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January 7, 2011

Prospectus Perspective

Signing Adrian Beltre

by Christina Kahrl

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Apparently failing to get Cliff Lee has its benefits. As a defending pennant-winner, once you have decided that you have roughly nine figures to burn as fuel for your franchise's ambition, and then you don't get your man, what are you supposed to do? There was no other pitcher in the market worthy of anything like the same money. Maybe the Royals wanted too much for Zack Greinke. The list of pitchers you'd want to throw scads of cash at to pitch in Texas is fairly short.

As a result, the Rangers couldn't nevertheless improve themselves by just offering some significant fraction to the next-best option—there wasn't one, because by the time Lee had slipped away, the shelves were already emptying out.* Rather than merely re-sign and reward Vladimir Guerrero for a nice season to re-stock their DH slot, Jon Daniels resorted to something exceptionally bold, adding the best bat left on the market to make a massive upgrade at a position they were supposedly already set at, third base.

To be sure, paying Adrian Beltre $96 million over six years won't look good over the long haul. He'll hit his 32nd birthday shortly after Opening Day, so he's potentially under contract through his age-37 season. I say “potentially,” because as Jason Parks noted in the most recent BP Podcast, here are stipulations for voiding the sixth year, based on combined fourth- and fifth-year plate appearances (1200) or in the fifth year individually (600). Between the potential for injury or a bat gone slack with age, getting that last season voided isn't so very unlikely. Nevertheless, credit Scott Boras for holding out for something better than the Uggla money the A's and Angels were willing to throw at Beltre over five years. The game's best agent identified his idea of his client's value, and in retrospect, he clearly had it pegged.

For the Rangers, were there alternatives to spending this kind of money? Even if you could set aside the problem of choices going away as we moved deeper into December, I'd have to say no, not really. Daniels decided to not throw big money at a market overstocked with first basemen and DHs, which as I'll get to shortly, strikes me as an entirely rational response to the market. At any rate, absent Lee, the Rangers needed more than just a bat at their question-mark positions, first base and DH. Bigger price tags were attached to the two big outfielders on the market, Carl Crawford and Jayson Werth, but without that many obvious reasons why they deserved so much more than Beltre. In the abstract, getting in on Adrian Gonzalez or the like didn't really make that much sense either; where Texas has a great collection of talent on hand, they don't have so much ready or nearly ready big-league talent to deal from without hampering their efforts to win now.

Looked at that way, signing Beltre had everything to recommend it. Whatever your offensive metric of choice, Beltre was among the five best free-agent bats in baseball last season. But unlike the first-base/DH types like Jim Thome and Paul Konerko, and unlike Crawford and Werth, Beltre was the one premium bat that played one of the big three infield positions. And, as I noted yesterday, he's kinda good at it. That last consideration was particularly key. Using last year's rates of Marginal Lineup Value, let's say that Beltre is roughly a fifth of a run better than Michael Youngper game.

That's a two- to three-win pickup on a season right there, operating on the fairly safe assumption that Beltre's going to like hitting in Texas' cozy confines almost as much as he liked bopping in Boston. But the add defense to the mix, and going from Beltre, perhaps the best defender at third, from Young, one of the worst according to Colin's nFRAA, and even the most charitable interpretation of Young's range still adds up to another one or two wins; it gets bigger if you don't cut Young any slack. So in isolation, Beltre versus Young, we're probably talking about a four- or five-win pickup. Is that worth $96 million? Absolutely, as long as that holds true, over Young or any other ready replacement, which it will, with margins that large for the next year or three. 

However, there is the less happy ripple effect, that this notionally kicks Young into a DH/utility role, or perhaps even over at first base. That doesn't go so well for the Rangers, because Young's a lousy bat for either slot, only twice producing TAv marks anywhere close to acceptable for those kinds of offense-first slots, in 2005 (.302) and 2009 (.299). Expecting him to do that in his age-34 season and beyond isn't really good news for the club's offense. Of course, while they have shopped Young this winter, with $48 million owed to him over the next three seasons he's not really that portable, not without the Rangers eating a ton of cash. However, if they deal from the depth they now have to get a quality starting pitcher, a meal of Benjamins flambé makes sense, because there are all those DH-worthy bats still knocking around on the market for a pittance.

