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January 25, 2012

Transaction Analysis

The New Prince of Motown

by R.J. Anderson

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DETROIT TIGERS
Team Audit | Player Cards | Depth Chart

Signed 1B-L Prince Fielder to a nine-year deal worth $214 million. [1/24]

The biggest signing of 2012 raises many questions.

Where will Fielder play?
The earliest indications are that Fielder will become the Tigers’ first baseman. If that holds true until opening day, then Fielder will become the first player (besides Miguel Cabrera) to start the season at first base since Carlos Guillen in 2008.

Where will Cabrera play?
Cabrera’s future position is not as obvious as Fielder’s future home (either first base or designated hitter). In theory, Cabrera could wind up at the least important defensive position that Fielder does not inhabit, but there is some thought that Cabrera could try his hand at third base. For those keeping score, Cabrera last attended the hot corner in 2008 and last played the majority of his games at third in 2007—his final season in Florida.

Is Fielder over Cabrera at first base the right call?
Neither Fielder nor Cabrera rate is a good defender according to Fielding Runs Above Average. Since 2009, Fielder has accumulated -12 fielding runs, while Cabrera is even worse at -21 runs. If those numbers are to be trusted and projected to continue, then Fielder over Cabrera at first base makes sense. However, shifting a horrible first baseman to an even more rigorous defensive position sounds like a bad idea (unless you enjoy gifs of baseball players making awful defensive plays—then it sounds like a brilliant idea).

What happens when Victor Martinez returns?
Remember, Martinez tore his ACL earlier in the offseason, just a year after signing a four-year deal with the Tigers worth $50 million. With $25 million out of the way following this season, the Tigers could attempt to move Martinez and the other half of the deal, or they could keep him around, in the unlikely scenario that Cabrera plays a palatable third base. In a sense, the Tigers may face a similar situation to the one the Angels are experiencing with Kendrys Morales. Of course, everyone can agree that there are worse predicaments to be in than having too many good hitters.

Does Fielder’s deal include an opt-out?
The answer is no, according to Ken Rosenthal. This is a bit of a surprise, since Scott Boras is Fielder’s representative, and he managed to finagle an opt-out for Rafael Soriano last winter. This could be a pro or a con for the Tigers. If Fielder could opt out, then doing so would indicate he played well enough that Boras feels he can procure an even better deal than whatever remained on his current contract. Alternatively, the Tigers may have saved money without the inclusion of an opt-out. Just look at the Yankees and C.C. Sabathia for proof of how that can be a bad thing for the team.

Why did Detroit guarantee Fielder so much money and so many years? Did they get duped by Boras into bidding against themselves?
To put it simply: that is the cost of business. Every general manager would like to acquire one of the best hitters in the game without paying him like so, but those dream situations rarely present themselves in reality, and that means someone will pay the players. As for the second part, attempting to solve what happened behind closed doors is the most fruitless and difficult process involved in analyzing any transaction. There are reports that other teams, including the dreaded “mystery team”, were pursuing Fielder’s services. Whether those teams made comparable offers is anyone’s guess, though one has to trust that the Tigers did walk away with the highest bid.

How crazy is the money involved?
This, from Prospectus business guru Maury Brown:

To place the Fielder deal in perspective, the nine-year, $214 million contract ranks him behind only A-Rod (twice, 2001-10 at $252 million and 2008-17 at $275 million) and Pujols (10-year,$240 million base salary) in terms of total dollars. For first baseman, Fielder crushes the eight-year, $180 million deal that Mark Teixeira reached in 2009.  The average annual value (AAV) on Fielder’s deal ($23.8 million) ranks him behind only the two Rodriguez deals, Cliff Lee’s $24 million AAV (as part of his five-year, $120 million deal that runs 2011-15), and Ryan Howard’s $25 million AAV as part of his five-year, $125 million contract that runs 2012-16.

Having Victor Martinez go down with what is likely a season-ending ACL tear surely played into the deal, as well. According to Jayson Stark, the Tigers will see a significant amount of Martinez’s salary covered by insurance. “Significant” could be as much or little as 50 percent.

The Tigers ranked 10th in the league by “Final Player Payroll” at the end of the 2011 season at $113,230,923.

