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Archive for November, 2005

Value Added, Value Subtracted

Posted by Brian Michael, Thu, November 17, 2005 05:48 PM Comments: 0

ESPN reports that two teams have made offers to Marlins free agent A.J. Burnett.  Thought the two teams are undisclosed, the rumor is that one of them was the Blue Jays who supposedly offered a 5 year, $50 million deal.  As noted earlier, my estimate for a Phillies pitch was severley underestimated and this is even more proof.  Nonetheless, I doubt the other team making Burnett an offer was the Phils.  The brass was way too busy with the road trip all the way to Virginia for "a good discussion."  Besides a 5 and $50 deal seems far too much for the Phils; and with Wagner as a priority, there might not be much gold left in the coffers. 

So, I’m left scratching my head with both hands.  Two questions:  Are these guys overvalued? And if so, should the Phils pay them anyway?  I’ve posed these questions over at the Baseball Fever message board so if you have some advice post it here or there.  One interesting comment was that the Mets want to win more and that’s why they’re offering Wagner obscene amounts.  I’m not so sure about that but I am sure I hate Mets even more now.

Over at Hardball Times, they have an interesting if imprecise value calculator.  Based on Billy Wagner’s performance last year, he’s worth $8,875,761 and A.J.’s price comes in at $4,928,380.  Despite being steamrolled in the steroid agreement, the MLB Players Association can always find comfort in the free agent market.  Incidentally, Chase Utley is worth over $12 million but he’s paid the rookie wage of $345,000.  I’m assuming Gillick’s smart enough to resign him before the end of next season and for less than $12 mil per year.

Speaking of rookie value over veterans, is it true that Shane Victorino is officially the Phils new centerfielder and Kenny Lofton is out?  What’s JMike gonna do?  Victorino has been highly touted, but I’ll have to say I wasn’t too impressed by his debut in Washington.  To be fair, he was thown into some pretty high pressure situations but the rest of the season I guess he fared pretty well.  I’m looking forward to an everyday center fielder even though I’m always in favor of a good platoon.  I have a high standard for the CF position as a speedy guy with a high OBP, preferably as a leadoff hitter.  All thanks to Gordon Gecko, aka the Dude.

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Nails on the Numbers

Posted by Brian Michael, Tue, November 15, 2005 08:15 PM Comments: 0

Here is some really good advice from former Phil Lenny Dykstra:

In essence, my strategy is to stay disciplined, regardless of the situation. This approach has served me well throughout my career, be it baseball, my various businesses or investing. Discipline allowed me to develop into the consummate leadoff hitter. I saw more pitches than anybody in the history of Major League Baseball during the magical 1993 season with the National League champion Philadelphia Phillies. This was directly attributable to the fact that I approached each at-bat with a plan. That plan had to be flexible in order to respond to the situation dictated by the scoreboard.

Man, every Phils leadoff hitter should read that paragraph before each game.  If he did, he may or may not become a good hitter but he sure would have tremendous success in the stock market.  That’s right, Lenny’s talking about investing and his comments come from his weekly column on thestreet.com.  Lenny Dysktra, ballplayer turned entrepreneur, is now in the business of giving financial advice.  Oh man, that is hilarious!  What he should be doing is talking to his other former team about discipline.  Maybe then the Mets would realize that Billy Wagner’s making suckers out of them.

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Phillies Need Starting Pitching

Posted by Brian Michael, Mon, November 14, 2005 07:20 PM Comments: 0

There’s a poll going on over in the right column where you can guess what Pat Gillick’s first move might be – I had hoped to have pulled it down by now but we’re still waiting.  There’s plenty of opportunities out there and there has been a lot of talk since he’s arrived, just no action yet.  If we can’t get some moves soon I would at least like to keep the conversation relevant.  This means less gossip about Pat Burrell and Bobby Abreu moving and more talk about the incredible lack of consistent starting pitching.  Today we will look at the Phillies Win Shares in 2005 to elucidate this point.  (Check out Hardball Times if you need clarification on win shares.)

