As the battle for the 5th spot in the Mets’ rotation heats up with intra-squad games begining today, the New York Post’s Joel Sherman takes a long look at the state of New York’s starters.

The most meaningful competition will reveal whether the Mets have a depth or dearth of starting pitching. Aaron Heilman (above), the front-runner for the No. 5 starting slot, will work today, as will a few players with a chance to push the righty: Brian Bannister, Jeremi Gonzalez, John Maine and Alay Soler.

Omar Minaya and pitching coach Rick Peterson believe that group, plus Jose Lima and Yusaku Iriki, offer viable options behind a front four of Pedro Martinez, Tom Glavine, Steve Trachsel and Victor Zambrano. Minaya depleted the rotation comfort level by trading Kris Benson and Jae Seo in an attempt to deepen the bullpen. The result, however, means the erratic Zambrano is probably back in the rotation while Heilman is likely to be moved from the pen, where he excelled last year, to the rotation.

If either falters or age/injury besets Martinez, Glavine or Trachsel, the Mets will be left with a buffet of untested and journeymen pitchers to step in.

One AL executive surmised, “The Mets are in a lot of trouble if any of their five starters goes down or doesn’t perform well.”

An NL GM more optimistically said: “I think that is reasonable depth. Bannister is a legitimate sixth starter, and Maine and Gonzalez have a chance to give a few decent starts. But I’m sure the Mets don’t want 25 starts from that crew.”

Minaya said he was “comfortable with the numbers, but I’m always looking to upgrade the quality.”

Minaya tried hard to get Javier Vazquez in the offseason and has told confidants he believes the club still needs at least one top-flight starter to win a championship, which is why he will work his radar to see if Jose Contreras, Barry Zito or another front-end arm goes on the market during the season while hoping that last year’s first-round pick, the buzz-producing Mike Pelfrey, comes fast. Minaya also must pray that Martinez and his fragile foot can produce another season of 30-start greatness.

Even if the Mets had kept Benson and Seo, it would not have made Martinez any more expendable. Those are the types who can replace Trachsel, not someone as great as Pedro. Now, however, the Mets must ask if they have enough resources to replace even Trachsel.

Seattle’s Matt Lawton hit a broken-bat HR during an intrasquad game on Monday. Carl Everett suggested checking the bat, which probably went over better than Carl administering a piss test on the spot.