Don’t the Tigers know that Fielder is fat and nearing the decline phase of his career?
Of course, Detroit knows about Fielder’s weight and his age (he’ll be 28 in May). Detroit is paying Fielder through his age-36 season, meaning decline is an inevitable part of the deal. Whether Fielder’s body type will lead to his skills atrophying earlier than expected is a gamble, but it’s one that could pay off.  Fielder would not be the first heavyset player to decline early, but there are plenty of normal-sized players who decline early as well. Relying on his body type and nothing more as proof that he will not age well is having too much confidence in prognosticating abilities based on qualitative attributes.

Yeah, but isn’t this a risky deal?
Absolutely. Almost every nine-year or $200-plus million deal is fraught with the potential to become a liability. This one is no different.

Is Fielder even a good fit for Comerica Park?
There are concerns whenever a player shifts from a hitter’s park to a pitcher’s park. Miller Park helped Fielder’s raw numbers, no doubt, but the new Coors Field it is not. Since 2009, Fielder’s line is .287/.409/.547, with an average season including 39 home runs. True, Fielder’s home numbers are more favorable than his road tallies, but his career road OPS is still 896. No one can question the legitimacy of his hitting tools, either. Fielder may see his raw statistics decline just a bit, but then again, he may have witnessed that even if he stayed in Milwaukee.

Yeah, but how much better is Fielder than Martinez, really?
Keep in mind that Martinez is a converted catcher, albeit one who could (and can) hit the baseball like nobody’s business. Compare Martinez’s line over the last three seasons (.312/.372/.481) to Fielder’s (.287/.409/.547), and you come to realize there is a 37-point differential in on-base percentage and a 66-point gap in slugging percentage. Even docking Fielder points for changing leagues and ballparks is not going to make that OPS gap of 103 points disappear. Fielder is the superior batter by a fair margin.

Is Cabrera-Fielder now the best one-two and the best righty-lefty punch in the majors?
Many would have claimed that Ryan Braun and Fielder formed the best righty-lefty punch prior to Fielder’s signing elsewhere, and it does appear that Fielder and Cabrera have a legitimate claim to being known as the best tag-team in baseball. If you go by adjusted-OPS, the Tigers now boast, at worst, two of the top six hitters in the league since 2009, with Cabrera finishing in second place and Fielder tying Jose Bautista for fifth.

What does the rest of the Tigers’ lineup look like now?
One has to think Austin Jackson, Brennan Boesch, Delmon Young, Ryan Raburn, Jhonny Peralta, Ramon Santiago, and Alex Avila work into the equation in some way or another. The specifics will remain shaky until finding out what position Cabrera will play.

Is there ever a time to doubt Boras’s ability to find an appropriate deal?
Never.


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

Related Content:  Detroit Tigers,  Prince Fielder,  Deal

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

BP Comment Quick Links

chunkstyle

Feel free to tell me if I'm nuts, but maybe the answer to the problem of how to fit these parts in place hasn't been mentioned? Is it possible Victor Martinez could play third base? He wouldn't be the first catcher to convert there. I doubt if he'd be very good, but he wouldn't have to be to do better than Cabrera...

Jan 24, 2012 19:22 PM
rating: 0
 
WaldoInSC

That is one ghastly infield if Cabrera's tub of goo staffs the hot corner. With Fielder at first and Peralta at second it's all wood and no leather.

Plus, moving Cabrera to third has to be worth 1.5 DL stints. The bigger they are, the harder they fall.

Add in Justin Verlander's almost inevitable return to earth and a dearth of starting pitching behind him and this feels like an awfully unbalanced lot.

Jan 24, 2012 19:25 PM
rating: -1
 
Jay Taylor

I don't see Cabrera being much more likely to get injured at third then he would at first. My guess is that he will play third pretty much like he plays first...stationary.

Jan 25, 2012 10:47 AM
rating: 1
 
jpjazzman

"Fielder will become the first player to start the season at first base since Carlos Guillen in 2008". Huh?

Jan 24, 2012 19:26 PM
rating: 5
 
amacrae

I think what he meant is that Fielder will be the 3rd player to start the season at 1B since 2008. If we back that up to 2006 he'll be the 5th.

* * *

An hour before Fielder was signed Buster Olney was talking about The Tigers signing him to a 1 year deal so he could re-enter the market after 2012 when The Dodgers and Mets would also be suitors.