This off-season 4 of the Phillies top 6 leaders in win shares have been rumored to possibly leave the team.  Lofton and Wagner might flee due to free agency which I can understand since it is their right to leave, but I have yet to fully comprehend the dangling of Pat Burrell and Bobby Abreu.  With 28 and 26 win shares respectively this would deal a huge blow to the Phillies.  I realize the Phils are strapped for space under their self imposed salary cap of $95 million, but thinning the club would not make as much sense as keeping the money in the pockets of those that produce.  The converse is obviously true, too, meaning we need to dump the salaries of Bell, Thome, Lieberthal, Cormier and Tucker.

In terms of starting pitchers, we all know the Phillies are severely lacking.  Brett Myers was the best starter for several reasons including being the leader in win shares, but this still only places him 7th on the team (14).  In terms of ERA+ (ERA measured against the league average) Myers (130), Lieber (115) and Lidle (107) were above average, the others weren’t even on the list.  Overall the Phillies finished in the middle of the pack (8th) in the NL in win shares by starting pitchers with 42 – only Washington finished behind them in the NL East.  Here’s a nifty chart of win shares by NL pitching staffs based on the top 6 starters:

Houston

77

Atlanta

63

St. Louis

62

Florida

62

New York

57

Chicago

57

Arizona

51

PHILLIES

46

San Francisco

45

Milwaukee

42

Washington

40

Los Angeles

40

Colorado

34

San Diego

30

Pittsburgh

30

Cincinnati

15

So how can the Phillies make the jump into the upper echelon of productive starting pitching?  Well, to start they should start talking about free agent A.J. Burnett whose 12 win shares helped put Florida near the top.  Burnett is supposedly looking for a 5 year deal, but it seems the market is only willing to give him 3.  Last year he made $3,650,000, so the Phils would likely have to scrap together at least a 3 year, $15 million deal most likely with an easy option for a 4th year.  Or the Phils could start talking about a trade for Javier Vazquez who compiled 14 win shares in 2005.  Now like A.J., Javier has been a bit outspoken and might be uncomfortable in the clubhouse, but if the Phils are willing to resign Wags this shouldn’t be a problem.  Plus A.J. just plan doesn’t like the Larry Bowa style of Jack McKeon so he might fall in love with dear old Uncle Charlie.  We’ve discussed the difficulties and the negative rumors surrounding these guys in the last post, but I would really like to hear Gillick’s thoughts on these starting pitchers.  The Thome and Wagner situations will resolve themselves for better or worse.  Let’s get down to the real business of starting pitching.

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Pat Gillick’s Best Abbott and Costello Impersonation

Posted by Brian Michael, Sat, November 12, 2005 07:27 PM Comments: 0

When asked about the crush of left-handed power hitting first basemen in Philadelphia, Pat Gillick bellowed, "Nobody’s the first baseman right now." He went on to explain it’s "because it’s the off-season."  He may not be as funny as the duo but he’s profound nonetheless.  So until opening day, we will continue to spread rumours (sorry) with Pat’s blessing.  

Since the White Sox will mostly likely lose Paul Konerko to free agency, they have begun talking about bringing Thome back to his home state.  I’m not sure who the Sox would be willing to give up but they have been shopping around Frank Thomas. Though he’d be a fish out of water in the National League. Those White Sox starting pictures would be pretty alluring however.

Returning back to reality, the Phils may find a starting pitching opportunity in Javier Vazquez and his decision to invoke his right to be traded. The right-hander has two years remaining on his contract worth $11.5 million in 2006 and $12.5 million in ’07. But I feel the Phils would be unwilling to put out that kind of money unless it involves the D’Backs taking Thome or Lieberthal.

I’m gonna for the most part ignore the whole Bobby Abreu for Vernon Wells talk.  Just because a newspaper gossips like we do here doesn’t make it any more substantive.  The Phils are just out trying to determine his value, which like his career for the most part, will probably be underrated.  I think he’s more valuable on the team than as trade currency.

