It turned out Florida fans hadn't seen the last of their team's first-ever draft pick. On this date, December 18, 2000, the Marlins signed free agent catcher Charles Johnson, marking his return to the team after being traded away two years earlier.
Johnson, who was born up the coast in Ft. Pierce, Florida, and who played at the University of Miami, was a natural fit to be the expansion Florida franchise's first-ever draft pick at No. 28 in the first round in 1992. Johnson was known mostly for his defense, winning the Gold Glove in each of his first four full seasons in the Majors, but showed the ability to hit as well; he hit 19 home runs in both the 1997 and 1998 seasons and posted a then-career high OPS of .802 in 1997, earning him his first career All-Star appearance. But Johnson wasn't immune to the ownership's desires to shed salary after the 1997 championship season, and Florida traded him to Los Angeles along with Bobby Bonilla, Gary Sheffield, Jim Eisenreich, and Manuel Barriosto in May of 1998. The Dodgers traded him to the Mets after the season, who immediately flipped Johnson to the Orioles, where he played well in 1999. Johnson's best offensive year came in 2000, which he split between Baltimore and the White Sox after the Orioles traded Johnson yet again in a deadline deal; the backstop put up a slash line of .304/.379/.582 and hit 31 home runs, all of which were easily career highs.
After all the trades, Johnson hit the market in the winter of 2000 looking forward to signing a long-term deal and gaining some stability. After a career year, and still thought to be in his prime at the age of 28, Johnson was naturally highly sought after. Other teams were prepared to offer the catcher more money, but Johnson was intrigued by a return to his initial franchise in the Marlins. They appeared to be a team on the rise, as their 79-82 mark in 2000 was Florida's best since the 1997 championship season, and many of the young players that came from the fire sale were maturing into solid contributors. In the end, Johnson was sold by the Marlins' announcement on Dec. 17 of their plans for building a new, state-of-the-art stadium. (At that point, only optimism surrounded the stadium and the team's future.) The catcher signed a five-year, $35 million deal on Dec. 18, turning down less money to return to his initial team.
Johnson put up solid numbers again in 2001, OPSing .771 with 18 home runs and earning his second All-Star nod. His numbers slipped in 2002 though, OPSing .670 in a year in which he played in just 83 games due to injury. As the Marlins have done with many other signings, they decided to trade Johnson just two years into his five-year deal after the 2002 season, sending him to Colorado in a deal which netted Florida pitcher Mike Hampton (who was quickly dealt to Atlanta.) Johnson put up pretty decent numbers for the Rockies in 2003 and 2004, but played just 217 games over those two years; he played in 19 games for Tampa Bay in 2005 before retiring at the age of 33.
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