The Astros announced today that outfielder Robbie Grossman and minor league left-hander Luis Cruz have been granted their unconditional releases. The pair of moves frees up two spots on Houston’s 40-man roster that can be reallocated before tomorrow’s deadline to protect players from the 2015 Rule 5 Draft.
It wasn’t long ago that the now-26-year-old Grossman was viewed as a potential long-term piece with the Astros. The switch-hitting outfielder, originally acquired in the trade that sent Wandy Rodriguez to Pittsburgh, had a respectable rookie debut at the plate with Houston back in 2013 when he batted .268/.332/.370 in 288 plate appearances. That led to an increased role in 2014, which saw Grossman slash .233/.337/.330 in 422 PAs while playing above-average defense in the outfield corners.
Grossman’s potential was at one point seen as significant enough that the Astros were rumored to be discussing an early-career extension that would’ve reportedly guaranteed him $13.5MM over six years and come with a pair of club options attached. Grossman’s situation exemplifies the difficult decisions with which young players are faced when approached regarding extensions. Had Grossman developed into an average (or even below-average) regular, that contract probably would have underpaid him substantially while also delaying his free agency by two years at what were presumably also relatively low prices. However, the ultimate downside for a player in rejecting such a contract is today’s outcome — a disappointing end to said player’s tenure with the organization.
However, Grossman only recently turned 26 and is still young enough to latch on with another club and establish himself a useful big league piece. He has a year and 95 days of Major League service time, so a team that signs him (presumably to a minor league deal with an invite to big league camp) could conceivably control him for five more seasons if he takes a step forward and realizes some of the potential that made him Baseball Prospectus’ No. 76 overall prospect prior to the 2012 season. If nothing else, Grossman has proven himself capable of hitting at the Triple-A level, where he owns a .281/.382/.387 batting line in 917 plate appearances. And, of course, players who have shown to be quality contributors in the minors often receive interest on the international front from clubs in Japan, Korea and Taiwan.
As for Cruz, the 25-year-old Puerto Rican hurler was selected in the ninth round of the 2008 draft. Cruz’s strong work in Double-A back in 2013-14 landed him a spot on the Astros’ Major League roster, but he’s struggled to adapt to the top minor league level, as he owns a career 4.55 ERA with 7.6 K/9 against 4.2 BB/9 in 140 1/3 innings at that level.