Reliever Takashi Saito was there for the Red Sox every step of the way this summer, but on Monday, the reliable righty became the first member of the 2009 Red Sox roster to walk.

According to WEEI.com, Saito cleared outright waivers on Monday, making him a free agent. This transaction works out well for the Red Sox if they are interested in bringing him back in 2010, because if they were to have simply released him after declining his $6 million option for next season, then the team would have been unable to negotiate with the reliever until May 15.

Saito, who will turn 40 this winter, is open to returning to the Red Sox next season but has also announced interest in looking elsewhere as well.

“Since it’s something I can’t control, I can’t say much, but I’m hoping to come back to America and pitch again, and [would like] especially to come back to the Red Sox,” Saito told WEEI.com in late September.

Bringing back Saito, despite his age, would be a smart move for the Red Sox. By appearing in 56 games this summer, the righty proved that his arm was healthy after missing significant time in 2008 with a partially torn tendon in his elbow.

One of closer Jonathan Papelbon's trusted setup men, Saito went 3-3 with a 2.43 ERA — the eighth lowest in the AL among relievers with at least 40 appearances. In 55 2/3 innings, the four-year MLB veteran struck out 52 batters and walked 25. He was especially strong against left-handed hitters, holding them to a .195 BA in 32 1/3 innings. Just two years ago, Saito had 39 saves for the Dodgers in 63 appearances, proving he can be trusted in big-game scenarios.

The native of Japan finished his first season in Boston strongly. In his last 18 appearances of the season, Saito allowed just one earned run in 17 2/3 innings for a 0.51 ERA while striking out 19 of the 72 batters he faced.