The Mariners are really looking for some left-handed hitting so keep them in mind for trading Thome.  Man, I can’t even describe how much would I love to have Ichiro in the lineup.  Wishful thinking…

The A.J. Burnett talk has been heating up again but it doesn’t seem Philadelphia is a likely target as of yet.  CBC Sports reports Burnett doesn’t seem to be interested in "heading to baseball’s glamorous markets." Zing! He is, however, visiting Toronto, Baltimore, Seattle and Washington.  Though Washington is won’t hesitate to make trades, throwing money at free agents will continue to be hampered by MLB’s reluctance to sell the team expeditiously.  It’s odd that since even before the team moved to DC most everyone knew the Washington Baseball Club group would likely be the owners of any baseball team in the district.  What are they waiting for?

The latest news in Billy Wagner saga has the New York Post claiming the Mets have yet to make him an offer, and are not expected to do so until mid-next week.  If Wagner goes to the Mets he’s an idiot.  We all know it would be just for the money which is fine, except one day he’ll wake up and realize everyone’s laughing at him.  For the second time I’ve read a New York area newspaper call him "country boy."  Now we all take jabs at Charlie Manuel for being from West Virginia but it’s usually not institutionalized by major newspapers.  It’s as if they think Wagner walks around with a corn cob pipe and will be frightened by the city’s tall buildings - typical New York snobbery.  Don’t be fooled Billy, stay in Philly.

Finally if you want to keep tabs on all the gossip yourself check out The Hot Stove Report & Pro Sports Daily Trade Rumors.

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Mr. Phanatic Goes to Washington

Posted by Brian Michael, Thu, November 10, 2005 10:32 PM Comments: 0

So there’s been a few fun stories about Supreme Court nominee Sam Alito’s encounter with his childhood boogieman, Jim Bunning, in a Capitol bathroom earlier this week.  It kinda reminded me of the time my roommate and I flanked Arlen Spector in a Vet bathroom a few years back during an Eagles-Cardinals game.  It was the day the U.S. invaded Afghanistan so we asked him if he was in favor of the war.  He replied, "I support the President’s decision," shook, then walked out – I don’t recall if he washed his hands though.  Well, what I was getting to was Bunning’s quote that, "this jurist is probably the biggest Phillies fan in the world."  Though I take exception to that superlative bestowed upon Mr. Alito, I’ll let it slide because as I recall from the March steroid hearings Sen. Bunning can get a little cranky.  Anyway, Alito claims his answer to "what do you want to be when you grow up" was commissioner of MLB.  That’s quite an imaginative, in not nerdy, young boy.  However it’s not the first time government types have eyed baseball’s top prize.  President Taft was considered for the first commissioner position in 1920, but instead it went to a judge from Illinois, Kennesaw Mountain Landis.  Governor Bush was similarly considered while Bud Selig was still interim commissioner but I guess G.W. had bigger aspirations then Mr. Alito.  Still, once his reign as president is done I wouldn’t be surprised if he takes over the post.

Speaking of government nominees with an interest in baseball, have you heard about Ben Bernanke (Bush’s nominee to replace Alan Greenspan) and his mission to change the way E.R.A. is calculated?  Earned run average, he says, needs to be calculated in a way that is more fair to pitchers who leave runners on base.  Currently, if one pitcher leaves runners on base and another pitcher allows them to score, the runs are charged to the first pitcher. Pitchers unlucky enough to be followed by ineffective relievers, as the Yankees’ Randy Johnson was in 2005, have unfairly high E.R.A.’s. Pitchers who are bailed out by their bullpen, as Roy Oswalt often was this season, end up with artificially low E.R.A.’s.  A better system, he argues, would divide blame, depending on where the base the runners were stationed when a pitcher departed as well as the number of outs. 

A few weeks ago, NPR’s All Things Considered talked to Dwight Jaffee a close friend and squash partner of Bernanke who explained how they had "discovered the error" in E.R.A.  Their example consisted of a scenario where a reliever who inherits a runner on first gets the next batter to ground into a double play; the two outs are accounted to the reliever but if that runner on first scores it counts against prior pitchers’ E.R.A.  Bernanke and Jaffe would like to see statisticians compile more data on situations such as this so that the earned run would be shared between the two pitchers.  They even went as far as weighing the earned run depending on where the inherited runner was positioned. For instance, if the inherited runner scores from first the majority of the earned run should count against the reliever; but if he scored from third it should be counted more towards the E.R.A. of the initial pitcher.  Also they discussed factoring in how many outs the reliever inherits since it is easier to end an inning and prevent runners from scoring when brought in with 2 outs rather than 0.  This is an interesting concept and I would like to see if the debate is meritorious.  Bud Selig already dismissed the adoption instant replay this week, much to the chagrin of a few commenters, so I doubt he’s in any mood to revise such a long standing statistical institution.

