La Velle E. Neal III has covered baseball for the Star Tribune since 1998 (the post-Knoblauch era). Born and raised in Chicago, he grew up following the White Sox and hating the Cubs. He attended both the University of Illinois and Illinois-Chicago and began his baseball writing career at the Kansas City Star. He can be heard occasionally on KFAN radio, lending his great baseball mind to Paul Allen and other hosts. Mark Rosen borrows him occasionally for WCCO-TV.

Twins news: Kubel, Punto, Gardy, Plouffe - and a programming note

Posted by: La Velle E. Neal III Updated: October 29, 2010 - 11:06 AM

The Twins, as expected, on Friday picked up the 2011 option on Jason Kubel's contract that will pay him $5.25 million.

And the Twins, as expected, declined the $5 million option on Nick Punto's contract and will instead owe him a $500,000 buyout.

Kubel, 28, in what was a down year for him, batted .249 with 21 homers and 92 RBI. After hitting the first home run in Target Field history, Kubel hit just eight homers at home during the season,struggling like many teammates to clear the fences there. He's a .275-.280 hitter with 30 homers and 100 RBI.

Punto, 32, batted .238 with 1 homer and 20 RBI and spent two stints on the disabled list because of a strained left hamstring.

There is a belief within the organization that it's time for Matt Tolbert to become the main utility player. But all the Punto bashers out there should hold off on the celebrations. If Punto is willing to come back for pennies on the dollar in an utility role, the Twins might be interested.

(Although I write that sentence before talking with GM Bill Smith, who might just say the sides have agreed to part ways).

Other tidbits:

(*) Twins manager Ron Gardenhire met with Twins owner Jim Pohlad this week, presumably to go over the season and address his contract extension as well as contracts for his coaches. We all expect Gardenhire to a deal done before the end of the calendar year - based on Pohlad's comments to me before Game 3 of the ALDS.

(*) Trevor Plouffe could be in line to start at short next season if the Twins decide to non-tender J.J. Hardy, who is eligible for arbitration. To help prepare him for a potential spring training battle, Plouffe could end up playing winter ball. ``Plouffe is ready to do whatever we need him to,'' Smith said earlier this week. Plouffe could join a club during the second half of the winter ball season.

(*) Although Plouffe could be looked at as Hardy's replacement, don't count out Alexi Casilla. Some believe it's his time - again - to prove he can be an everyday player. He would be their best option for a No. 2 hitter. Casilla. 26, hit .276 with 1 homer and 20 RBI in 69 games last season. Casilla might be needed to start at second, because Orlando Hudson is not expected to be back next season. Hudson told me while packing up a few weeks ago that he didn't expect to be back.

Programming note:

If you want to talk Twins and Major League Baseball, tune in to KFAN from 3 - 6:30 p.m. today, where I will be filling in for Dan Barreiro. Scott Miller will join me from Arlington, Texas at 3:05 p.m. to talk about the World Series. After that, I'm renaming the station K-Strib, as Gopher football writer Phil Miller, Vikings writer Judd Zulgad and Gopher hoops writer Myron Medcalf are all queued up to join me. Should be a lot of fun!

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