Dumping Bay gives Mets flexibility

The first big move of the general managers’ meetings was a subtraction. Only the New York Mets could announce such a thing and consider it progress.

The Mets cut ties with underperforming outfielder Jason Bay on Wednesday, describing it in a news release as a “negotiated early expiration of his contract.” Here’s what that means: Bay will receive every penny of the $21 million remaining on his contract, but he will do so over a longer time period and while playing for another team — if one will have him.

While acknowledging that $21 million in sunk costs can only be viewed as something short of a complete financial disaster, the Mets (and Bay) deserve credit for extricating themselves from a relationship that had been equally unfulfilling for both sides. Bay had a miserable three seasons in Flushing, managing a meager .687 OPS. He averaged only 96 games per year, largely because of recurring concussions.

The Mets gain near-term payroll flexibility at a time when they need to muster their financial resources to sign third baseman David Wright and ace R.A. Dickey to multiyear extensions.

Bay, meanwhile, will get a (final?) chance to revive his foundering career at age 34 — perhaps with the Seattle Mariners, who play near his home in Kirkland, Wash., and are moving in the fences at Safeco Field.

In a statement released by the team, Bay said both sides agreed a “fresh start” would be mutually beneficial.

He is right.

“I still feel I have plenty to give to this game and that I can play baseball at a high level,” Bay said. “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.”

Now, it’s incumbent on the Mets to parlay this decision into truly good news — such as extensions for Wright or Dickey, or perhaps additional money for upgrades to the National League’s second-worst bullpen in 2012.

The Mets don’t need to spend like the Yankees. They tried that — with Johan Santana and Bay himself — and they have four consecutive fourth-place finishes to show for it. There is a difference between big investments and smart investments, and maybe the Mets are starting to understand it.