MLBPA watching Mets' payroll

PORT ST. LUCIE, Fla. -- New players' union chief Tony Clark did not use the harsh language his predecessors sometimes did when discussing the New York Mets' paltry payroll, but he indicated there is an awareness of the lack of spending.

The Mets enter the season with roughly an $87 million payroll, which is estimated to be seventh-lowest in MLB, despite playing in the game's largest market.

"Let me offer you this: If there are concerns, what often ends up happening is we have an opportunity, along with Major League Baseball, to sit down and discuss perhaps what the game plan might be or could be going forward," said Clark, who played for the Mets in 2003.

"Is New York one of the marquee franchises? Yes. Will they always be? Yes. Are we paying attention in general? Yes."

The Post recently reported that a current team loan, due to be refinanced, had payroll constraints written into the terms by lenders.

"No, we are not aware of that," said Clark, who spoke with media in Port St. Lucie after the union had its annual meeting with players.

The Mets also have disputed that reported language.

Clark also offered on that subject: "We're not consulted necessarily on the loans that are made by clubs, but we can appreciate when there is special language or special covenants in any particular loan and how that may manifest itself in the decision-making. Those are conversations that we will always have."

On the Mets' spending level, Clark said: "Suffice it to say, whether it's New York or any other team, obviously one of our responsibilities as a union is making sure that we protect the interests of the players, and obviously support the interests and the advancement of the game in general. So any time there are concerns or issues with any club related to certain habits or trends, we pay attention to them."

Asked if he has received any assurances from the Wilpons or Sandy Alderson about future spending levels, Clark said: "Rest assured, any conversations that we may be having with management likely won't end up in the newspaper. But, again, I'll go back to where I started: We will always stay engaged from top to bottom with any club, at least related to any concerns we may have and how those concerns manifest themselves against the backdrop of the CBA in general."

Clark also addressed free-agent shortstop Stephen Drew remaining unsigned, which is partly related to draft-pick compensation being attached to his signing.

"It's very much a concern," Clark said. "Any time you have players on the free-agent market who are still sitting at home come March 3 or 4 or whatever day it is that I think everyone would agree can have a positive impact on any club they would happen to play on, it is a concern. It is a topic that we pay a lot of attention to, because we don't think it's in anyone's interest to have some of the top players in the game sitting at home and not playing on the field."