NEW YORK -- Still wearing his red Santa suit and hat, white beard and thin-rimmed glasses, Mets infielder Daniel Murphy marched into the curtained-off area of Citi Field's Acela Club on Tuesday, where general manager Sandy Alderson was talking casually amongst an assembled group.
Murphy spotted him immediately.
"Santa's got a box of chocolates for Sandy this year," the second baseman hollered, referring to Alderson's recent quip that he might have had better luck wooing Jose Reyes back to Flushing with candy.
Even Alderson laughed. At a time when few Mets are untouchable, Alderson knows that his players cannot help but overhear the rumors swirling around their heads. Murphy knows that he has played a central role in those rumors, specifically in a deal that would have sent him to the Dodgers. So does pitcher Jon Niese, who joined Murphy and infielder Justin Turner on Tuesday for the team's annual holiday party to benefit local schoolchildren.
This is an awkward time for a front office seeking to rebuild for the future without completely forsaking the present. And it is an awkward time for the players who may or may not be a part of that. In terms of Major League personnel, Alderson has insisted that only third baseman David Wright is untouchable this offseason.
For the right price, anyone else could go.
"I'm definitely paying attention to it," Turner said. "You see all the names come up. Sandy's already said that pretty much no one's off-limits."
As much as they try not to, most players take note of that. Though not all of them admit to reading newspapers or logging online, the simple fact is that many do. And those who do manage to avoid media reports typically hear the same trade rumors by word of mouth.
Such is an unavoidable fact of life for a group that, to date, has endured more rumors than most.
"We've made it clear from the get-go that we'll talk about almost anybody," Alderson said. "But at this point, that's all it is, is talk."
Despite Alderson's insistence that no deals are imminent -- and that, in truth, he expects acquisitions throughout baseball to slow to a trickle between now and New Year's -- trade rumors could easily tumble into January and beyond. Because Alderson is realistic about what his team will be able to accomplish in 2012, he feels obligated to listen to any deal that could help the Mets in the future. At the same time, as long as none of the organization's top prospects are at risk, Alderson would be thrilled to upgrade his current squad, as well.
Most likely, the Mets will simply look to acquire high-ceiling young talent in exchange for Major League players -- Niese and Murphy being just two examples of players who could go.
"I read about it, but I'm not worried about it," said Niese, whom the Mets discussed with multiple teams, including the Angels and Yankees, at the Winter Meetings last week. "Those decisions aren't mine. That's why I don't wear a suit to work. So whatever happens, happens."
Murphy took a similar stance regarding his own situation, quipping that such talk is "above Santa's pay grade."
"It means you're wanted by more than one team," Murphy said shortly after setting aside his suit and beard. "That's nice. It feels nice."
For now, all Murphy and Niese can do is look to better themselves, as both players continue to rehab from season-ending injuries. Few around the team have expressed much concern about Niese, who suffered an oblique strain in late August and did not return. Anxiety is greater regarding Murphy, who missed the final two months of the season after suffering the second major knee injury of his career.
But as both players noted, there is not much they can do. Murphy and Niese were satisfied Tuesday simply to dress up in elf hats, spend time with local children and forget about trade rumors for a while.
"Nothing has happened since the Meetings that would suggest that anything's going to get done," Alderson said, then chuckled. "And of course we couldn't trade anybody until after the Christmas party here anyway."