Why is trading Fielder after the 2012 or 2013 season not an option for The Tigers, especially if they manage to win The World Series in one of those seasons?

Clearly whoever wanted Fielder would've had to commit to 8-10 seasons, so why would a team who wanted him now be unwilling to take on that contract?

I'm not saying the return would be great, but is it really a foregone conclusion that Fielder remains a Tiger when Martinez returns?

Jan 24, 2012 20:03 PM
rating: -1
 
mattcollins

If I'm not mistaken, if you are traded during a multi-year deal you signed as a free agent, you can opt out of the deal at the end of the season in which you were traded. So essentially the acquiring team would be getting Fielder for one season and a period of exclusive negotiating rights while Boras threatens an opt-out. This also assumes that the deal doesn't contain a no-trade clause.

Regardless, it makes little sense to sign a player to a 9-year deal hoping to trade him after a season or two. Especially one of the most expensive 9-year deals in history.

Jan 24, 2012 21:08 PM
rating: 1
 
amacrae

I concede that this only really makes sense if The Tigers win the series, but I really would like an explanation as to why this is so irrational.

Prince Fielder was not a Tiger priority this off season and the team arguably does not even NEED him after 2012. He is essentially a replacement for Martinez that they could not acquire on a one year deal, but needed in order not to waste prime years of Verlander, Cabrera, etc.

Why does it make so little sense to sign him to a long term deal to get him for the season or 2 you actually need him and then trade him? If he's traded after 2012 or 2013 the team will be no different than it was the day before V-Mart's injury, when they were still expected to contend. And by that time the 65th best prospect in baseball could be ready to take over 3B.

I'm not saying this WILL happen, I just want to know why it's so preposterous.

Also, I'm not sure that contract opt-out stuff is always the case? Wasn't Vernon Wells traded with 3 years remaining on his contract? A-Rod with 4?

Jan 24, 2012 22:01 PM
rating: 0
 
amacrae

To be clear, I am not saying this was the team's plan when they put together this contract. I do not think they said "let's sign this dude to a $214M contract and hope we can trade him 2 years into it."

All I'm asking is why it's not even an option.

Jan 24, 2012 22:04 PM
rating: 1
 
Behemoth

It's unlikely to be an option, because there is only one team in baseball that believes Fielder is worth 9/$214m (otherwise Fielder wouldn't be a Tiger right now). That won't change radically in a year's time or two years' time. Also, the fans would expect a vast return - "You're trading away Prince Fielder. How many top 20 prospects are we getting back?" "None" "I don't understand."

Jan 25, 2012 03:19 AM
rating: 1
 
jrbdmb

Actually, the only change is that Fielder will be *less* valuable in a year or two. If nobody else was willing to pay $23M/year now, they will be even less willing to pay that in a few years when Fielder is closer to his decline phase.

Jan 25, 2012 07:56 AM
rating: 2
 
amacrae

We currently have no idea how other teams that were in the hunt for Fielder valued him, what the contract details are, how much a win will cost in 3 seasons or how good Fielder will be at that time.

Furthermore, you all seem to be in agreement that while the last few years of his contract are bad, it's still somehow a better idea for the Tigers to keep him than free up that money.

If the return isn't good enough (aside from what fans would think) than that would suggest that spending $24.3M on him during his decline is worth more than having that money to spend on other players and getting a few mid-level prospect in return.

Which is it?

I am thus far not convinced that trading Fielder is an utterly impossible outcome.

Jan 25, 2012 10:13 AM
rating: 1
 
BurrRutledge

There is precedent for this strategy. Delgado Marlins/Mets, if I remember correctly.

Not to say that is evidence it is a strategy worth emulating (for either party), but it is a valid point of view.

Jan 25, 2012 10:47 AM
rating: 1
 
amacrae

And I completely forgot that The Tigers traded Granderson 2 years into a 6 year contract.

Jan 25, 2012 12:52 PM
rating: 0
 
Behemoth

OK, lets look at it again. Things we know:

1. Nobody else would pay 9/$214m or more, or Fielder would not be a Tiger.
2. The best part of this contract is likely to be the beginning of the contract.