There is of course the suggestion that Young is more than just a DH, because he's also going to be the guy who steps in at third on Beltre's day off, and maybe for Ian Kinsler as well over at second. If that spares the Rangers too much playing time for Andres Blanco and the like, that's a modest gain, and that also opens up playing time for David Murphy. In the era of 12-man pitching staffs, that sort of modest flexibility is handy, but remember, Young's not the new Mark DeRosa if you remember the latter's spin as the Rangers' last superutility everyday hero, back in 2006—he's older, a worse defender, and no better at the plate.

The losers of Beltre's signing his contract are more numerous than you might expect at first glance. First, there's the rest of the AL West, in terms of the Angels and the A's not getting him instead. The A's had long since bugged out, of course, preferring to break up after fruitless flirting before getting publicly brushed off by the big man. The Angels simply blew it, insofar as they made a reasonable offer, got up and left the room, and found there was somebody else willing to get in on the action, in an upset almost as shocking as the Phillies' late victory in the Lee sweepstakes. Now they're stuck with last year's unpleasant choice between Maicer Izturis or Brandon Wood, or making a deal, because beyond curiosities like what's left of Hank Blalock or Andy LaRoche, the market's out of third basemen. A pity the Rangers wouldn't trade them Young, but miscalculations this big will end up requiring a creative solution if they're going to make last summer's trade for Dan Haren stand up as a win-now play in Anaheim.

But competitive balance in the AL West isn't the only group of third parties affected by the Beltre contract, The other big losers are the other DH candidates out there—all of them. Even if the Rangers eventually make a deal for pitching and open their own DH slot back up, by the time that happens there will be that much less money in the market left to spend on Thome or Vladi or Johnny Damon or Manny Ramirez or Russell Branyan, or an aspiring comeback kid like Jermaine Dye. For Gary Sheffield, the question isn't whether he's done or not, it's why anybody should specifically make room for him, as opposed to any of a number of other people. It's no wonder that Sheff is now talking retirement, even after posting a .372 OBP in 2009—as Alec Baldwin might have warned him, second place is a non-roster invite, and third place is quality time with the wife and kids shooting PSAs on your hometown cable-access channel.

Some of the eager early-winter shoppers have been punished as well, of course, for failing to appreciate the oversupply of bats on this winter's market at the furthest, least glovely end of the defensive spectrum. Just within the AL West alone, the A's and the Mariners both have cause to regret their deals with Hideki Matsui and Jack Cust. In contrast, Cust and Godzilla should feel great about getting deals before the limited number of spots available for bat-only ballplayers on every DH league's 40-man filled up. By agreeing quickly to deals before the holidays, they have guaranteed 2011 paydays and playing time to look forward to. That might sound like fairly prosaic consolation, but that's life in the deflating market for middle-class boppers. Valentine's Day might come with his Mannyness wondering whether all he has to look forward to is cashing deferred paychecks from the McCourts, or if it's time to take that call from the GM of the Mexico City Red Devils.

It's that situation that puts the teams still shopping in the catbird seat, because their openings at DH (and for one or two clubs, first base to boot) are worth more to the crowd of free agents available to man them. The Twins and the Rays are the most obvious examples, but even the Angels could profit from this situation, if they work up the nerve to leave Mike Napoli at catcher more often than not. If any of these team's first choices wants $6 million or maybe even just $4 million and a 2012 option, that doesn't matter—the clubs can just thank the guy's agent for his time, turn around, and dare somebody else to take less or pray he gets the right NRI deal.

In the meantime, the Rangers did what seemed unlikely at this late date in this winter's fast-developing Hot Stove—they made a game-changing move that ought to put them back on top of the short stack in the AL West. Lots of money wasn't the only thing left laying around after the failure to make Lee an offer he couldn't refuse, though.

There is still the big question about whether they really have the horses to deliver another division title, because the Rangers have the worst rotation in the division. Last year's gambles with C.J. Wilson and Colby Lewis have to be this year's sure things. Brandon Webb's comeback has to be a thing of glory, and Scott Feldman's doing likewise on his own comeback trail from repairing microfractures in his right (push) knee would do wonders. They need Tommy Hunter to fend off the regression monster that's stalking after a 2010 far better than you had cause to expect. They need Derek Holland to finally break through. Pile up that stack of ifs, and you've got a team that will have real problems getting through a short series, above and beyond having enough arms to deliver a season's worth of work they can win with.

