INDIANAPOLIS - He swept through the Marriott lobby like royalty, with television cameramen scrambling backward to record his grand entrance and reporters trailing in his wake up the wide staircase.

Scott Boras was going to field a few questions at the winter meetings. And the reaction to that otherwise unremarkable fact neatly summed up the most dramatic change in baseball's annual December conclave.

The agents are the rock stars this week.

It used to be the general managers who were front-and-center, wheeling and dealing, making trades, dominating the headlines.

Not anymore. These days it's the agents who prowl the lobby, attract the attention, make things happen. Or not.

As theater goes, frankly, the get-together that ends with this morning's Rule 5 draft has been pretty much a dud. The Yankees, Tigers and Diamondbacks completed a big three-cornered trade yesterday. The Orioles dealt for Kevin Millwood. The Mariners signed free-agent Chone Figgins Tuesday. As headline news goes, that was pretty much it. And neither transaction budged the needle on the Richter scale back in Philadelphia. It's impossible to recall a winter meetings this dull.

Let's just say that the Phillies aren't going to sell many tickets on the basis of the signing of pinch-hitter Ross Gload late Tuesday night.

This is a trend that has been developing for years. As the World Series ends later and later, the time in which baseball does its postseason housecleaning - picking up or rejecting options, deciding which players to offer arbitration to and the like - are also pushed back. Heck, the entire free-agent pool won't be known until after Saturday at midnight when teams have to decide which players to offer contracts to.

Until the big free agents fall into place, teams tend to be reluctant to make trades. And that's where the agents come in.

Boras is best remembered in Philly for advising Phillies No. 1 draft pick J.D. Drew to sit out an entire season. He represents, among others, outfielder Matt Holliday, third baseman Adrian Beltre and outfielder Johnny Damon, all of whom are available to the highest bidder.

Like him or hate him, he's really good at what he does. Which is to extract maximum dollars from the coffers of teams and transferring it into the bank accounts of his clients.

And his virtuoso performance on the mezzanine level yesterday was practically a primer on how he weaves his spell.

It's deceptively simple. He starts with an analysis of a team's needs. He talks about winning. And then - surprise! - just happens to represent a player or players who would complete the puzzle.

He subtly reinforces his case with more talk about winning. Last year, he said yesterday, he told the Angels, Red Sox and Yankees that whichever team signed Mark Teixeira would be the "clear favorite" to win the World Series. "And that's the way it turned out," he added smoothly.

After that he has an answer for anything. The Cardinals can't afford to sign both Holliday now and Albert Pujols when he becomes a free agent in 2 years? According to Boras, they can't afford not to.

"I think from the standpoint of baseball when you have a player like Albert Pujols, I think his chances of staying in St. Louis are much greater if he has someone like Matt Holliday hitting behind him," he said.

The Yankees have less need to bring back Damon now that they have acquired Curtis Granderson from the Tigers? Why, it turns out it's exactly the opposite because the defending world champions need Derek Jeter and Damon at the top of the lineup to help create RBI opportunities for the solid string of boppers who follow.

"I think it dramatically enhances the ability of the Yankees to have those two players on the team together," he suggested.

The Mets don't have money to spend? He called them an "economic juggernaut" and added: "The New York Mets have a lot of choices. They can sign any player they want to sign if they so choose to."

And so on.

He has done reams of research, and neatly weaves the stats into his presentation. He builds his case like a lawyer arguing in front of the Supreme Court.

It's almost hypnotic.

The Phillies aren't in the market for any of Boras' big hitters this winter, but would have to be interested in lefthanded reliever Mike Gonzalez. "We've gotten, I'd say, probably upwards of 15 teams that are interested in Mike," he said. "He's a guy that fits clubs with a closer, without a closer, a closer-in-transition. A lot of suitors and we're filtering through the process."

For what it's worth, Boras also offered his opinion that the Phillies aren't going to trade for Blue Jays ace Roy Halladay this winter. And neither is anyone else.

"I listen to my clients talk about Roy Halladay. And they all have the same thing to say, that it is one of the toughest tasks they have as major leaguers to face him," he said. "I just don't see with a year to go that a club could satisfy what Toronto should demand for Roy. I really think that would be a very, very unlikely event."

Boras wasn't the only agent to take center stage this week, but he's symbolic of what the winter meetings have become. And that's just the way it is.

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