Shrinks say great expectations often prevent great results. Aim too high and you can end up with nothing. Take it easy and things often fall into place more naturally.

If that's the case, then baseball's winter meetings this week in Houston might be a nice surprise.

That's because nobody expects anything to happen.

There's no new commissioner to be picked, no old one to stab.

There's no imminent news on National League expansion.

There's no labor-management pact ready for the owners to chew upon.

Nobody seems on the verge of signing any of the offseason's four dynamite free agents: Bruce Sutter (45 saves), Rick Sutcliffe (20-6 season), Andre Thornton (33 homers) or Steve Trout (13-7).

Because those free agents and a few other useful fellows still are at loose ends, few teams want to get serious about making trades as yet.

Until you know whether Sutter is going to play for St. Louis, Toronto, Atlanta or somebody else, how can you know what any of those teams want? Will Sutcliffe be in Chicago or Kansas City or San Diego? Will Thornton end up in Baltimore, or will the Blue Jays steal him if they can't get Sutter?

Everybody wants Trout because left-handed pitching is only slightly easier to find than plutonium.

Who knows where the Don Aases, Fred Lynns, Ed Whitsons and Lee Lacys will shake down?

"Everybody is waiting until the romancing is over, then we'll all get serious," says Cubs Manager Jim Frey, who is on tenterhooks. "We're in the stage now where the players just go around the country and get money and red carpets thrown at their feet. That's how the game is now, so you deal with it."

His club just re-signed Dennis Eckersley for three years at $2 million-plus, but Frey still has to hold his breath on Trout and Sutcliffe.

In a sport in which a player can be rumored to have discussed a $48-million contract -- Sutter to Atlanta, payment spread over several centuries -- nobody breathes until the ink is dry.

"We've been trying for a week to do something (in a trade), but it takes two to tango," says Padres General Manager Jack McKeon, the game's most avid dealer. Trader Jack is in serious need of a starting pitcher after his team's postseason debacle, but he, too, is hamstrung because he's still in the Sutcliffe derby.

"There are some pretty big free agents hanging out there and they usually have a tendency to clog up clubs' plans," says Oakland A's President Roy Eisenhardt, who probably has the winter's hottest trade item -- Rickey Henderson.

The A's no longer are enamored of the great base stealer-leadoff man-outfielder because of his big contract, big ego and the way he sulked this season after going to arbitration.

The New York Yankees would love Henderson; that is, if they could sign a quality pitcher, which, in turn, would allow them to put a pitcher Oakland would want into the deal. Baltimore is in the same boat; sign an Aase or Trout and suddenly you could think about packaging Storm Davis or Scott McGregor in a deal for Henderson.

If the whole thing seems as complex and tangled as one of those futuristic three-dimensional chessboards, that's how it feels to general managers, too.

"Because of the increasing legal and financial complexity of deals, you have to do a lot of prior research," says Eisenhardt, who was a Cal-Berkeley law professor but still gets confused.

As a result, trades these days seldom are made final on a neat time schedule. Two general managers used to be able to say, "Let's tie up that trade at the winter meetings." Now they say, "We'll announce this trade when and if all the million-and-one aggravations ever get solved."

On the whole, baseball's new era is both fairer and more exciting than the offseason game of a decade ago.

Certainly players and owners meet in an open marketplace, in which leverage is more equally divided than it once was; players probably have the hammer now, but not to a fraction of the degree that owners did for a century.

There is justified concern when a Turner Broadcasting prospectus shows that the average Atlanta Braves player's salary (as of June 30) has risen from $196,000 to $324,000 to $448,000 over the last three seasons.

Add a possible signing of Sutter and you see why Commissioner Peter Ueberroth is worried. Such salaries, such indebtedness, could only be considered by a franchise such as in Atlanta, where the baseball team is seen primarily as a source of programming for a TV superstation. If you think of the Braves just as a baseball team, then they could be a huge money loser; but if you think of them as volume programming for Ted Turner's superstation and a tax break within a larger empire as well, then maybe a $48-million salary to Sutter is cheap in the bigger picture.

The best side effect of the current free agent landscape is that more than half the teams in baseball can have realistic hopes of winning a pennant in 1985. If clubs as recently woebegone as the Cubs, Mets, Padres, Blue Jays and Twins could win division titles or be in hot races most of the year in '84, then who can't make the great leap forward?

With those dreams alive, the offseason whirl keeps the game bubbling.

But it doesn't do much for the old-time winter meetings.

Once upon a time, this week was anticipated with high glee. Back in 1975, before free agentry arrived, 64 players were traded in 23 deals in one week. As recently as '80 and '81, these December shindigs produced headline trades.

For instance, the Milwaukee Brewers dealt themselves a pennant-winning hand in one day when they grabbed two future Cy Young winners (Rollie Fingers and Pete Vuckovich), plus all-star catcher Ted Simmons, from St. Louis in exchange for four fairly forgettable fellows.

The last two Decembers, however, have been logjams, as 1982 saw only eight trades involving 22 players. Last winter in Nashville, 34 players changed teams in 16 trades, none of them thrilling.

Oh, Mike Easler for John Tudor helped the Red Sox win a home run title and the Pirates an ERA title. The Padres and Cubs helped themselves to division titles with a three-cornered deal that sent Scott Sanderson to Chicago and put Carmelo Martinez and Craig Lefferts in San Diego uniforms.

Now that everybody has decided to take the golf clubs to Houston and leave the game face at home, maybe the dam suddenly will break. Maybe a couple of free agents will sign and some big deals will quickly fall in place.

But don't bet on it.

More likely, this will be a good week for a town without a team to send a dozen good-will ambassadors to Houston to drum up an expansion franchise a couple of years down the road.

One thing's certain. When Jack Kent Cooke or any of the members of the D.C. Commission on Baseball taps an owner on the shoulder this week and asks, "Got five minutes to talk about baseball for Washington?" he shouldn't take "no" for an answer.

Those owners have nowhere else to go and nothing else to do.