There's no edition of the winter meetings quite like a Nashville/Opryland edition of the winter meetings.
Where Christmas carolers do their best to out-warble America's finest GMs. Where dancing waters outnumber dancing agents. Where hundreds of baseball men roam the endless corridors, dodging Tennessee Walking Horses and riverboat riders in their dogged pursuit of backup catchers.
There's absolutely, positively nothing like it, all right. But this December, as another baseball delegation descends on Opryland, the baseball folks actually seem capable of generating more excitement than the ever-popular "Christmas on the Cumberland" showboat extravaganza.
Here are six major plot lines to watch this week:
1. Is the end to Santana-mania in sight?
The Yankees appeared to be close to reeling in Johan Santana this weekend. But hang on. This soap opera isn't quite over yet.
For one thing, the Yankees have told Minnesota their offer of Phil Hughes, Melky Cabrera and a respectable prospect is a take-it-or-leave-it proposition, not a conversation-starter -- and they want an answer by the end of the day Monday.
For another thing, the Red Sox have upped the ante by agreeing to include Jacoby Ellsbury in their offer. So even though Jon Lester and Clay Buchholz apparently are not part of that package, the Sox at least have given the Twins even more to think about.
If the Yankees' offer doesn't get a deal done, will they really walk away for good? Does that mean the Red Sox then will swoop in and nab Santana? Does that mean the Twins will keep him? Or does that mean they will just hold tight and wait for someone to meet their price?
"They've been very firm," said an official of one team that has talked to Minnesota. "They know what they want. And they're not going to say yes until they get it."
But even if the Twins do say yes, that will lead to the next big Santana drama: How rich will the Yankees -- or Red Sox -- make him?
He already turned down a four-year, $80 million extension from the Twins, which was on top of the $13.25 million he will receive next year. So obviously, it's going to take at least a five-year extension, worth more than $100 million, to get this done.
Not that there's any doubt this will get done. These are, after all, the Yankees and Red Sox. But Santana holds tremendous leverage. He knows, from the players they are willing to give up, just how badly the teams want and need him.
So, will this negotiation be quick and easy? Or will we find ourselves counting down the final seconds to the end of the 72-hour negotiating window, listening for the sound of that ringing cash register?
Either way, Santana will be the No. 1 topic of lobby conversation this week. We'd bet a ticket to the Pam Tillis Christmas Dinner Party on that.
2. Where will Miguel Cabrera end up?
The Marlins seemed as if they had all but dropped Cabrera into a Christmas gift box bound for Anaheim more than a week ago. But here he is, still on the market: a genuine 24-year-old All-Star hitting machine, right there for the taking.
The Angels remain the best bet to finish off a deal for Cabrera. But before they can finish off anything, they have to start over. Which means the Marlins are going to have to seek them out in Nashville and clear the air.
Owner Arte Moreno clearly isn't the only member of the Angels' brass who got all fired up last week over the alleged last-minute changes in Florida's asking price. So the Angels have been telling people that for this deal to be resurrected, the Marlins need to approach them -- not the other way around.
That's still likely to happen, though. And once it does, this trade has several potential variations.
It's possible the two clubs could end up doing a 3-for-1 deal, if the three pieces are, say, Howie Kendrick, Jeff Mathis and the Angels' best pitching prospect, Nick Adenhart. But they've been talking mostly 4-for-1 scenarios that include either a second pitcher or outfielder Reggie Willits. So, despite last week's tension, they still have the framework for a deal that easily could happen this week.
If that trade falls apart, the Giants, White Sox, Indians and Dodgers all are interested in Cabrera -- just not in the hefty asking price. The Marlins could find themselves debating whether to take the Angels' best offer, get creative with one of the other bidders or hang onto Cabrera untill the July trading deadline.
"One thing about the Marlins," said an official of one team that has dealt with them in the past. "They're normally very straight shooters. They let you know exactly what it's going to take, and they don't budge. In the deal we made with them, we could have offered them 100 other guys, and if we didn't give up the guy they wanted, they were going to walk away. So I don't expect them to cave here. They'll get their price, or they'll keep the guy."
3. Who's going to shop at Bird Mart?
Once Santana and Cabrera have moved on to their new addresses, those other holiday shoppers will just have to wheel their carts to some other retailer. So why not Bird Mart -- the clearance outlet of those retooling Orioles?
The Orioles' new president of baseball operations, Andy MacPhail, will spend the week fielding offers for ace Erik Bedard and shortstop Miguel Tejada. And you'll be hearing lots of fun rumors involving both of them.
But does that mean either of them will get dealt this week? Baseball men we surveyed were dubious.
The Orioles, for instance, haven't offered to eat any of the $26 million Tejada has coming over the next two years. But they're still looking for two "quality" players in return, according to one team that checked in.
And incidentally, they're marketing Tejada as a third baseman, not a shortstop, even though he hasn't told anyone he would be willing to move to third.