It therefore makes little sense for anyone to take on the last seven years of the contract, especially as they would be paying at least as high an AAV, and give up some sort of positive return in terms of prospects. Yeah, something could be done if the Tigers take on a different bad contract, or if they pay some of Fielder's salary, but otherwise, it makes little sense for the team receiving Fielder (especially as Votto will be a free agent at that point).

Nobody is saying that Fielder is totally untradeable (unless he has a no trade clause which is distinctly possible) - just that it's very unlikely the Tigers would get a significant return by doing so.

Jan 25, 2012 13:16 PM
rating: 0
 
BurrRutledge

Today, your analysis is right on target. Everything you say makes absolutely perfect sense.

However, circumstances change. What looks absolute today may not look the same in a couple years. History bears this out.

The number of players/contracts that defy
Largest contract in the history of the game (at the time) was ARod in Texas. At the time of the signing, Texas valued him WAY higher than any other team both in terms of $ and years. Result: traded mid-contract.

I recall a few other cases where the signing seemed way too expensive at the time, and too many years, and yet the circumstances changesd a trade happened mid-contract where a trade was possible: Vernon Wells and Carlos Delgado come to mind. Derek Lowe in Atlanta wasn't quite as long, but similar value/cost issues.

Short story: don't rule out the possibility that another team is going to want Fielder (and his contract) 2 years from now even though they weren't the high-bidder this off-season.

Jan 25, 2012 14:07 PM
rating: 1
 
BurrRutledge

cut/paste fail.

Jan 25, 2012 14:08 PM
rating: 0
 
Robotey

Not unlike a capable attorney representing a guilty criminal trying to get off, you make an admirable case for an unlikely outcome. If you want a good comp from this winter for the Delgado example, refer to Jose Reyes. Low salary first year of the deal, feast or famine team that regularly hosts fire sales as if they're the bastard spawn of Charlie Finley. In the last decade the Tigers have proven consistent huge spenders--dating back to absurd deal they gave Juan Gonzalez. they don't sign to trade. Granderson contract was a case of keeping one of their own, and they dealt him in an old-fashioned fair exchange of talent according to need. It was in no way a salary dump. Derek Lowe also not a comp. Braves overpaid and only managed to 'dump' Lowe for the final year by eating $10 million of the $15 million owed. Vernon Wells is actually the best comp, in that he was dealt with plenty of money owed and minimal money transferred. This is only because the Angels experienced a moment of idiocy. Do you think the Jays thought trading Wells was an option when they signed him? I'd say odds of Fielder being traded are about 1 in 100.

Jan 25, 2012 15:02 PM
rating: 0
 
andrews

Thank god the Tigers didn't give that huge contract to Juan Gonzales, they offered it to him and he turned it down :-)

Jan 25, 2012 16:14 PM
rating: 0
 
andrews

Remember Randy Smith lol

Jan 25, 2012 16:21 PM
rating: 0
 
BurrRutledge

Oh, don't get me wrong, I'm not saying that this is their intention. Just saying that you shouldn't outright discount the possibility in 2 years because Detroit was the high bidder today.

The circumstances of the other teams are going to change, and it's impossible to predict exactly how, and all it takes is one team looking to fill a need.

As to being a defense attorney, I don't have the disposition for it.

Jan 25, 2012 16:40 PM
rating: 0
 
Robotey

I hear you, that you don't believe trading Prince is their intention. What I'm saying is even if they change their mind in 2 or 4 years, good luck trading Prince. Who can take on $23 million per for 5 remaining years? And how much would Detroit kick in? For a good example of how challenging it is to unload a cumbersome contract see exhibit A: Alfonso Soriano. Cubs cannot pay enough of his remaining $50 plus million to get any team to offer a decent deal. That is the big concern with these contracts--as the player ages and his performance rapidly declines--the high AAV makes the contract unbearable. Now, as a baseball fan I'd be happy to eat my words in 4 or 5 years, simply for a change of pace. But I wouldn't bet on it.

Jan 25, 2012 19:04 PM
rating: 1
 
BurrRutledge

Yeah, thankfully I have no money riding on it either.

Jan 25, 2012 19:51 PM
rating: 0
 
amacrae

Fielder's performance is clearly a huge component to the trade issue, but we did get a little more light shed on the value question.

