On January 14, 2010, after pushing back and forth for a while, the Marlins reached an agreement with right-hander Josh Johnson and his representatives on a contract extension. It was a four-year, $39M deal that was supposed to keep him with the team through the 2013 season.
It wasn’t an easy negotiation between the parties. In fact, it took several twists during that offseason. His agent, Matt Sosnick, said the two sides had reached an “impasse” two months before the contract signing, as the Marlins were (reportedly) only willing to commit to a three-year, $23 million deal.
That’s not what Johnson was looking for. He viewed Zack Greinke and his 4/$38M Royals extension as an appropriate framework. Sosnick didn’t like the Marlins’ offer and then said his client would play under a one-year contract or go to salary arbitration, with the possibility of a trade at midseason or the following winter.
Luckily for Florida, they eventually found common ground. On paper, it was a huge victory for the historically small-market franchise to ink one of baseball’s best young starters shortly before his 26th birthday. He should’ve been entering his prime. Meanwhile, it provided plenty of security for Johnson, the second-biggest contract ever for a pitcher heading into his second salary arbitration (Johan Santana received $40M from the Twins).
What came next for the Fish and the righty pitcher?
Johnson made an immediate impact in 2010 as the best pitcher in the rotation for then-manager Fredi González. He led the Marlins in WAR that year (6.6 bWAR), owning an 11-6 record, and leading the league in ERA (2.30) and FIP (2.41). He deservedly went to his second All-Star Game.
On May 29, he was outdueled by Roy Halladay during his famous perfect game, one of only five that have taken place since 2010. In that game, Johnson went seven innings of seven hits yielding one unearned run, but that was enough for Halladay and the Phillies.
That year, Johnson also set a Marlins record of 20 consecutive starts allowing three or fewer runs, established between April 10-July 27. In that span, he was 10-2 with a 1.52 ERA. That record was later tied by José Fernández (2013-2014).
Johnson might’ve finished higher than fifth place in the NL Cy Young voting (won by Halladay), but a back injury shortened his season to 28 starts and 183 2⁄3 frames. His final appearance came on a gem against the Braves on September 4 (6.0 IP, 8 H, 2 ER, 3 BB, 12 SO).
Everything started to go the wrong way in 2011. Johnson was cruising and dominating when his season came to a sudden end after only nine starts. Due to right shoulder inflammation, he didn’t throw a single pitch after his May 16 start, finishing the campaign with a 3-1, 1.64 ERA record.
Here’s a trivia question: Who started for the Marlins in their first game ever at Marlins Park? Well, Josh Johnson, on 2012 Opening Day against the St. Louis Cardinals. That year, the third under this contract, he had a rough beginning, but found his groove in early May.
That was the last we saw of JJ as a Marlin, as the team included him in the unforgettable trade of November 19, 2012. They sent Johnson to the Blue Jays along with Emilio Bonifacio, John Buck, Mark Buehrle, José Reyes, and cash in exchange for Henderson Álvarez, Anthony DeSclafani, Yunel Escobar, Adeiny Hechavarría, Jake Marisnick, Jeff Mathis, and Justin Nicolino.
Johnson finished his 2013 season with the Blue Jays and never threw another pitch in the Majors despite several attempts. Forearm, neck, and elbow injuries, another Tommy John surgery, and one more procedure to remove bone spurs from his right elbow prevented Johnson from completing a comeback to the majors. He ultimately announced his retirement in January 2017.
Was this deal worth it for the Fish? I think so! That agreement gave them three more good years of one of their best starters of all time and their all-time pitching leader in terms of bWAR (25.7).
If even one of the Marlins’ current young pitchers is able to match Johnson’s overall body of work, the team would be very fortunate.