*: I know, technically the next-best option is Carl Pavano. Given the choice between picking up their cell phone and making Pavano an offer, or using it to play street hockey with their interns, you can probably understand why Pavano's phone hasn't been ringing, and why Mike Rizzo's reportedly developed a wicked backhand slapshot.

Christina Kahrl is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
Click here to see Christina's other articles. You can contact Christina by clicking here

Related Content:  A's,  Dh,  Year Of The Injury,  The Call-up

42 comments have been left for this article. (Click to hide comments)

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Richie

So you anticipate Beltre will like hitting in Texas "almost as much" as he did in Fenway? So you expect his 2011 to be more similar to his 2010 (and 2004) than his 2009, 2008, 2007, 2006 and 2005 (and 2003 and 2002 and 2001 and 2000 and 1999)?

I'll be curious to see what PECOTA says. But this contract just has 'CLASSIC BUST!' stamped all over it. Every last element of it. A team not as good as it thinks it is in 'WE ABSOLUTELY HAVE TO WIN NOWNOWNOWNOWNOW!' mode. With money burning a hole in its pocket. A 32-year-old free agent coming off one single season head and shoulders above anything he'd done in the previous 5.

And a roster with plenty of other holes in it. Outfield depth (Hamilton's fragility and the summer heat), starting pitching, questions at first base, dh and behind the plate.

The Yankees have a huge advantage in that come every July, they're always buyers. Always have plenty of $$$ to buy pricey veterans from disappointing teams for pennies on the dollar in terms of talent exchange. The Rangers could also have put themselves in that position.

Instead, they're far more likely to be peddling Beltre for pennies on the dollar. Maybe next season. Maybe this one.

Jan 07, 2011 10:43 AM
rating: 3
 
rcrary

"A 32-year-old free agent coming off one single season head and shoulders above anything he'd done in the previous 5."

In which seasons his home park was where, again?

Jan 07, 2011 11:15 AM
rating: 2
 
mbrignall

Yeah, Beltre's numbers were depressed by playing in Seattle for 5 yrs, but a stat like WARP that corrects for that still suggests that Beltre and Michael Young have had roughly the same value every year but last year's BA fluke. We've seen Beltre long enough to know he's a solid 2-4 win player who is capable of busting out above that. He's an asset, but not a $16M one.

Jan 07, 2011 11:50 AM
rating: 1
 
rcrary

Fair enough; even so, I don't think using that as a basis for yelling 'CLASSIC BUST!' is justified.

Jan 07, 2011 12:54 PM
rating: 1
 
Pat Folz

Actually, at $5M/win, that makes him almost exactly a $16M asset (though of course not a bargain).

One main reason Young's WARP totals are close to Beltre's is that Young has generally been much healthier in his career. On a per-playing-time basis, Young's been worth about 0.004 WARP/PA for his career, while Beltre's at 0.0056 WARP/PA. If the Rangers medical staff has some trick to keep Beltre healthy, he could be quite a bit more valuable.

Jan 07, 2011 14:09 PM
rating: 2
 
jimgardner

You mention how the A's and Mariners may now regret their early DH signings. Is that true for the Red Sox too, with their early decision to re-up David Ortiz?

Jan 07, 2011 10:56 AM
rating: 2
 
Greg Ioannou

Speaking of Scott Boros, I noticed a couple of nights ago that some teams have piles of Boros's 120 clients on their rosters, and some have few or (in the case of the Blue Jays) none. I was wondering if that was a statistical fluke, or do the Jays and Boros not like dealing with each other?

Has anyone ever looked at agent/team relationships? Do some agents particularly like to deal with some teams? Do they help those teams build? Do some teams and agents completely avoid each other?

Jan 07, 2011 11:52 AM
rating: 2
 
Matt Kory

Most of Boras' (that's Boras with an "A") clients are expensive. Teams know that, for the most part, they're going to pay top dollar when they sign players who employ Boras as their agent. Many teams don't/can't afford to pay top dollar for free agents. I think that's your reason. You aren't likely to see many Boras clients on the Royals, A's, Twins, Rays, etc. Some to be certain, but not many. You'll find many more on the bigger budget teams, the Yankees, Mets, Red Sox, etc.

