La Velle E. Neal III
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La Velle's 3-2 Pitch: Three observations and two predictions on Sundays.

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Despite the Twins announcing that their payroll will decrease in 2024, they will still be favorites to repeat as American League Central division champions.

A core of impressive young hitters has reached the majors, they have a legitimate rotation leader in Pablo López and they have the biggest bullpen arm in the game in Jhoan Duran. And just think how formidable they could be if Byron Buxton remains healthy and Carlos Correa hits like he did in the postseason.

The Twins registered a club-record payroll of $156 million in 2023. It will be a gut punch to the fan base when that number drops. Ownership won't allow it to get near $150 million again, mostly because of lost television revenue following the end of the club's relationship with Diamond Sports, the parent company of the Bally Sports chain.

The financial restrictions will demand a different offseason approach. The first outcome of this will be the expected departure of free agent righthander Sonny Gray.

These are five things the Twins should do this offseason to help sustain their success from 2023:

1. Hold off on a Jorge Polanco trade: Polanco, 30, still has a couple of good offensive seasons in him. He's settled in at second base and can play third in a pinch. His switch hitting is a plus. There's a path to Polanco, making $10.5 million next season, being an everyday multi-positional player, and he's always been willing to do whatever the club has asked of him.

2. Offer Kyle Farmer arbitration, then trade him for a starter: The free agent market for shortstops is very light. If teams still view him as a shortstop, Farmer should fetch someone decent in return. Farmer is well-liked in the clubhouse and his comeback from getting hit in the face with a pitch was impressive. He could earn $7 million through arbitration, which would be expensive for a backup, anyway.

3. Trade Max Kepler: Kepler's future with the Twins was in doubt during a dreadful first half of the season before batting .301 over his last 75 games. Impressive turnaround. But if the Twins have payroll issues, it's time to go with Trevor Larnach and Matt Wallner as corner outfielders. Kepler, making $10 million next season, has value as a defender and the Twins could take advantage of his strong second half to land a starter.

4. Don't lose Tyler Mahle's phone number: The Twins signed Michael Pineda to a two-year deal in 2018, basically paying him to complete rehab from elbow surgery before plunking him into the 2019 rotation. Mahle, who had Tommy John surgery in May, could be ready by the All-Star break. A similar deal for Mahle has not been totally ruled out by the club.

5. Other reclamation projects? Don't flip out if the Twins are linked to pitchers like Seth Lugo, Sean Manaea and Michael Wacha. I'm not advocating to return to the days of Dylan Bundy and Chris Archer, but the Twins will need 8-10 starters to get through the season.

Change to charge

College basketball season has arrived, and you will notice a change that will significantly affect gameplay.

Coaches who attended Big Ten media days at Target Center last month talked about how officials are changing their approach to adjudicating one of the toughest decisions in the game: the block/charge call. Coaches have been told that most of the plays that were charges a season ago will now be called blocking fouls. Basically, a defender has to be set by the time the offensive player plants a foot to take off. Before, they had to be set by the time a player goes airborne, and that's a big difference.

Consequently, coaches have spent part of preseason telling their players to contest shots when opponents drive to the basket. This will be interesting to watch play out. There will be an adjustment period.

Well done, Harry

It was sad to learn about the recent passing of judge Harry Crump, the 2002 Star Tribune Sportsperson of the Year. He's the man who saved baseball in this region.

Major League Baseball, following the 2001 World Series, had voted to contract the Twins and Montreal Expos. Owner Carl Pohlad was frustrated over not getting a new stadium. Fans were frustrated with Pohlad for his willingness to go along with the plan. Potential suitors Donald Watkins then Socco Babacas appeared out of nowhere to offer to buy the team, but neither had the money. Employees faced uncertain futures.

Judge Crump ended the madness, ruling that the Twins had to honor their agreement to play in Dome for the 2002 season. The contraction movement never recovered. Crump should be considered one of the most influential figures in Twin Cities sports history.


Wolves up, Wild down

The Wolves won 42 games last season while the Wild won 46. Both look like different teams this season. Good for the Wolves, not so much for the Wild. The hoopsters will win more games this season than the pucksters, 52-43.

Vikings over Saints

New Orleans benefited from five Bears turnovers last week but won by only a touchdown. Forget about "passtronaut" Joshua Dobbs: the Vikings' defense will be the reason why they win 26-13 on Sunday.