The Dodger's reported offer of 7 years/$160M shows that the Tigers were not the only team that valued Fielder as a $24M/year player. I think one can argue that the 8th year was given to outbid L.A. and the 9th year was given to soften the blow of having to move to Detroit.

Whether or not teams will still value him as a $24M/year player 2-3 seasons from now remains to be seen.

Jan 26, 2012 13:16 PM
rating: 0
 
John Carter

They could always trade Fielder - or Cabrera - or Martinez after this year and just pay the added part of his salary the other team doesn't want to pay. Just as with a free agent, they can trade to the highest bidder. I'm not sure how much of a discount an opt out possibility from Fielder would cost. Is he playing for Detroit, because he just loves it there? What are the chances he could waggle an even greater contract next year? It seems like a decent gamble, although, I hope they know something I don't know about Fielder's conditioning regimen.

Last I heard, the Tigers were planning to platoon Raburn with Santiago at secondbase. That leaves the choice between having Cabrera at third and, perhaps, Andy Dirks in left with Delmon Young as the DH or having a platoon of Don Kelly and Brandon Inge at third and Delmon Young in leftfield. The latter could well be just as bad defensively as the former and weaker offensively, so I'm hoping Cabrera can still play a passable third base.

Jan 25, 2012 10:51 AM
rating: -1
 
Wharton93

"Is there ever a time to doubt Boras’s ability to find an appropriate deal? Never."

Just don't tell that to Ryan Madson...

Jan 24, 2012 20:33 PM
rating: 13
 
Jack Thomas

A lot of ranting & raving about the deal on the net -- not much of it focused on whether DET is a better team in 2012 w/Fielder. If I was a Tigers fan, I would be excited about my chances of going deeper into the playoffs next year.

Jan 25, 2012 03:20 AM
rating: 5
 
thenamestsam

I agree with you that people tend to gloss over the obvious point because it doesn't provoke much of a conversation. No one can have any disagreement with the premise that the Tigers are a better team today than they were yesterday. But it is worth pointing out. If the Tigers win a WS or two in the next few years the last few years will be a lot easier to take.

Jan 25, 2012 14:50 PM
rating: 0
 
Randy Brown
(189)

I am a Tigers fan. And while I'm looking forward to 2012, I find myself more focused on the sinking feeling that Astros 2011 = Tigers 2016. Bad boring team, no help coming from the farm system, highest paid player is a shell of his former self.

This signing looks like a classic example of sacrificing the future to improve the present, and while that approach does have merit sometimes, methinks this goes too far.

Jan 25, 2012 05:59 AM
rating: 1
 
Randy Brown
(189)

Forgot to mention the part about "highest paid player was never really a good enough player to justify the contract he was given in the first place"

Jan 25, 2012 06:06 AM
rating: 1
 
kcheaden

The the Tigers are a legit WS contenders for the next 3 years because of this deal you're go to be happy with that as a fan. Who cares about 2016?

Jan 25, 2012 17:51 PM
rating: 2
 
DetroitDale

I second Jack Thomas' emotions. Barring another horrific injury and next year's ALCS is Angels vs. Tigers, regardless of what the only two teams ESPN cares about do.

Only days after I was complaining about the team essentially standing pat and losing one of their best hitters, they go and get and even better replacement.

Sure for this money I would have rather had Jose Reyes, because then there's no logjam when/if Vmart returns, but that wasn't an option by the time Vmart got hurt. By the time that happened, the choice was inferior retreads like Damon or Pena, or this. Kudos to the team for taking the higher risk/higher reward scenario.

First all fat bigotry aside both men move better than you'd accept big men to move and while Cabrera at third is a scary prospect, it's not doomed to fail (he wasn't much smaller when he did it last time)

As to the logjam, rather than saying when Vmart returns, we need to be saying "if" that ACL is a pretty horrific injury and "missing all of next season" could easily become "all of this season and half of next" or maybe even "career ending" I think it's better to have three guys for two positions than to settle for a one year stopgap, only to find out Vmart can't come back or isn't what he was.

Sure this fix for the 2012 problem will create problems in later years, but they're smaller problems and there's more time to deal wtih them.

Another potential solution? One of these guys can play Left Field when Delmon Young inevitably comes back to earth.