Jan 09, 2011 13:43 PM
rating: 1
 
Richie

Another question that Swartz or perhaps Seidman could examine. How much value-per-$$$ have Boras clients returned? Given Boras' expertise with managing the denominator part of that, I'd guess very low. But maybe he's good at identifying then seeking to represent players who figure to age well. Or perhaps that academy of his I hear about is an ongoing asset to his clients, so aids their future performance.

Jan 07, 2011 12:04 PM
rating: 3
 
Matt Kory

Do Boras clients provide any increased return on investment than non-Boras clients? That would be an interesting study to read.

Jan 09, 2011 13:45 PM
rating: 1
 
montanabowers

Lose Lee and Guerrero and gain Beltre and Webb . . . seems to me that the Rangers have slipped. Plus, I agree with Richie; what about this 9 other fairly "off" years in LA and Seattle. This guy just doesn't impress me; I would rather have Uggla for his price. Also, what about Nolan Ryan's quote (see Monday's week in quotes) about "retirement contracts"? Seems like that's what the Rangers just signed with Mr. Beltre. This has been a very odd year for free agents.

Jan 07, 2011 12:41 PM
rating: 2
 
Mtn Jam

Have you seen Dan Uggla play defense?

Jan 07, 2011 12:58 PM
rating: 2
 
Matt Kory

Keep in mind they only had Lee for a few months. When you're making the comparison between Beltre & Webb vs. Lee & Vlad (whom they could still re-sign if they can somehow deal Young) you're talking about full seasons of the former vs. a partial season of Lee and a full season of Vlad.

I think the Rangers are set up to be favorites in the AL West. After that, I have no idea what will happen.

Jan 09, 2011 13:47 PM
rating: 0
 
oskinner

I don't think Adam LaRoche will ever qualify at 3b, but he does share a common father with someone who is, in theory at least, a free-agent 3b, little brother Andy.....

Jan 07, 2011 13:08 PM
rating: 2
 
Sacramento

It'll be interesting to see if Beltre will bring his human wrecking ball act to Texas. Elvis Andrus better watch out.

Jan 07, 2011 13:17 PM
rating: 3
 
Matt Kory

Beltre took out two left fielders last season in Boston. To my knowledge he hasn't collided with any shortstops. The guy who should watch out is David Murphy and whomever replaces him after Beltre breaks his ribs.

Jan 09, 2011 13:49 PM
rating: 2
 
jhelfgott

Why exactly will the Mariners regret paying Jack Cust as if he's an 0.5 WAR player next year? Of the other DH candidates on the market, Branyan has back issues, and Thome, Vlad, and Manny will all want to play for teams with a better shot at contention, and the Twins, Rays, and Tigers all have DH spots more or less open.

The only question Cust answers is "who can we pick up as a 1-year stopgap at DH without spending too much money?" But at that price I don't see it being a potential source of regret. Even if he completely collapses.

Jan 07, 2011 13:46 PM
rating: 1
 
John Collins
(110)

Why do people have this idea that the Twins DH spot is open? Cuddyer presumably will go back to manning RF more or less full time, Morneau will be back at first, and Kubel the principal DH. The opening for Thome to get 50% playing time last year was largely created by Morneau's absence. Or do you guys know something I don't (about Morneau's recovery or whatever)?

Jan 07, 2011 21:21 PM
rating: 2
 
Matt Kory

If Will was still here I'm confident he'd say recovering from concussions is an inexact science. I don't think anyone really knows how long it will take Morneau to recover until he's actually recovered.

Jan 09, 2011 13:50 PM
rating: 0
 
Eddie

The only other time Beltre has been any good was also a when he was playing for a contract, his last year with LA. He's been pedestrian at best nearly every other year. This is a huge overpay in my opinion.

Jan 07, 2011 14:38 PM
rating: 2
 
Matt Kory

That's really not true at all. I suggest you read this:

http://www.fangraphs.com/blogs/index.php/adrian-beltre-is-not-motivated-by-contract-years/

Jan 09, 2011 13:53 PM
rating: 0
 
montanabowers

MtnJam - My point is the salary difference: Uggla for $12.4 million per year, while Beltre pulls in $18 million per year. Is Beltre's defense (and age) worth the differnce. I just think this was a gross overpay that the Rangers will regret soon, but the whole winter has been that way with free agents. A crazy, crazy winter.

