NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- Sandy Alderson insists the Mets are not leaning toward trading R.A. Dickey, but the general manager's actions Monday spoke volumes to the contrary. By late afternoon of his first day at the Winter Meetings, Alderson had met with "several" clubs to discuss a trade of Dickey. He had not met with Dickey's agent, Bo McKinnis, to discuss an extension.

"I don't know whether he's at the hotel," Alderson said. "I haven't met him. I haven't talked to him."

Negotiations or not, Dickey's situation bubbled under the surface of nearly everything that unfolded Monday at the Opryland Hotel. The Red Sox and Dodgers were among more than a half-dozen clubs to show interest in Dickey, according to a source, and one team insider said the Mets were actively debating whether to keep Dickey or trade him.

The answer may not come this week, though the Mets should refine their perspective by the end of it.

"If we're looking for a package, it needs to have a difference-maker," Alderson said. "Otherwise, we'd be reluctant to do it."

Alderson referenced that phrase -- "difference-maker" -- several times Monday in discussing Dickey's situation. It was the first time Alderson strongly intimated his willingness to trade Dickey, though the Mets are clearly not willing to part with the reigning National League Cy Young Award winner unless they receive a significant piece in return.

Ideally they would net a power-hitting outfielder, instantly filling their greatest area of need. But they would also accept a catcher. Or anything else, really -- any package that they consider fair value is fair game. Quality trumps quantity in discussions of this nature.

"I don't think we'll have real clarity for another couple of days," Alderson said Monday. "Everything we did today was preliminary. We met with several clubs on a variety of topics, not just R.A., and we expect to do that the remainder of the afternoon and maybe this evening as well. I would expect more information and a better sense of where we are on Wednesday."

If the current trend continues, those in uniform may be forced to consider life without their most consistent pitcher. Asked about a potential trade of Dickey, manager Terry Collins toed the company line, just as he did a year ago when the Mets lost Jose Reyes to free agency.

"I support whatever we think is best for the organization," Collins said. "When we go to Spring Training, I'm going to look at the names on those lockers and I'm going to figure out what we've got to do to be successful with the names on the lockers, depending on who they are. Anything can happen any time. I've been in the game long enough to understand that."

As for the knuckleballer himself, Dickey popped into the Opryland Hotel on Sunday -- a quick 15-minute drive from his home in Nashville -- to meet with Mets trainer Ray Ramirez. He was scheduled to fly to New York to appear on "The Daily Show" on Tuesday, then head back to the Opryland the following day. That visit could include a meeting with McKinnis or Mets officials.

Or it could not. If another team bowls the Mets over with an offer at these Meetings, tempting the Mets with the promise of a power-hitting outfielder or a bright young catcher, Alderson could call off his negotiations before they reach a resolution. He is looking out for the best interests of his club, just as Dickey is looking out for the best interests of his career.

To be clear, Dickey may also sign a two-year extension this week that would take all trade talks off the table. But if the Mets decide a trade might better serve the team, they are more than willing to pursue it.

"It's a huge decision," Collins said. "There's a lot of things to consider -- your fan base, the team. But if you do something like that, it's for the benefit of the organization in the long term.

"I like R.A. Dickey a lot. He knows it. But I know there's a whole process going on, and it's not really fair for me to comment on whether or not he's going to be traded, because right now, he isn't. So I just think it's a matter of us moving forward with what we have."

Right now, the Mets have a reigning Cy Young Award winner under team control for one more season. Whether that will still be true a week from now remains to be seen.