INDIANAPOLIS -- It's one of baseball's most time-honored annual rituals, right up there with Opening Day and Alex Cintron's first designated-for-assignment transaction. And it happened again Thursday.
It's the sight of two dozen general managers sprinting, at Carl Crawford speed, toward the door to get the heck out of another arduous edition of baseball's winter meetings.
At least in most years, a bunch of them stampede toward the airport knowing that they actually accomplished something. This year, though, they were bailing on a winter meetings yakfest in which what didn't happen was way more significant than what did happen.
So let's take a look at the most important unfinished business and most significant ongoing storylines of the 2009 winter meetings:
Where is Roy Halladay going?
Halladay was a Blue Jay when these meetings started. He was still a Blue Jay when these meetings ended. And at this rate, he could still be a Blue Jay on New Year's Day, Ground Hog Day and the Fourth of July.
Officials from the half-dozen teams that inquired about Halladay at these meetings reported that the price sticker still being slapped on Halladay's windshield looked frighteningly similar to the prices the Blue Jays were asking for in July.
So the only realistic destinations for Halladay at this point appear to be the Angels (for a package fronted by Joe Saunders and Erick Aybar), Phillies (for J.A. Happ, Michael Taylor and more) or Yankees (for a centerpiece of Jesus Montero/Phil Hughes-or-Joba Chamberlain). But one or both sides are balking at all those potential deals. And there are still major questions about whether Halladay is willing to sign an extension wherever he goes, a sticking point for at least one of those teams (the Angels).
None of those developments would seem to point toward a Halladay trade going down any time soon. But as we reported in Wednesday's more extensive look at this situation, this saga could easily follow a parallel path to the 2007-08 Johan Santana talks, in which the price plummeted precipitously as spring training approached. If not, there's always July.
Where are the marquee free agents going?
They're the three biggest names on the free-agent tote board. And their fates are still unknown. In fact, you could make a case their fates might even be intertwined.
Either Bay or Holliday figures to end up in Boston. And one GM said Thursday he'd be shocked if the Angels don't reel in either Bay or Lackey. The Mariners are also in on both Bay and Lackey. And don't ignore the Yankees' ability to swoop in and sign Lackey or even Holliday.
So almost anything is still possible. But to sum this up as succinctly as possible …
Bay has interest from the Giants, Mariners, Angels and Mets, but appears to be treading water, hoping he can return to Boston.
The Red Sox seem to sense that, however. So they're in a holding pattern themselves as they wait to see how far Scott Boras is willing to drop Holliday's price below the crazy Mark Teixeira stratosphere where it's currently hovering.
Meanwhile, the Cardinals are trying to get Boras to commit, once and for all, to either bringing Holliday back to St. Louis (at way-below-Teixeira dollars) or pulling that plug.
And way out there on the scenic overlook, there are the Yankees, taking it all in and acting disinterested -- but lurking just in case. As an exec of one team put it, anybody who thinks the Yankees would just lie back and watch the Red Sox or Mets sign Holliday at some bargain price hasn't been paying attention.
For now, though, the Yankees are more focused on two areas that directly impact whether they make a move on Holliday: (A) signing Lackey or some other free-agent starter, and (B) either getting Johnny Damon to take their two-year, $10 million offer or moving on.
And then there are the Angels. They haven't shown any inclination to offer Lackey the A.J. Burnett-type package (five years, $82.5 million) he's been looking for. But can we really expect them to watch both Lackey and Chone Figgins sign with the Mariners? Sure seems dubious to most people we've surveyed.
Where is Milton Bradley going?
The Milton Bradley trade rumors outnumbered actual Milton Bradley trades this week, by a score of 1.8 billion to zilch. So all we really learned at these meetings was where Bradley isn't going.
Certainly not to Seattle, and especially not for Carlos Silva. Definitely not to Boston, and -- as ESPNBoston.com's Gordon Edes so eloquently phrased it -- there was a better chance of Bradley's succeeding Ted Kennedy than there was of his getting traded to the Red Sox for Mike Lowell.
Texas now appears all but out, too, especially with Kevin Millwood traded elsewhere. And another team we'd heard had "mild" pre-Indy interest, the A's, showed pretty much zero interest at the meetings.
