Jason Bay and the Mets ended their rocky marriage Wednesday, with both sides striking an agreement that gives the outfielder his unconditional release, while potentially freeing up cash for the team to spend this offseason.
The Mets absorbed the full amount still owed to Bay -- $21 million -- which includes his salary for next season ($16 million), a buyout for 2014 ($3 million) and the remainder of his original signing bonus ($2 million). According to a person familiar with the settlement, part of the payout will be deferred over several years, offering the Mets salary relief this winter, though exactly how much is unclear.
Regardless of the total, salary relief is a key provision of the surprise agreement that clears Bay from the roster for next season.
The team has holes in the outfield, at catcher and in the bullpen. But until cutting ties with Bay, existing contracts had gobbled up roughly 80 percent of a payroll that's expected to remain at around $100 million, leaving little room to maneuver. The arrangement had to be approved by the players' union and Major League Baseball.
"Ultimately, we were concerned that if Jason is giving up something, he has to be getting something back," players' association chief Michael Weiner said. "There has to be some corresponding benefit on his part. You can't just give away contract rights in this case. It has to be a fair deal for the player."
Bay, 34, signed a four-year, $66-million deal with the Mets before the 2010 season and went into a steady decline. In three seasons with the Mets, he hit .234 with 26 homers, falling well short of expectations.
"Jason has a tremendous work ethic," general manager Sandy Alderson said in a statement. "There was never any question about it. Unfortunately, the results weren't there and we are in a results-oriented business. We thank Jason for his efforts and wish him well."
In a statement, Bay indicated his desire to keep playing, and thanked the Mets for allowing him a chance at a fresh start.
"I still feel I have plenty to give to this game and that I can play baseball at a high level," Bay said. "But after serious consideration, both sides agree we would benefit from a fresh start."
The agreement makes Bay a free agent.
"Wow," a rival National League general manager said. "Imagine if he goes someplace else and has a big year?"
Bay established himself as a powerful slugger with the Pirates and Red Sox during his first six full seasons, but he slumped badly with the Mets. His role was reduced dramatically by the end of this past season, with the former star essentially a platoon player.
Some, including manager Terry Collins, had questioned whether the two concussions Bay suffered during his time with the Mets could account for his hitting problems. Bay had one concussion in 2010 and suffered another last June.
"There's not a player who tried harder to succeed or was more frustrated and disappointed than Jason himself," Collins said. "I'll miss Jason's presence in the clubhouse as a player, teammate and person."
His decline worsened by the year, culminating this season, when he hit a career-low .165 with only eight home runs in 194 at-bats. He became the latest Mets underperformer to be jettisoned in recent years before the end of an expensive contract, joining pitcher Oliver Perez and second baseman Luis Castillo.
"I enjoyed my time in New York," Bay said. "I have no regrets in signing with the Mets, other than that I wasn't able to play to the level that the team, the fans and I all expected and that we weren't able to win more games."
With David Lennon
and Cody Derespina