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Urbina Arrested and Other News

Posted by Brian Michael, Tue, November 08, 2005 06:43 PM Comments: 0

There’s some big news in a story we’ve been following closely for the past month: Phillies free agent reliever Ugueth Urbina has been arrested for attempted murder.  Urbina has maintained his innocence throughout, claiming he was sleeping at the time of the attack.  He’s even gone as far as claiming, "Right now we aren’t going to do anything to deny things that aren’t true" - we’ll assume "clarity" was lost in the translation.  El Universal reports that an oral hearing with all parties involved will be held on November 22, but the Associated Press says it could be as early as next Tuesday.  Regardless, I say it’s fairly likely the Phils will not offer him a new contract and let him test the free agent market.  Though it still remains possible he will be testing the husband market in a Venezuelan jail. ¡Que lastima!

In other crime and punishment news, it seems the apple indeed doesn’t fall far from the tree. Pete Rose, Jr., son of the maligned hit king and former Phil of the same name, pleaded guilty to distributing performance enhancing drugs to his minor league teammates. While playing for the Reds affiliate Chattanooga Lookouts in the early part of the decade, he was the go to guy for GBL (gamma butyrolactone). Though the drug was legal up until 2000, it’s primary purpose is as a chemical solvent. Players use it to both build muscle and reduce stress; and when taken orally it is converted to a designer date-rape drug. Wow, let’s move on to some good news.

If you haven’t heard yet, Richie Asburn is in competition for the Baseball Hall of Fame’s Ford C. Frick Award for broadcasting excellence. Harry Kalas won this in 2002 and I know credits much of his success to his longtime friend and drinking buddy, Whitey.  Fans have the chance to vote 3 broadcasters on to the final ballot which will consist of 10 total.  You can vote once a day until the end of the month, so do it!  Vote here for Whitey.  I’d also suggest voting for "Wheels" Chris Wheeler and Andy "Mushmouth" Musser if you have the time.

Also, Billy Wagner and Ryan Howard are up for This Year In Baseball closer and rookie of the year awards.  Although they’re not quite as distinguished as the Rolaids Relief or Jackie Robinson awards, it would be cool for the Phillies to win more trophies. You can vote for them an unlimited amount of times through December 9th here. Stay classy, Philadelphia.

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Changing of the Guards

Posted by Brian Michael, Mon, November 07, 2005 05:37 PM Comments: 0

This title works on two levels.  First, after last night’s Eagles debacle, I think it’s high time Philadelphia turns back into a baseball town.  Don’t get me wrong, I love the Eagles, but I love the Phillies more and over the past couple years I’ve gotten tired of hearing about the Eagles in the heart of the baseball season.  During the football season is fine and you can’t deny there’s plenty of football and related items to keep busy with this season.  I just think the Phillies might be gaining some momentum in the Philly sports scene at the same time the Eagles are slowing down.  

The second and more dramatic torch passing is occurring at the first base bag in Citizen’s Bank Park as today Ryan Howard was named NL rookie of the year.  Ryno received 19 of 32 first-place votes and fairly convincingly beat out Astros outfielder Willy Taveras the Braves’ touted right fielder Jeff Francoeur who finished second and third respectively.  Despite starting the season in the minors and being sent back at one point, he led all rookies with 22 home runs and hit .288 with 63 RBI in 88 games.  His 11 homers in the final month of the season was a rookie record and certainly kept the Phils in the playoff hunt.  Howard, who turns 26 next week, is the fourth Phil to win the award alongside Scott Rolen, Dick Allen and Jack Sanford.

