of injury will hang like the Sword of Damocles over Schmidt whereever he goes, and his signing team will be praying to whatever God they follow that his arm and body holds together during that contract.
Do the Giants Even Want Him Back?
And I'm not sure that signing Schmidt is necessarily something Giants management wants to do, particularly with the injury factor going on there. If 2006 unfolds ideally (and I don't think that this is out of the realm of possibilities), Lowry and Cain will come to the fore as co-aces, making Morris one of the top #3 starters in the majors in 2007.
Signing Schmidt in that situation would be gilding the lily when there is the matter of replacing Bonds' production at the plate, whether by re-signing him plus getting a good 4th OF to essentially platoon with him, or getting multiple other players at other positions to do that, and that will take money. But with a top three all pitching well, Wright and Hennessey would then be adequate 4 and 5 starters in 2007. The only reason for the Giants to sign Schmidt in that situation is to have a monster rotation to drive, once more, to get Barry (and the Giants) a World Series Championship in 2007. But given their cautious nature (plus getting burned by Robb Nen's injury), I don't see the Giants re-signing Schmidt unless the whole rotation falls apart, probably literally.
Schmidt in 2006
I have no idea how many IP Schmidt will have due to his injury problems. I expect something less than 200 IP but wouldn't be surprised if he threw 180-200 IP. I think his overall stats will be better than his post-ASG stats in 2005, which was:
So I'm seeing a low-to-mid 3 ERA (much like 2001, 2002, 2004), high K/9 (over 9.0 again but not in double digits), high but OK W/9 given his K/9 (i.e. good K/W ratio), low HR/9, and low BAA - that is, not as good as his best year but still pretty good for almost any other pitcher.
He sounds healthy and if the Giants are ever going to win the World Series with Bonds, this is probably it. Bonds is probably still good enough to produce a lot for a good number of games so having a Schmidt who is pitching well is a very encouranging bit of news towards making a World Series run in 2006. Hopefully Schmidt will hold up enough physically to pitch in the playoffs for us, he was always walking that tightrope of "is he/isn't he" injured badly which didn't really bite us in the rear until 2005 (when Bonds being out also bit us in the rear). We will need his dominating nature to get through the playoff gaunlet.