The winter meetings begin Monday in Nashville - they unofficially began Sunday night - and end with the Rule 5 draft early Thursday morning.

That's a four-day period in an offseason process that can last almost as long as the season itself. The point is that regardless of what Phillies general manager Ruben Amaro Jr. accomplishes during his stay at the Opryland Hotel, there will be plenty of time to do lots of things afterward.

Amaro, in fact, has typically made his major moves after the meetings, including the acquisition of Roy Halladay from Toronto in 2009, the signing of Cliff Lee in 2010, and the re-signing of shortstop Jimmy Rollins last December. The groundwork for this season's biggest offseason move, which will be the addition of a centerfielder, could be put in motion this week but not take place until later.

Besides, Amaro needs more than a centerfielder to complete his offseason to-do list.

"We may be waiting until January or February or March to fill all our needs," Amaro said. "I'm good to take as long as it takes. I'll keep looking for things as long as we feel it is the right thing to do for our club in the short term and the long term."

Still, there is some urgency for filling the giant hole in center field. The options dwindled by two last week when the Atlanta Braves signed free agent B.J. Upton, and the Washington Nationals acquired Denard Span in a trade with the Minnesota Twins.

The best offensive outfielder - Josh Hamilton of the Rangers - remains on the free-agent board, and he is capable of playing all three outfield positions. There have been reports that the Phillies are not in on the bidding for Hamilton, but anybody who is sure about that has forgotten Amaro's stealth style of doing things.

Remember, there appeared to be zero chance of Lee's returning to Philadelphia at the 2010 winter meetings in Florida.

The best defensive centerfielder - Atlanta's Michael Bourn - is also still on the board, and it seems likely that the Phillies and agent Scott Boras will at least discuss the possibility of baseball's premier base stealer returning to the town where his major-league career started.

Hamilton and Bourn are both lefthanded hitters who are expected to command more than the five-year, $75.2 million deal the Braves gave Upton. The Phillies need a righthanded bat more but would certainly be happy with a switch-hitter like Angel Pagan, too.

Pagan was traded from the New York Mets to the San Francisco Giants in a move that did not generate much commotion at last year's winter meetings. After helping the Giants win the World Series, Pagan is considered by many to be the best value among the free-agent centerfielders this year. The Giants want Pagan back, and the fact they won the World Series has to enhance their chances. That could also drive up the price for the Phillies, who reportedly are in conversations to sign Pagan.

Shane Victorino is also out there waiting to learn where he will play next season. During spring training last season, he said he wanted a five-year deal, and he also wanted to remain with the Phillies. Neither wish came true.

After he finished last season with the Los Angeles Dodgers and a .255 batting average, it's hard to imagine he'll get a five-year deal anywhere. The Flyin' Hawaiian recently tweeted about how many special memories he had in Philadelphia, but it remains unlikely that he'll be given an opportunity to create even more next season. It's possible Victorino receives less than the $9.5 million he made last season.

Amaro also is in the market for upgrades in the bullpen and at third base. Baltimore slugger Mark Reynolds was among the non-tendered players who would have been eligible for salary arbitration, but his poor fielding at third base forced the Orioles to play him primarily at first last season. Longtime Boston Red Sox star Kevin Youkilis and Tampa Bay's Jeff Keppinger are also among the free-agent third basemen.

Texas' Mike Adams, San Francisco's Brian Wilson, Kansas City's Joakim Soria, and Washington's Sean Burnett are among the top free-agent relievers available.