Kelly Johnson’s 2016 campaign, in one word, can be described as: interesting. After the journeyman utility bench player came over in a trade from the Braves in 2015, he was not re-signed by the Mets. He returned to the Braves in free agency, only to struggle mightily through the first 49 games of 2016. He had a paltry line of .215/.273/.289 with one home run, a 49 wRC+, and a -0.6 fWAR. Both his wRC+ and fWAR were the lowest of his career, partial season or otherwise.
However, a mid-season trade to the Mets, for the second straight season, cured what ailed Kelly Johnson, as he looked like a different player in Queens. In 82 games after the trade, Johnson hit .268/.328/.459, with nine home runs, a 112 wRC+, and a 1.3 fWAR. His turnaround was nothing short of incredible; every single one of his offensive numbers skyrocketed after his return to the Mets. He also hit with much more authority than usual. His .459 slugging was well above his career average of .422. His wRC+ with the Mets was ten points above his average, and his 1.3 fWAR was his highest since 2011 with the Diamondbacks—before he was traded to the Blue Jays. Johnson’s .191 ISO is twenty points higher than his average. Overall, the 82 games he played with the Mets in 2016 were among the best of his career.
Johnson was one of the best and most valuable offensive contributors the Mets had upon his arrival. Out of batters with 200 plate appearances—Johnson had 201—for the Mets in 2016, Johnson was tied with Wilmer Flores for fifth in wRC+, trailing only Yoenis Cespedes, Neil Walker, Asdrubal Cabrera, and Curtis Granderson, respectively. His 1.3 fWAR was tied for fifth, with Jose Reyes and Michael Conforto. He turned out to be a lifesaver for the Mets, especially considering the rash of injuries and some poor play from important bats in the lineup.
Johnson, who is not known as a savant in the field, was actually solid for the Mets defensively, albeit in a rather small sample size. Logging most of his time at second base (26 games, 19 starts) and third base (21 games, 15 starts), he graded out well analytically relative to his past performances. He had a positive UZR at both positions, (0.6 at second base, 1.0 at third base), which is something he has only done a handful of times at the positions. He also played the corner outfield positions nine times total and first base twice. While he did not play extensively at these positions, he showed his ability to play anywhere on the diamond when needed.
Kelly Johnson’s career is the definition of journeyman. He has never spent more than four years with an organization at one time, and that was all the way back at the very beginning of his career, with the Atlanta Braves. He has not started and finished a season with the same team since 2013, with the Tampa Bay Rays. Due to be a free agent, the Mets would the smart to re-sign Johnson for the 2017 season.
He logged most of his time at the two positions that look like the biggest question marks going into next year, and his bat was integral to keeping the team in contention. While at 34 years old his sudden bump in wRC+, ISO, and slugging percentage could be construed as a fluke, he made a concerted effort to swing hit for more power, a la former Met Daniel Murphy. Even if he does fall back down to his offensive averages, his versatility is well worth the small monetary commitment Johnson would require, after he earned a very manageable $2 million last season. Kelly Johnson was a quiet, but important, piece to the 2016 Mets, and he more than deserves another repeat in Flushing.