One question that keeps being raised is this: Suppose the Orioles find a team willing to give up what they're asking -- but only if the Orioles digest at least half of Tejada's salary. Would owner Peter Angelos sign off on that?
"I'll tell you this: It's going to be hard for Peter to trade him," said one baseball man who knows Angelos well. "Peter still loves the guy. So even if he ever does sign off on trading him, he will never take back money."
Angelos also looms as a potential impediment to dealing Bedard. There is massive interest from the Dodgers, Mariners, Mets, Yankees, Red Sox and Phillies, among others. And there have been rumblings that the Orioles think they could have a potential match with the Dodgers, even if L.A. balks at giving up the likes of outfielder Matt Kemp and hot pitching prospect Clayton Kershaw.
So far, though, several teams that have asked about Bedard have come away saying they don't see how any team can meet an asking price that eclipses what the Twins want for Santana -- i.e., at least four young, big-time players.
But again, let's play what-if. What if the Orioles do find an acceptable deal? Would Angelos sign off on it? He supposedly has given MacPhail full autonomy to run the baseball side of the franchise. But if Angelos OKs the trade of someone like Bedard, that would be greatly out of character for an owner who has torpedoed deals regularly over the years.
"In the end, I don't think Peter will let them do it," the same baseball man said. "Maybe I'm wrong, but we'll see. Let's say this: I think we're going to find out exactly how much autonomy Andy really has."
4. Will the A's move to Sell-A-Con Valley?
When we asked one GM last week what he expects to happen in Nashville, he pointed his compass straight toward Oakland.
"I think the A's," he said, "will move a lot of people."
Well, "move" might not be quite the right word, since the A's don't appear to be close on anything. But they definitely will be talking about a lot of people. And the list starts with pitchers Dan Haren and Joe Blanton.
"They're listening intently on those two guys," one GM said. "But if they don't get players they like, they'll keep them both. They're saying they don't have to move them, and they don't."
Neither Haren nor Blanton can be a free agent until 2010. And Haren's contract, in particular, makes him so affordable ($16.25 million for the next three years, including his 2010 option), GM Billy Beane sees no reason he shouldn't ask for a Santana-esque return.
If you believe the scuttlebutt, he asked the Yankees for two of their big three -- Hughes, Joba Chamberlain and Ian Kennedy -- plus at least one more player. Same with the Red Sox, who supposedly were asked for two of their three usual suspects -- Buchholz, Lester and Ellsbury -- plus more. The Mets reportedly were asked for both Carlos Gomez and Fernando Martinez. Etc., etc.
That price tag has inspired a lot of muttering so far. But those shoppers keep coming back for another look, so Beane is holding his ground.
"Billy has just been waiting to see what happens with Santana," said an official of one interested team. "Once that deal goes down, he's hoping he can pick up the pieces."
"If the Angels get Cabrera," one GM said, "Oakland might unload everybody. At that point, the Angels would be so loaded, it would be like a signal to Billy that it's time to rebuild."
5. The All-Trade-Rumor Team
Who else could get traded this week? Here's one shopping list:
RH starter -- Vicente Padilla
LH starter -- Chris Capuano
RH reliever -- Aaron Heilman
LH reliever -- Damaso Marte
1B -- Richie Sexson
2B -- Chris Burke
SS -- Juan Uribe
3B -- Scott Rolen
C -- Gerald Laird
LF -- Jason Bay
CF -- Coco Crisp
RF -- Luke Scott
DH -- Kevin Millar
6. The All-Free-Agent Team
For a long time now, the winter meetings have been pretty much one gigantic free-agent fest. Not this one.
The let's-make-a-deal shopping list is so much more seductive than the free-agent shopping list, it's possible there won't be more than a handful of free agents signed at these meetings. And that group might not get much more glamorous than LaTroy Hawkins, Paul Lo Duca, Jose Guillen and Japanese pitcher Hiroki Kuroda.
Nevertheless, for your shopping pleasure, here's our All-Free-Agent team, ranked by likelihood they will sign at these meetings:
RH starter -- Kuroda
LH starter -- Mark Redman
RH reliever -- Hawkins
LH reliever -- Jeremy Affeldt
1B -- Tony Clark
2B -- Mark Loretta
SS -- David Eckstein
3B -- Mike Lamb
C -- LoDuca
LF -- Shannon Stewart
CF -- Mike Cameron
RF -- Guillen
DH -- Mike Piazza
But it's possible no more than three names on that list will get jobs this week. And the agents shopping those names aren't happy about it.
"I've had agents call me," said an official of one team that's been linked to big-deal shopping, "and say, 'Would you hurry up and do your deal, already? You're holding up the whole free-agent market.'"
You'll hear lots more variations on that tune this week at this inimitable Nashville edition of the winter meetings -- accompanied, of course, by banjos, pedal steel guitars and maybe even Scott Boras on the mandolin.
Jayson Stark is a senior writer for ESPN.com. His new book, "The Stark Truth: The Most Overrated and Underrated Players in Baseball History," has been published by Triumph Books and now is available in bookstores. Click here to order a copy.