In Beane's case, past is the correct tense. The 2009 Winter Meetings have a half-day to go, but not for Beane. He departed the premises late Wednesday afternoon, empty-handed but, rather than disappointed, finally ready to get to serious work.
"You really do more productive work when you get back home, and can get on the phone away from the distractions," Beane said.
The next few days certainly will be busier for the A's than were the last three.
Their name could come up in Thursday morning's Rule 5 Draft, even though their representatives will go into it with a full 40-man roster and players selected in the process must immediately be placed on that list.
"But we're always on the lookout -- it's just another opportunity, and we can always create [roster] space," Beane said.
Two days later, and more relevantly, arrives the deadline for clubs to tender contracts to players under their control, an important development for those with between three and six years of service. That is, those eligible for arbitration but not free agency.
Of the five Oakland players who fall into that category, Jack Cust is most precariously on the bubble. He earned $2.8 million last season and is a left-handed hitting DH/corner outfielder -- a description on Beane's short shopping list.
Others on the non-tender lookout are pitchers Santiago Casilla and Michael Wuertz, and outfielders Scott Hairston and Rajai Davis.
Contract calls on all "will be eleventh-hour decisions," said Beane, making it clear that the lack of activity here will have no bearing on those verdicts.
"I wasn't worried at all here about the arbitration date being too close," Beane said.
He had spent another morning calling agents and having agents calling him, laying more of the groundwork for possible subsequent moves, getting a slightly clearer idea of how his market matches up with the A's needs.
"We have no problem identifying our needs; that's an easy part," said Beane. "And things did get focused a little bit. Some markets just get going slower."
From his perspective, this one belongs in that category.
"In many offseasons, one free-agent signing leads to other things. Right now, everyone seems to be doing the same things -- gathering information.
"In some cases, we're still trying to get medical records, which is a normal procedure for players who had some injury issues. Until you have that, there are some steps you just cannot take."
Beane reiterated that the majority of his business here was conducted with agents, not GM peers, and signings remain the most likely venue for the infielders and left-handed power bat he seeks.
"At times," he said, reflecting on his 11 years on the job, "we've been very aggressive going after trades. Not this time."
A strong finish by his young club has had little effect on that patience. True, the A's played .500 ball through the season's last three months and even won 15 of their last 26 games.
"But playing .500 ball for 80 games is still a long way from contending for 162," Beane said. "We have to continue developing young players, and then the only way you get there is by not trading young players. And then you acquire more young players. But that's difficult. That takes time."
To Beane, a Winter Meetings atmosphere increasingly seems to take time away from the mission.
"They put you among four walls, almost forcing you to interact," he said. "There are schedules to keep, with reporters and TV interviews, and it becomes hard to separate yourself for some quality work.
"You can get on the phone from anywhere and talk to people. Most guys [fellow GMs] go stir-crazy here. You certainly don't just bump into them in the lobby.
"That's where all the media hangs out. Might as well pin a slice of bologna to your rump and dive into a shark tank."