The Mets released outfielder Norichika Aoki on Monday, ending the veteran's two-month run in the organization. Aoki is now a free agent.
Acquired in September to shore up an outfield decimated by injuries, Aoki hit .284 with a .743 OPS, 10 strikeouts and 13 walks in 116 plate appearances down the stretch. When the Mets signed the arbitration-eligible Aoki, according to a source, they agreed to decide before the end of October whether to tender him a contract for 2018. That way, Aoki could become a free agent immediately if the Mets chose to part ways with him, rather than wait until the non-tender deadline in December.
Overall this season, Aoki hit .274 with five home runs, five stolen bases and a .721 OPS in 83 games split amongst three teams. He was traded to the Blue Jays from the Astros in a deal that sent left-hander Francisco Liriano to Houston on July 31 at the non-waiver Trade Deadline and was released by Toronto on Aug. 29. Coming to the United States from Japan in 2012, Aoki is a six-year veteran of the Brewers, Royals, Giants, Mariners, Astros, Jays and Mets.
Although Aoki might have fit into New York's 2018 outfield mix, he would have earned an arbitration raise over the $5.5 million he made this season. The Mets are already paying Juan Lagares $6.5 million to be a part-time outfielder, and they need enough payroll flexibility to acquire at least one infielder, starting pitcher and reliever this winter. Because of his salary, Aoki became expendable.
The Mets' outfield situation heading into 2018 is far from certain. Yoenis Cespedes will start in left field, and Michael Conforto will also have a starting job if he is recovered from right shoulder surgery in time for Opening Day. Lagares and Brandon Nimmo will factor into the mix as bench players, or perhaps in a center-field platoon to start the season if Conforto is not healthy. The Mets are almost certain to sign at least one additional outfielder to a guaranteed big league deal this winter.
Anthony DiComo has covered the Mets for MLB.com since 2008. Follow him on Twitter @AnthonyDiComo and Facebook. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.