Jan 07, 2011 16:49 PM
rating: 1
 
Mr. Cthulhu

Why compare this deal to Uggla at all? The Rangers didn't have the option of signing him.

Jan 08, 2011 09:03 AM
rating: 0
 
smallflowers

If we're forced to compare the two, then yes, Beltre's defense is that much better. He's among the most elite defenders in the game.

Jan 08, 2011 14:00 PM
rating: 0
 
eighteen

ASsuming the article is correct and the contract's for $96 mil over 6 years, that's $16 mil/yr, not $18. YMMV, but I think Beltre's certainly worth $3.6 mil/year more than Uggla.

Jan 08, 2011 17:09 PM
rating: 0
 
montanabowers

$5.6 million additional salary per year for the brittle Beltre to play defense? That comes out to an additional $350,000 per game for his defense and that's assuming he plays 162 games. Totally disagree - this will be worse than the Gary Mathews Jr signing (don't get me wrong, Beltre is other world compared to Mathews) when it's all said and done. The Rangers will be singing the blues in less than three years because this contract will cripple other moves they wish to make in coming years. Just ask the Angels front office what it's like. Beltre's salary will almost be like packing Mathews' and Kazmir's combined payroll - about 18% of the total payroll. Ouch!

Jan 08, 2011 17:19 PM
rating: 0
 
smallflowers

Many people would argue that Beltre is one of the top 5 defenders at 3B *ever.* He is 2-3 wins better than Uggla *defensively.* Is that worth $5.6M? Easily. Will the difference between Beltre's and Uggla's defense continue to be that large as they both decline? Yes.

Uggla, a bat-first player, is an .837 career. Beltre, a glove-first player, is .791 career. Uggla has only been a MLB player since age 26. Beltre since 19. Both are great supporting players on championship teams. One is an elite defender and the other is a liability.

I'm not sure why you are calling him "Brittle Beltre." In the last 9 seasons he's played 149+ games 7 times, 143 once, and 111 once. Three or four other teams were willing to play Beltre a similar annual salary, but Texas was willing to go the extra year. I'm not sure how that makes him Gary Matthews Jr.

Jan 09, 2011 16:12 PM
rating: 0
 
abcjr2

As an A's fan I for one am glad they got off the Beltre Bandwagon. I'd rather have Kouzmanoff and an extra $11 million per year in my pocket to help sign long term contracts with the young starting pitchers.

Jan 07, 2011 17:38 PM
rating: 3
 
Matt Kory

That extra $11 million in your pocket isn't going to help you win any games this season. The AL West is winnable for the A's and Beltre could have helped Oakland a lot. Instead he's going to be actively helping a division rival.

To be clear, you can't fault the A's front office for this. They've tried to get Beltre on numerous occasions and haven't been successful through what appears to be no fault of their own.

Jan 09, 2011 13:55 PM
rating: 0
 
Sharky

Christina, "Benjamins flambé" has to be one of the funniest and most clever ways I've ever heard that phenomenon described. I'll have to work it into my daily speech!

Jan 08, 2011 05:43 AM
rating: 1
 
jedjethro

+1, Christina, you are truly the master of the pithy phrase!

Jan 09, 2011 06:54 AM
rating: 0
 
lesmash

The hockey player in me is shaking my head over that "backhand slapshot" comment. There is no such shot. Trust me on this - I'm Canadian.

Jan 08, 2011 13:02 PM
rating: 5
 
smallflowers

Unless you buy a Pie-Reimold populated LF in Camden Yards this year, I could see the O's as a prime landing spot for a heretofore jobless DH. Scott is a much better defender than he is given credit for, if below average, and could create an interesting hit-run-defend rotation between the positions. And all these players in the mix would allow them to mix, match, and rest a feller like Thome. I'm sure the era-o-Buck would fully embrace yet another aged one amongst their ranks.

