The hard-throwing right-hander figured there was still enough time to make one more run at the postseason with Miami. Instead, Johnson now finds himself as a member of the Blue Jays following the recent 12-player blockbuster trade between the two organizations.
There was a sense of disbelief when details of the trade slowly began to emerge earlier this month, but as time goes by, Johnson finds himself more and more excited about the possibilities in Toronto.
"At first, it was a little bit of a shock," Johnson said during a conference call with reporters late Thursday afternoon. "I've only known one thing, and that's the Marlins ever since 2002, when I got drafted. They've always been good to me, but as soon as I slept on it, I woke up the next day and I was excited."
Johnson is exactly the type of high-caliber talent the Blue Jays have been searching for the past couple of years. He has the ability to become a solidifying force at the top of Toronto's rotation and possesses the type of overpowering stuff that often translates well to the hitter-friendly American League East.
The 28-year-old has proven in the past that he has the talent to be an ace. In 2010, Johnson posted an 11-6 record with a sparking 2.30 ERA, striking out 186 batters in 183 2/3 innings. Those impressive numbers came on the heels of a strong 2009 campaign in which he had a 3.23 ERA in 209 innings.
The future looked bright, but a right shoulder injury in 2011 presented a roadblock. Johnson didn't require surgery, but he was limited to just nine starts that season because of lingering discomfort, and even after returning this past season, when he went 8-14 with a 3.81 ERA, Johnson still had plenty of kinks to work out.
Johnson did appear to turn a corner, though, in his final 12 starts of 2012. His record in those starts was an ugly 3-7, but his ERA went back down to 3.01, and he completed at least six innings in all but one of those outings. A big reason was the improvement of his curveball.
It's a pitch Johnson used to throw in high school and the early stages of his Minor League career, but it was scrapped about seven years ago in favor of a slider. Johnson reintroduced the pitch to his repertoire in 2011, and he now feels that, after using it for a full season, he has mastered it the point of being able to throw it in any count.
"I was learning the whole year," Johnson said. "Good thing I had [catcher] John Buck back there, because he helped me out tremendously. Whenever I was in doubt, he would put it down. He kind of gave me that reassurance that, 'This is the right pitch -- let's throw it.' So I knew how to throw it and when, where to throw it, things like that."
Johnson's transition to the AL should be eased by the fact that he will be joined by former Marlins players Buck, Mark Buehrle, Emilio Bonifacio and Jose Reyes. But unlike those four, Johnson doesn't have a long-term contract and is eligible for free agency at the end of next season.
That might be somewhat concerning for the Blue Jays, considering Johnson was their main target in this deal. The club doesn't want to lose the right-hander at the end of 2013, and general manager Alex Anthopoulos seems open to the idea of inking Johnson to a lucrative extension to prohibit that from happening.
There's no rush to get a new contract completed. Both sides want to see how the free-agent market unfolds this offseason before a true read on Johnson's value can be determined. Any negotiations would involve risk on both sides, but Johnson said he was more than willing to think about signing on for the foreseeable future -- even if it's not his top priority at the moment.
"That would be great," said Johnson. "That's the last thing on my mind, is worrying about getting an extension, or how long I'm going to be there. It's more about winning. That's all I've been about since I started playing baseball.
"I'm all about winning -- that's all I want to do. It makes everything better. It makes food taste better, it makes your wife happier, your family happier. Everything is better when you're winning."
Johnson doesn't appear as though he was too familiar with the Blue Jays when news of the trade first broke, but that is quickly changing. He's already had conversations with manager John Gibbons and pitching coach Pete Walker, while also comparing notes with starting catcher J.P. Arencibia.
In many ways, it's a welcome change for Johnson, whose former club is now going through yet another rebuild. With the Blue Jays, that type of strategy is now a thing of the past. Prospects used to be the main topic of conversation in Toronto, but all of a sudden, the emphasis is on the product currently on the field.
There's pressure to win immediately instead of an eye toward the future. The more Johnson has studied the inner workings of the organization, the more optimistic he has become that success is right around the corner.
"Extremely excited," Johnson said of the upcoming season. "People I hadn't seen in a while, just last night, I went to a basketball game with them and they were asking me about who's in the lineup. Just going through it again, I was just like, 'Wow, it's even better than what I had first imagined when the trade first went through.'
"I'm extremely excited to get it going, to meet the guys and start that camaraderie going."