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In a perfect world, the Twins this offseason could have handed Sonny Gray or some comparable pitcher a blank check, told them to fill it in with their preferred number, and went about the business of staying top the mediocre American League Central.

But that's seldom how business has worked for the Twins, and it certainly isn't this offseason given a projected revenue decline from a new local TV deal.

So instead, Gray has already signed a lucrative three-year deal with the Cardinals. Kenta Maeda quickly followed with a two-year deal to the Tigers. And Emilio Pagan, a surprisingly important part of last year's bullpen, got a two-year deal with the Reds.

Those three pitchers will make a combined $45 million next season for other teams after making about $20 million combined for the Twins last year.

That $25 million difference might end up being about how much the Twins' payroll declines, too: From about $156 million a year ago to maybe $130 million this year.

Not paying all three pitchers might end up being good business. But it also will send the Twins on a Whack-A-Mole chase this offseason as they try to assure that their greatest strength last season — pitching quality and depth — doesn't become a weakness.

The clearest path to this pursuit, as Bobby Nightengale and I talked about on Friday's Daily Delivery podcast, is the trade market.

And to me, a Jorge Polanco trade is the key to much of the offseason. Why?

With Polanco, a likely trade candidate, the Twins are dealing from a position of relative depth. Royce Lewis and Carlos Correa are locked in on the left side of the infield. Edouard Julien emerged and should be the everyday second baseman. First base is a bit of a question mark, but there are options there.

That allows the Twins to trade Polanco in a variety of deals. They could:

*Make him part of a deal to get a middle-of-the-rotation caliber starting pitcher, which would give the Twins more flexibility in deciding if Louie Varland is better suited as a starter or reliever.

*Trade him for cheaper young players/prospects, freeing up his $10.5 million salary to use on a starter or reliever.

*Deal him for a young outfielder, making the idea of dealing Max Kepler more palatable. Kepler is also a trade candidate, but outfield is far less a position of strength for the Twins. Being able to trade Kepler would fetch more assets and perhaps payroll flexibility to seek pitching help as well.

The Twins would miss Polanco, but he's suddenly expendable. And he potentially holds the key to shoring up what is looking right now like a pitching staff long on hope and short on depth.

Here are four more things to know today:

*If you're wondering how much money the Gophers' NIL collective, Dinkytown Athletes, has, football coach P.J. Fleck sort of told us Thursday: "I've heard numbers this week, whether real or not, that just make your jaw drop, that are pretty much most of our entire NIL [total]," Fleck said.

*The Wild's four-game win streak under new coach John Hynes is over. Losing at some point was inevitable. I'm more interested to see how they bounce back tonight against Edmonton.

*Interesting perspectives here from Andrew Krammer in the Vikings mailbag.

*This tweet won the night on Thursday after the Lakers advanced to face the Pacers in the NBA In-Season Tournament title game Saturday.