He made four starts in 2013 before going on the disabled list with triceps tightness. He returned a month later to make 12 starts, but again landed on the disabled list with a forearm injury that eventually led to arthroscopic surgery. He and the Blue Jays have said he will be ready for Spring Training.
In the end, he made just 16 starts in 2013. However, despite a 6.20 ERA and just two wins, he had the highest K/9 rate of his career and a 3.58 xFIP, while averaging 93 mph with his fastball. Or, as MLBTradeRumors.com's Tim Dierkes put it, "Even in a year in which almost nothing went right, Johnson still threw hard and whiffed more than a batter per inning."
Dierkes expects Johnson to eventually sign a one-year, $8 million contract with around $5 million in incentives.
In other words, he reads like the quintessential Sandy Alderson free-agent signing, along the lines of a Shaun Marcum, but better (and more expensive). He's a total reclamation project with good underpinnings, who will likely be attracted to the Mets because he knows the division and it's a good place to rebuild his value. On the other hand, he could end up making 10 sporadic starts, interrupted by several trips to the DL, during a season when the Mets need more than that in the absence of Matt Harvey.
The way I understand it, the Mets would like to sign a reliable, stable, strong, veteran innings eater to a one- or two-year deal, which makes me think Bronson Arroyo based solely on the description. Then, they'll also look to sign one or two low-risk guys, think Aaron Harang, to either crack the rotation or end up starting the season in Triple-A.
Johnson fits the mold of that second pitcher, but I get the feeling Alderson would rather spend that $8 to $10 million on two or three reclamation projects as opposed to one.
On the surface, Johnson had an ugly year for the Blue Jays, posting an ERA over 6. Between his 2013 performance and injury concerns, he will definitely be a risk, but a closer look suggests he may not be as big a risk as he appears on the surface. Despite the high ERA, his strikeout and walk rates were in line with his career average and he was victimized by an unusually high BABIP.
The biggest problem for Johnson last year was his home run rate, which was more than double any season of his career. This is a huge jump and it makes him a prime candidate for regression to the mean, especially in spacious Citi Field. He may not return to All-Star form, but even just pitching to his peripherals from last year would make him a steal, especially on a one-year contract.
When he's healthy, Johnson is one of the better pitchers in baseball and it's hard not to be tempted by what he might provide on a one-year gamble. However, health is such a major issue for Johnson and it's unrealistic to expect him to contribute the way the Mets need him to. In the end, Johnson has pitched three complete seasons out of nine, and that might be too much of a risk for this team to digest with the expected shortage in their starting rotation.
His issues always seem to stem from his arm, and the fragility of his situation could make the Mets - and a lot of teams in need of starting pitching - shy away. In theory, the Mets only need to bridge the gap to June, while they wait for Noah Syndergaard and Rafael Montero, but I think the Mets need more than a loose plug to fill one of their holes.
Johnson's credentials and abilities are well-known, but so are his injuries. At one year worth around $8 million, I think he's worth the risk simply because of what he's capable of doing, but at the same time, I'd rather they spend that money on a bat.
With arms like Wheeler, Syndergaard, and Montero continually progressing, I'm not entirely convinced the starting rotation will be the Mets' Achilles heel in 2014, and it will definitely be a strong point in 2015. If the Mets acquire bats through the trade market, Johnson is a great choice because money will still be available and it will likely cost the Mets a few arms in bringing back a bat or two. Or, the Mets can find offense on the free agent market and move forward with their young arms. Your move, Sandy.