Legendary baseball executive Branch Rickey is credited with originating the oft-repeated mantra of general managers that it’s better to “trade a player a year too early rather than a year too late.”

With that in mind, here’s an interesting case study involving three popular former or current Twin Cities athletes who are quite similar in many ways: Brian Dozier, Jason Zucker and Kyle Rudolph.

Dozier had a breakout season in 2016, smashing 42 home runs. But he did it for the 103-loss Twins, and he was the subject of many trade rumors that offseason. The Twins ended up keeping him, and he had another big year in 2017 in helping them to a surprise wild-card berth. But he slumped and the team slumped in 2018, leading him to be traded at the deadline.

Dealing him after the 2016 season would have been a year too early, but the Twins would have surely received more value in hindsight. They also probably wouldn’t have made the 2017 postseason.

Zucker had a career-high 33 goals two years ago for the Wild and was the subject of trade rumors last offseason. The Wild instead signed him to a long-term extension, and Zucker slumped to 21 goals this past year. He was nearly traded at the deadline and is a candidate to be traded this offseason — when his value won’t be as high as it was last year.

Dealing him last offseason would have been a good business move, but it would have been harder coming off a playoff berth.

The Star Tribune reported Friday that trade rumors involving Rudolph could gain steam now that contract talks between the Vikings and their longtime tight end have broken down.

Rudolph has been a steady performer and doesn’t show any obvious signs of slippage, though his Pro Football Focus grade in 2018 was the second-lowest of his eight-year career. His crime is tied more to his salary ($7.625 million in 2019), the availability of cheaper labor (second-round pick Irv Smith Jr.) and the pressure on the salary cap created by the signing of QB Kirk Cousins last year.

All three players mentioned are popular with fans and in the community. Zucker and Rudolph specifically have been heavily involved with projects at the University of Minnesota Masonic Children’s Hospital.

It’s hard to say if that will (or should) be a factor in how this all plays out, but it sure feels like the Branch Rickey truism is going to rule the day with the Vikings and Rudolph.

• The Lakers are hiring Frank Vogel, who got the Pacers to back-to-back Eastern Conference finals in 2013 and 2014, as their new head coach. That comes after Monty Williams turned them down to take the Suns job and negotiations with Tyronn Lue broke off.

Former Wolves coach Tom Thibodeau hasn’t been linked to any of the head coaching vacancies this offseason.

• Twins fans can move off Dallas Keuchel and Craig Kimbrel and straight onto a new obsession for Minnesota to acquire: Madison Bumgarner.

The 29-year-old Giants lefthander with 112 career wins and a 3.06 ERA (plus a sparkling postseason reputation) could be traded with San Francisco struggling and Bumgarner set to be a free agent next season.

He reportedly gave the Giants an eight-team no-trade list filled with several contending teams. But the Twins weren’t on the list. Bumgarner is making $12 million this season, which is a relative bargain. As a half-year rental, he could be a difference-maker.