The two sides negotiated an early expiration to Bay's contract, which had a minimum of one year and $21 million remaining. By deferring payment of some of that money, the Mets gained a measure of payroll flexibility.
"I still feel I have plenty to give to this game and that I can play baseball at a high level," Bay said in a statement announcing the move. "But after serious consideration, both sides agree that we would benefit from a fresh start. I'm grateful we were able to reach an agreement to allow that to happen. I'm excited to keep playing and have no intention of just walking away."
Bay, 34, severely underperformed after signing a four-year, $66 million deal prior to the 2010 season. Battling multiple concussions, a cracked rib and various muscle pulls throughout his three years with the Mets, Bay hit .234 with 26 home runs in 288 games. That included a .165 average with eight home runs and 10 extra-base hits in 2012, numbers that forced Bay out of his starting left-field job.
Consider the contrast: Prior to arriving in Flushing, Bay was a three-time All-Star, averaging 31 home runs per year from 2005-09 with the Pirates and Red Sox. He did not respond to a text message seeking further comment.
"I enjoyed my time in New York," Bay's prepared statement continued. "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. I move on with nothing but an appreciation for the organization and its fans and best wishes to all my teammates there."
A baseball source confirmed that Bay will receive his full remaining salary ($16 million), 2014 option buyout ($3 million) and outstanding signing bonus ($2 million), but will defer a portion of that money to future years. General manager Sandy Alderson, who did not respond to a telephone message, was not scheduled arrive at the General Managers Meetings until late Wednesday evening.
Assistant general manager John Ricco, special assistant J.P. Ricciardi and vice president of amateur scouting Paul DePodesta stood in for Alderson on Wednesday at the Hyatt Regency Indian Wells.
"Both parties had high hopes coming in, given what he had done not only in Pittsburgh but in Boston," Ricco said. "You're talking about a guy who had success over a number of years. But that's the nature of our game. There are no certainties. We're both disappointed it didn't work out better."
In parting, Mets officials had nothing but positive words for Bay, with chief operating officer Jeff Wilpon's statement calling him "a great teammate, hard worker, stand-up guy and true gentleman," and Alderson's lauding Bay's "tremendous work ethic."
"There was never any question about it," Alderson said. "Unfortunately, the results weren't there and we are in a results-oriented business."
Bay's deal differed from an outright release in that it allowed the Mets to defer a portion of his salary, though a source said he will still receive a significant chunk of it in 2013. Nonetheless, the deferral should give the Mets a bit of added financial flexibility this winter, presumably to invest in free agents or trade targets -- that is why the Mets struck a deal with Bay rather than release him, as they did Oliver Perez and Luis Castillo under similar circumstances in 2011.
Though Bay will lose some current value on the deal, which typically irks the players' union, the MLBPA approved it knowing he can recoup those dollars by signing with another team. Several rival GMs indicated Tuesday that the market for Bay should be vibrant.
"I was certainly surprised that it didn't go better for him in New York," said Red Sox GM Ben Cherington, adding that his club has not yet discussed potentially reacquiring the outfielder. "He's a terrific guy and he's been a great player for a long time. I expected him to go there and do well."
The Mets will only defer Bay's money for a "relatively short period of time," according to a source, meaning this does not compare to the interest-laden deal they struck with Bobby Bonilla in 2000. That pact sextupled the organization's debt to Bonilla, now retired, who will remain on the payroll through 2036.
By comparison, a Mets official described Bay's deal as "good for both sides."
"It made sense," his agent, Joe Urbon, said. "Both sides just recognized this was going to work and it was going to happen."
Always affable and accountable despite his injuries and lack of production, Bay leaves a legacy of frustration in New York. The Mets signed him following the 2009 season, an injury-plagued campaign that marked their first losing effort in five years. At the time, the Mets believed Bay could boost them back into perennial contention.
But injuries interfered and Bay began making wholesale changes to his swing, further undermining his chances at success.
"It was tough for him just as a human being," pitcher R.A. Dickey said Wednesday at a benefit dinner in Manhattan. "I knew he was in pain, anguish, it seemed like at times. And who can blame him? When you're making that much money in this media market, you're going to be held accountable."