Of course the biggest wish of fans this off-season is to allow this stud to keep playing and develop his power.  Let’s not forget he also struck out a solid 100 times this season, which averages to more than one per game.  Whether or not this comes at the expense of Jim Thome remains to be seen.  Despite previous rumors, the Twins GM has stated that he is not looking to pick up big contracts.  The Phils could either pay part of Thome’s salary in a deal that would send him packing or continue to pay him handsomely as an overpriced pinch hitter.  Inquirer reporter Jim Salisbury weighs in with his comments on this situation (and others) over on a Metsblog podcast – though I must warn you, it’s nothing you haven’t heard already.  I think we should forget the prospects of Ryan playing in the outfield.  Not only would Gillick have to move Burrell and Abreu, based on last year’s spring training Howard is absolutely horrible in the outfield.

So newly appointed Pat Gillick is left with quite the conundrum (though he’s faced similar ones before) - a potential Hall of Famer vs. a rookie of the year.  They’re both lefties so a platoon is out of the question.  Though sports people say all the time that having two quality players is a good problem to have; over here in England they call it something else: redundancy.  Fortunately the GM meetings started today so Pat should know real soon what he options are.

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Scranton/Wilkes-Where?

Posted by Brian Michael, Sat, November 05, 2005 06:11 PM Comments: 0

There is growing concern over the future of Phillies baseball in the Scranton/Wilkes-Barre area.  Lackawanna County Stadium, which hasn’t changed much since I last visited in 1989, is in need of some serious upgrades.  Although Lackawanna County is supporting the financing of a $2.5 million clubhouse expansion project there are still several signs pointing to the Phillies disengagement with their longtime AAA affiliate.  The Phillies have already cut ties with one Lackawannanian baseball franchise, namely former GM Ed Wade.  More significant however are the plans for a new minor league stadium in Allentown.

Despite closing all the factories down, Allentown is keen to raise its profile in the baseball industry.  The county of Lehigh recently signed a 29-year lease for the new with Grace Baseball - a consortium of Reading Phillies owner Craig Stein and Lakewood BlueClaws boss Joe Finley.  The $34.3 million stadium, scheduled to open in 2008, is slated for a capacity of 7,000 and will receive $17 million in state funds.  Although confidentially agreements prevent the group from disclosing the level or affiliation of the team they intend to occupy the park, there have been widespread rumors that it could be Orioles affiliate, Ottawa Lynx.  In response to hearing of Canada’s last AAA team’s potential defection, local Ottawa politician Peter Hume elequoently replied, "Crap."  Equally, peeved was Red Barons GM Jeremy Ruby who said his team might ask the International League to keep a team out of Allentown.   Eight of the fourteen IL owners would need to approve the deal of moving the Lynx.

Normally this would not be much of an issue, Baltimore gets a club closer to home and the Red Barons get a plush new clubhouse.  However, there are several more issues that add to this perfect storm.  First of all, as much as the O’s would like a team closer to home, so too would the Phillies – and the Yankees for that matter.  The Phils and Red Barons are under contract to remain affiliated through 2006, so keep an eye on how those negotiations turn out.  A short-term deal will almost certainly mean the Phils are moving south to the home of Crayola and Eagles training camp.  Likewise, rumor has it that the Boss, George Steinbrenner, has been shopping around for an AAA affiliate and stadium closer than his Clippers of Columbus, OH.  Scranton would be a logical choice there.

So where does that leave the Red Barons?  Well, without any unforeseen problems, they should be getting a new clubhouse within the next year.  Nothing else substantive will happen at least until 2008 when the new stadium opens.  But again, we’ll monitor the length of the Phillies-Red Barons contract extension as that will be a good indicator as to the Phillies future plans.  Although the Clearwater Threshers had a terrible season, the team’s new stadium has been a resounding success and a source of pride for the Phillies organization.  This may have whetted the appetite for another upgrading in ballpark facilities; and a stadium an hour closer is even more appetizing.

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Time Is Not On Gillick’s Side

Posted by Brian Michael, Sat, November 05, 2005 09:50 AM Comments: 0

Based on some previous comments, it seems I have been misinterpreted. I am completely willing to give Pat Gillick a chance. With his experience he certainly deserves it, especially since he’s here to help out our club has made a habit of only treading water.
I’m not sure if I mentioned this earlier, but I like the move to hire Gillcik; though I also would have been pleased with Hunsicker. You can’t go wrong with either of them. Or can you?

