Miami Marlins owner Jeffrey Loria has repeatedly played the villain in the baseball community. To pick just one example: prior to the 2012 season, Loria loaded up on talent to fill the then-new Marlins Park, a stadium that cost the Miami-Dade County taxpayers $1.2 billion according to Forbes Magazine. He signed Mark Buehrle and Jose Reyes, among other players, to play to hopefully-capacity crowds, promising to compete on the field. But when the crowds didn't fill his wallet like he'd hoped, he cleared nearly $160 million off his books by trading most of the newly acquired players to Toronto. You can read more about this debacle here.
The latest kerfuffle appears to be over the service time of outfielder Marcell Ozuna. The rub appears to be that Loria doesn't think the soon-to-be 25-year-old is worth playing enough to accrue service time (and thus a larger salary). In fact, Ozuna was demoted to AAA in a controversial decision early this year -- ostensibly because he was playing poorly, which he was, but the demotion conveniently caused Ozuna to miss the Super Two cutoff.
He was understandably unhappy about being sent down. From an interview with the Miami Herald, here's Ozuna on being in AAA:
"I was in the jail over there. It's like a jail."
I recommend reading the full details of the saga over at Fish Stripes.
When Ozuna returned to the big leagues, manager Dan Jennings (whom you may recall was previously the team's general manager) played Ozuna often as he could, increasing his service time. The result was a good second half of the season for Ozuna but also, apparently, a rift between Jennings and Loria:
Dan Jennings and #Marlins owner Jeffrey Loria's relationship soured when Jennings played rookie Marcell Ozuna, going against Loria's wishes.— Bob Nightengale (@BNightengale) October 29, 2015
The result of all these shenanigans is that Ozuna did not achieve Super Two status. He'll play 2016 at or near the league minimum, and assuming he spends most of the year in the majors he'll enter arbitration after the season's over. Meanwhile he's on a team whose notoriously hot-headed and fickle owner doesn't seem to like him and who himself seemingly doesn't like the team run by said fickle owner.
This is the stuff of which trades are made.
Ozuna checks several boxes for the Orioles: he's an outfielder, he has a league-average bat, and he's relatively cost-controlled. He was worth nearly two wins in just 70 games in 2013 before breaking out in a big way in 2014: .269/.317/.455 with 23 HR, good for nearly four wins. He fell back to earth somewhat in 2015 but still notched 1.1 fWAR.
His offensive profile fits the team: he doesn't walk a lot (career 6% rate) and strikes out a bit above average (23.7%) while generating above-average power (.151 ISO). You could do a lot worse for the league minimum in 2016, especially if you unloaded an uninteresting third-string prospect to an owner who was salivating to be rid of the guy.
The biggest issue appears to be his low contact rate. The average major leaguer makes contact 78.8% of the time when he swings; Ozuna has a career rate of 73.2%. This is near the bottom of qualified major-league hitters, in line with recent seasons of Yoenis Cespedes, Jedd Gyorko, Marlon Byrd, Carlos Gomez, and even Adam Jones. There's some pop to be had in this bunch, but also some disappointments.
Defensively, Ozuna has had recent success. He showed Def ratings of 8.6 and 4.9 runs above average in 2013 and 2014 before falling to 0.6 runs below average this past year. Poor outfield defense is one of the torpedoes that sunk the Orioles' 2015 season, so the idea of getting someone who's at least average with the glove is exciting to me.
Is Ozuna better than the team's in-house options? I think so. The Orioles control a number of outfielders: David Lough (entering his age-30 season), Nolan Reimold (32), Junior Lake (26), Dariel Alvarez (27), Julio Borbon (28), and Henry Urrutia (29). Ozuna has the advantage over all these guys in terms of age and track record, and as a former centerfielder he could spell Jones when the Doctor needs a break. With a career wRC+ of 101, I'd bet on Ozuna being worth at least two wins before I'd bet on any of these guys to put up a season like that. Steamer projects a wRC+ of 106.
So I say yes: if Loria makes Ozuna available, the Orioles should pursue a deal, especially if Loria's urgency lowers his asking price. The Orioles have a need and Ozuna will fill it better than any of the in-house options can. He won't hit like Nelson Cruz or defend like Jason Heyward, but the Orioles chose to not sign Cruz and unless they open their wallet for Heyward, their options are limited.