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


If you happen to be in Fort Myers, Fla., these days and drive by the Lee County Sports Complex, you will see about 40-50 baseball players working out at the Twins spring training complex.

No, it's not a sign that the lockout is nearing an end and camp will start on time.

Minor leaguers, staying in on-campus housing, have been going through drills on the various fields. So have been players not on the 40-man roster, players such as Jake Cave and Devin Smeltzer.

Everyone else is at home, waiting for the end of the lockout. An end that is nowhere in sight.

As we reach for our remote starters to warm up our cars so we can go purchase gasoline for our snowblowers, this is a sad time of year. The realization that spring training will not start on time has arrived. And the possibility that Opening Day will be delayed is getting more real by the day.

The owners and players can't be trusted to sit down and hold substantive negotiations on a new collective bargaining agreement. If a meeting takes place on Monday as scheduled, it will be just the second time the sides have talked about economics since the lockout began. The lack of urgency is appalling. The lockout has done nothing to move the process along.

It's hard to determine what needs to happen for a deal to be struck. The players aren't happy that the average salary has declined in recent years, or that, because of inflation, someone making the league minimum in 2021 took home less than he did a few years ago. They also have asked for a quicker path to salary arbitration and free agency.

Baseball was closing in on $11 billion in revenue in 2019 before the pandemic hit. Franchise values continue to rise. Owners, other than taking hits during the pandemic, seem to have little to complain about. The players see that success and want more.

But the owners can't clean up their own house. Twelve teams had payrolls under $100 million last season. The Dodgers, Mets and Yankees had payrolls over $200 million. The have-nots have a reason to gripe. One thing baseball doesn't do that the NFL does is dump all television revenue in a pot and split it equally. Sharing local revenue could encourage smaller market teams to spend more on payroll, which also is a union gripe. Another potential battle looms over gambling at ballparks — an inevitability — and how that revenue will be shared.

But the sides have to get into the same room and bargain. Until that happens, we'll have to assume that spring training won't start on time and the regular season might be delayed. And that stinks.

Between the pipes

Suddenly, the return to health of Wild goaltender Cam Talbot has taken on a greater importance.

After having seven games postponed because of COVID, the rescheduled games will make for a very busy February.

After the All-Star break, the Wild will play on Feb. 8, 12, 14, 16, 18, 20, 22, 24 and 26. That calls for coach Dean Evason to have two goaltenders to share the load. Talbot was set to return to action this weekend after recovering from a lower-body injury suffered during the Winter Classic loss to St. Louis. Kaapo Kahkonen has been very stout in goal in place of Talbot, helping the Wild go 3-0-1 since Talbot was injured. But the packed February schedule will require both goalies to be available.

Joel Eriksson-Ek and Jared Spurgeon also are close to recovering from injuries, also good development as the schedule picks up.

Ever so slowly

By this time a year ago Brandon Staley had been hired by the Chargers, Robert Saleh had been hired by the Jets, Arthur Smith had been hired by the Falcons, Dan Campbell had been hired by the Lions and Nick Sirianni was about to be named the coach of the Eagles.

How times have changed in just one year, as teams this offseason are being more thorough. It's as if they want to actually run a successful business instead of being a bunch of fanboys.

There are eight head coach openings and three general manager openings (the Giants made their hire Friday) — which doesn't count the Raiders if they decide to move on from interim coach Rich Bisaccia. A slew of candidates have been interviewed for both roles. The big test will come once a couple candidates get hired. Will teams continue to work through their process or will the coaching/GM carousel spin into the musical chairs it often becomes?

Two predictions

Sorry, Rams

Tom Brady will not hold on to the football like Kyler Murray did against the Rams. Brady will make throws against a talented defense, and the Buccaneers will beat Los Angeles and reach the NFC Championship Game.

Productive days ahead

Look for the Wild, as more players get healthy, to finish January with a flourish. They will beat the two last-place teams, the Canadiens and Zach Parise's Islanders, and they will knock off the division-leading New York Rangers on Friday.