(washed up, not worth a huge investment. On the left, Barry Zito)

While the New York papers are crammed with items discussing the Mets’ meeting with Barry Zito and Scott Boras yesterday (the New York Daily News’ Adam Rubin, the Times’ Ben Shpigel, Newsday’s Ken Davidoff — tipping the Giants to make a sizeable offer) leave it to the New York Post’s Michael Morrissey to crank up the smear machine before Zito’s even tried on a Mets cap.

“I don’t know if he cuts it in New York,” one insider who knows Zito flatly told The Post.

“I think he’s slipped,” one major-league scout told The Post. “The last two times I’ve seen him the last couple years, he wasn’t on at all. He struggled getting his breaking ball over for strikes, and when he does that, he’s in trouble. He can’t get by on a power arm.”

The scout allowed that Zito might not be slipping, per se, but at the very least he’s getting by with less exertion, getting by because he knows how to pitch. And that could be the cumulative effect of his workload.

Zito is a workhorse, first in the American League in starts in four of his six full years. He has thrown at least 213 innings every year since 2001. Whether he can go another five or six years without a serious injury is what the Mets and Rangers must factor into the equation.

Asked whether they would give Zito a six-year deal, both a major-league scout and a major-league GM guessed they wouldn’t. If the Mets don’t offer a sixth year, it could prevent a deal from getting done.

“Can you think of a guy who’s gone a six-year period without being hurt?” the scout said. “There’s not a ton of guys.”

The doubts about Zito’s ability will linger. The person who doesn’t know if Zito can cut it in the Big Apple wonders if his laid-back personality is simply a bad fit in a Type A city. And that won’t be known unless and until Zito takes the mound as a Met.