PORT ST. LUCIE, Fla. - For the third straight season, the Mets' Opening Day payroll is expected to remain around the $90-million mark, an uncommonly low figure for a team that plays in the nation's largest media market.

It's a fact that hasn't escaped the players' union.

"Any time there are concerns or issues with any club, related to certain habits or trends, we pay attention to them," said Tony Clark, the newly installed players' association chief. "So New York is no different than any other club from the standpoint of appreciating what's being paid in payroll and how clubs may be functioning in general related to improving the group that they've got on the field."

Clark declined to say whether the union has engaged in any conversations with the Mets about a payroll that has stagnated since the controlling Wilpon family was ensnared in the Bernie Madoff financial scandal.

The Mets' payroll is projected to be around $87 million, roughly the same as small-market teams such as the Kansas City Royals. Mets COO Jeff Wilpon and general manager Sandy Alderson have said publicly during spring training that there are no outside restrictions on the payroll.

"When and if there is a time and a need to have those conversations, that's when we have them," said Clark, a onetime Met during his playing days. "Is New York one of the marquee franchises? Yes. Will they always be? Yes. Are we paying attention in general? Yes."

advertisement | advertise on newsday

Meanwhile, Clark said the union is "not aware" of any payroll restrictions reportedly being enforced on the Mets as part of the terms of a loan.

"We're not consulted necessarily by the loans that are made by clubs," said Clark, who spoke to the Mets as part of the union's annual tour of training camps. "But we can appreciate when there is special language and special covenants in any particular loan and how that may manifest itself in the decision making of the club. Those are conversations that we've always had."

Clark also expressed concern about the impact of draft-pick compensation on top-tier free agents. Shortstop Stephen Drew, pitcher Ervin Santana and first baseman Kendrys Morales still remain unsigned, partly because teams have been hesitant to forfeit a high draft pick.

"It is a topic that we pay a lot of attention to," Clark said. "Because we don't think it's in anyone's best interest to have some of the top players in the game sitting at home and not playing."