Jan 08, 2011 14:07 PM
rating: 0
 
montanabowers

smallflowers - $5.6 million additional salary per year for the brittle Beltre to play defense? That comes out to an additional $350,000 per game for his defense and that's assuming he plays 162 games. Totally disagree - this will be worse than the Gary Mathews Jr signing (don't get me wrong, Beltre is other world compared to Mathews) when it's all said and done. The Rangers will be singing the blues in less than three years because this contract will cripple other moves they wish to make in coming years. Just ask the Angels front office what it's like. Beltre's salary will almost be like packing Mathews' and Kazmir's combined payroll - about 18% of the total payroll. Ouch!

Jan 08, 2011 17:13 PM
rating: -2
 
Kampfer

All the Rangers should do is turn Feliz into a starter, and sign random reliever to be their closer. It looks a lot more winnable to have Feliz C.J. Fred Lewis + re-animated Webb or Holland in a short series. Seriously, it will take 8 mil to sign Pavano, what about spending it on Soriano. I think the market for good reliever is getting dried up, and Soriano has no chance settling on a 3yr deal. Two year, 16/m for him and Feliz going back to starting could be the magic to put the Rangers on top.

Jan 08, 2011 17:54 PM
rating: 0
 
Kampfer

I meant Colby...

Jan 08, 2011 18:11 PM
rating: 0
 
R.A.Wagman

That's an interesting take on where Soriano's market should be. With so many other teams either bowing out either through not wanting to give up a 1st rounder(Yankees), or simply not anting to extend themselves (Angels) and the market for relievers having long since set, I think a team in the market for Soriano would be one that had a poor year in 2010, so their 1st rounder is protected (much more palatable to lose a 2nd rounder, especially with the high number of comp picks already guaranteed this year), or a team (like the Rangers) that has already surrendered their 1st rounder.

Jan 09, 2011 07:27 AM
rating: 0
 
R.A.Wagman

Likely candidates include:
- Pirates (don't laugh)
- Diamondbacks (not Towers' style, but a good fit)
- Cubs (Garza trade says they are going for it - Soriano and Marmol would be a very potent big two)
- Brewers (see Cubs explanation)
- Marlins
- Rangers (already missing their 1st rounder)
- Phillies (if they really want to extend the budget)

Jan 09, 2011 07:37 AM
rating: 0
 
Matt Kory

"Likely candidates include:
- Pirates (don't laugh)"

The Pirates might try to sign Soriano, but I can't imagine a good reason why they should. Spending boatloads of money on a relief pitcher while losing what would be for them a second round draft pick in a loaded draft doesn't make any sense for a team at the bottom of the entire National League.

The only way it would make any sense would be if they could get Soriano on a one year deal. Then they could deal him at the deadline or they could keep him and get another first rounder in next year's draft. Other than that, I'm laughing.

Jan 09, 2011 14:00 PM
rating: 0
 
jedjethro

Interesting points made by all ... it will be fascinating to see how the Rangers fare in 2011. I agree with Kampfer: The Rangers have their potential impact starter in the bullpen. As good as Feliz is as a closer, I could see the Rangers hitting the jackpot again with Scheppers, Ogando or an acquisition.

Jan 09, 2011 06:58 AM
rating: 0
 
lesmash

Wagman - I believe the D-Backs signed Putz to be their closer, so I would take them out of the equation. The Pirates have two in-house options with Joel Hanrahan and Evan Meek, though I would never put a signing like this past the Pittsburgh, dumb though it would be for their team at this stage.

I think inking Rafael Soriano would be an interesting move for Milwaukee. They are definitely loading up for the here and now, and John Axford is not exactly proven. This would be the poker equivalent of being all in, I imagine.

Jan 09, 2011 09:55 AM
rating: 0
 
R.A.Wagman

I fully agree about Milwaukee. I had forgotten about Putz. That, combined with the Towers style should probably eliminate Arizona from the equation. I still think it could be a good pickup by Pittsburgh, if the dollars are reasonable. Their starting pitchers are still relatively weak, so a strong bullpen is even more of an important thing to have. But Milwaukee should be sniffing around. The Brewers only had two relievers with WXRL marks above 1 (Axford and Loe) and dealt another in their top five (and a good candidate for improvement) in Villanueva to the Jays. If Soriano does not sign soon, and I were Doug Melvin, I would offer Soriano a high salary for one year with the stipulation (a-la Jed Hoyer) that I don't offer arbitration after the year.

Jan 09, 2011 11:50 AM
rating: 0
 
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