So all signs continue to point, if they can ever figure out the money disparity, toward Bradley's winding up in Tampa Bay, in what now figures to be a one-for-one trade for Pat Burrell. The Cubs would then do their best to spin Burrell elsewhere, to a destination still unknown. And about the only thing we can really be sure of is that Milton Bradley will not be hanging out on Opening Day on the north side of Chicago.
Who replaces Mike Lowell in Boston?
Even though there are still obstacles and technicalities standing in the way of the Red Sox's completing Mike Lowell's trade to Texas, every indication is that this will happen. But what's more intriguing is what happens next in Boston.
The Red Sox's first item on the to-do list is clearly figuring out left field. But after that, the Lowell deal would seem to leave them with a vacancy at either third base or first, because of Kevin Youkilis' multitask proclivity. And, as always, they've kicked around a thousand different ways to fill it.
You can forget Adrian Gonzalez, not that the Red Sox wouldn't love to have him. Teams that have spoken to the Padres report that while they'll listen, they've shown no motivation whatsoever to trade an affordable, massively popular hometown hero.
Then there is Adrian Beltre, a guy the Red Sox are clearly infatuated with. But Beltre is a Scott Boras client supposedly looking for $14 million for three to five years. So don't bet on that.
You name it. The Red Sox have undoubtedly talked about it. But one exec who spoke with them came away thinking it could easily be none of the above.
Who else could get traded?
Best bets: Uggla still looks like a fit for San Francisco or Baltimore, if the Orioles can convince themselves he can play third base. And the Braves told clubs they're now confident they can move Lowe to some team that loses out on Lackey, assuming they eat, say, a few million bucks a year of the $60 million he has coming over the next four years. The Braves would then take the savings and go sign a free-agent bat. Stay tuned.
Other free agents
Free agents we were most surprised didn't sign: In our pre-Indy poll, a dozen executives predicted Mark DeRosa would be the first free agent to sign this week. Instead, he turned into a highly attractive Plan B for teams like the Cardinals, Giants, Cubs, Yankees, Red Sox, Orioles and Mets. As soon as the Plan A's -- Holliday, Bay, Beltre et al -- find a home, DeRosa should follow about 30 seconds later.
Starting pitchers not named Lackey: For everyone who predicted that no starters whose names weren't John Lackey would get decent money this winter, well, never mind. Andy Pettitte got $11.75 million with only one team (the Yankees) bidding. Randy Wolf will collect three years, $29.75 million from the Brewers. Even Brad Penny rode two decent months in San Francisco to a one-year, $7.5 million payday from the Cardinals. So all that bodes well for the next wave -- a group headed by Joel Pineiro, Jason Marquis, Jon Garland, Jarrod Washburn and Doug Davis. There are plenty of shoppers. And, as always, never enough pitching.
Finally, here's a look at the remaining free-agent crop by the numbers:
" There are only two free-agent hitters who hit 30 homers last season -- Jason Bay (36) and Russell Branyan (31).
" Of the 14 free agents who hit 20 or more homers last season, none has signed yet. The others: Hideki Matsui (28), Jermaine Dye (27), Blalock (25), Adam LaRoche (25), Damon (24), Mike Cameron (24), Holliday (24), Jim Thome (23), DeRosa (23), Miguel Olivo (23), Bengie Molina (20) and Marlon Byrd (20).
" Just three free agents drove in 90 runs last season: Bay (119), Holliday (109) and Matsui (90). None of them has signed, either, you'll notice.
" Four free agents (with at least 350 plate appearances) hit .300 last season. Two are Miguel Tejada (.313) and Holliday (.313). You'll never guess the others: Felipe Lopez (.310) and Scott Podsednik (.304).
" Want to guess the only free agents who stole 20 bases? How about Podsednik (30) and Adam Kennedy (20)?
" Want to take a shot at the only two free-agent starters with ERAs lower than Lackey's (3.83)? How about Pineiro (3.49) and Washburn (3.78).
" And lastly, we know you'll never name the only remaining free-agent starter who allowed fewer hits than innings. Ready? It's Doug Davis -- barely (203 hits in 203 1/3 IP).
But all of these lists, and all of these plotlines, will be zigging, sagging and resolving in the weeks to come. So don't sign off Rumor Central just yet. The winter meetings may be over, but the biggest stories of the 2009-10 offseason are still to come.
Jayson Stark is a senior writer for ESPN.com. His new book, "Worth The Wait: Tales of the 2008 Phillies," was published by Triumph Books and is available in bookstores and online. Click here to order a copy.