Jan 25, 2012 06:19 AM
rating: 0
 
HonusCobb

What interests me the the sacrificing of defense for offense. Normally I wouldn't care, but if Cabrera moves to third and Prince is at first...that's pretty bad defense on the corners. Would either one of them be offended if they were moved to DH? Could Cabrera play left field like he did his first three years in the league?

Jan 25, 2012 07:09 AM
rating: 0
 
gtliles82

The Tigers overpaid badly but they have a window to win in the next few years. As a Tigers fan, that's all I'd ask us to do while we're blessed with Verlander and Cabrera's primes (and a weak division). The V-Mart situation will be sorted out later but I expect Fielder and Cabrera to hold down 1B/DH going forward and Martinez is likely done as a Tiger.

The last 4-5 years of this deal are likely to be pretty crippling to the franchise, but Tigers fans have reason to be excited nonetheless.

Jan 25, 2012 07:10 AM
rating: 2
 
andrews

Last year Fielder starting 159 games at 1b and Cabrera 152.

Why not have both sharing 1b/DH duties in 2012 which presumably will help both stay fresher than they were in 2011. Cabrera can also try a few games at 3rd and the outfield in preparation for Martinez returning.

Jan 25, 2012 07:32 AM
rating: 5
 
T. Kiefer

I concur completely. I hope Jim Leyland feels the same.

Jan 25, 2012 11:23 AM
rating: 0
 
PeterCollery

"This could be a pro or a con for the Tigers. If Fielder could opt out, then doing so would indicate he played well enough that Boras feels he can procure an even better deal than whatever remained on his current contract..."

A contract like this being a zero-sum game, it is *never* advantageous to grant a player an opt-out if you don't have to. If the opt-out is exercised, you've presumably lost something of value. If it isn't, you haven't gained anything.

Jan 25, 2012 08:21 AM
rating: 2
 
lmarighi

I have heard this said frequently about opt-outs, but I'm still not sure of it. It seems to me that if you give the player an opt-out, you could end up getting a discount on the average annual value (AAV) of the first few years, and perhaps it could "save you from yourself" a bit. Say, if you got Prince for $23M per year for 9 years but with an opt-out after year 3, you might be happy for him to be doing well enough that he opts out, and lets someone else get stuck with his age-34+ seasons instead of you.

Jan 26, 2012 04:44 AM
rating: 0
 
DetroitDale

I think Leyland will. Sure sometimes his lineups leave me scratching my head but this makes too much sense not to do.

During the ALCS the idea was floated that if the Tigers got to the World Series (and lost a DH) that Cabrera would move to third and Vmart would play first in order to get both hitters plus Avila into the lineup (A martinez at catcher and Avila at third plan was nixed because Vmart's knee was balking even then)

If they were willing to roll those dice in the World Series I can't see not doing it in a few regular season games this year as a trial for next year when (hopefully) he has to do it for real.

Someone upthread suggested Vmart at third, perhaps rotating Vmart and Cabrera between Third and DH that year is an option depending how well the knee heals.

Jan 25, 2012 13:27 PM
rating: 0
 
sbnirish77

Peralta and Cabrera certainly have the be the worst defensive left side of the infield in the majors

Jan 25, 2012 17:20 PM
rating: 0
 
Nickus

Jeter and Arod perhaps? Reynolds and Hardy is pretty atrocious.

Jan 25, 2012 19:47 PM
rating: 0
 
Robotey

Miggy would make A Rod look like Brooks Robinson at 3rd. Good enough even to balance out what Jeter does to detract.

Jan 25, 2012 20:42 PM
rating: 0
 
andrews

He'll only play 3rd if his defence is passable. If not he won't, remember how quickly he was moved from there in 2008.

Jan 25, 2012 23:23 PM
rating: 0
 
DetroitDale

Regarding defense, I remember an article several years back on this site comparing defense between the best and worst defensive catcher. The figures were so small that they were dwarfed by the tiniest of incremental changes in offense.

As long as Cabrera can be adequate at third, even if he's worst in the league, the resulting upgrade to the lineup from making Inge rather than Vmart the odd man out is going to dwarf any contrubution the team mascot's admittedly impressive definsive skills might be.

Jan 26, 2012 06:29 AM
rating: 0
 
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