Of course it’s too early to evaluate Gillick’s contribution as a GM, but when can we? The Phils have a decent core group of players and it’s not like Pat will need a few rebuilding years. To his credit, he realizes this and has repeatedly said the Phils only need a handful of more wins to make the playoffs – that is, as long as they don’t regress any. So then I ask: what kind of leeway should we give this guy? One year? Two years? Phillie fans over at the Sports Boards message boards seem to believe two years is the limit. It’s easy to put a short leash on Gillick when we have two trainee GMs waiting in the wings, but they’re not just going to wait around for his demise. The Boston Globe reports Amaro and Arbuckle as potential candidates for the Red Sox GM opening. Personally, I would say give Gillick 1 year to make the playoffs but I realize that’s pretty aggressive. I’m terrified though that the handful of games we shoulda lost last year we will actually lose next year. The Phils were not as good as their 88 win record showed and I think it will be very hard to maintain that standard let alone improve upon it.

The road will be especially difficult if ‘Country Boy’ Billy Wagner thinks the Mets are more likely to make the playoffs and signs with them instead. Newsday claims, “The Mets are ready to beat any offer for Billy Wagner,” and are considering offering the closer 4 years, $10 million per. Wagner’s hurt he wasn’t resigned during the season and in turn he’s out to stick it to the Phils either by making them overpay him or signing elsewhere. That kinda stuff is annoying and combined with Wagner’s abrasive personality it makes me strongly dislike the guy. It’s like there are two T.O.s in South Philly and both are hurting their respective clubs.
Some good news coming out of the off season is that Minnesota has confirmed rumors that talks over Thome have taken place. Keep talking guys.

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Fanning the Flames of Phillies Fans

Posted by Brian Michael, Thu, November 03, 2005 11:05 AM Comments: 0

Phillies fans are no doubt the most dramatic and impatient fans in the lot. While I’m not sure if this is a healthy thing, they remain quite loyal and can ill afford to be taken for granted. Witness the 600,000 person drop in attendance at the Bank this past year. Still more refused to renew their season tickets until Ed Wade was fired. Nonetheless, I doubt we lined up in droves at the ticket window upon hearing the announcement of Pat Gillick’s hiring. That said, do you think the new GM will give fans more of a reason to believe? Certainly the answer is ‘no’ but appended by ‘not yet anyway.’ Results are the only thing that matter and a GM is just a means toward that end. But in the meantime, the Inquirer reports fan reaction as none to pleased:

"It’s kind of disappointing because I think this team is in desperate need of a major overhaul and Hunsicker was the type of guy I would trust to get that job done. "

"Sounds like Mr Montgomery found himself another yes man! The Phillies have no clue on how far away from the fans they are."

"Apparently, Mr. David Montgomery found the ‘patsy’ he was looking for, a gentleman with a baseball reputation and background, who sounds entirely comfortable with the same old Phillies program."

"Tell me this: If two men are essentially the same in their accomplishments but one is the fan favorite, why would you go with the other guy, if empty seats were a major concern?"

This echoes some Phillies Nation comments from last week. Yikes! Ok Pat, then how do you respond to the question, "How can the Phillies improve their relationship with their fans?"

"It’s one of my jobs. The way you mend that is a lot of one-on-one with the players and indicate to them how important the fans are. I know the fans here in Philly are rabid Phillie fans, so it’s important that you do connect with them."

Wrong answer! Win was the answer we were looking for. We would have also accepted "make the playoffs," "win the division," or "win the World Series." Having a one-on-one lunch with Cory Lidle at the Palm then seeing Cory at a Mayfair blockparty wouldn’t really convince me you’re trying to court fans. The main idea here is to not worry about us fans. We’re gonna boo every time Pat Burrell strikes out and every time Jon Lieber has a 5 run inning. What Pat needs to concentrate on is one thing, and that’s his primary responsibility as GM: acquiring the requisite talent to give the Phillies the best opportunity to win. Save the public relations problems for VP Larry Shenk.

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