Josh Willingham: Proceed With Caution

The following is a guest post from Jeff Barnes. I consider him a must-follow on Twitter.

Ever since Jayson Werth took his talents to D.C., the Phillies have been rumored to be interested in a host of right-handed outfielders.   From offseason rumors of Michael Morse, Manny Ramirez, Magglio Ordonez and (my favorite) Jeff Francoeur, there was no shortage of possible fill-ins for the bearded one.  The Phillies ultimately decided those options were tempting enough, and decided to stay inhouse with Ben Francisco and Domonic Brown.

Now we are 66 games into the 2011 season, and the Phils rank 7th in the NL in runs scored.  Their outfield production looks like this:

Given this production (excluding Shane Victorino), it’s no surprise the Phillies are rumored to be back in the market for an outfielder.  According to this tweet from Buster Olney, the new target is Josh Willingham of the Oakland A’s.  Ruben Amaro should absolutely go get Willingham on one condition, Charlie Manuel passes a “how to use Willingham” test.

Its been mentioned in this blog as well as others, how much proper usage impacts a players value.  J.C. Romero has all the ability to be a perfectly fine LOOGY out of the Phillies pen, but by facing right-handed batters too often (45 RH Batters faced vs 27 LH), he has become the source of a ton of fan frustration.  The same risk applies with Willingham.

With Shane Victorino firmly entrenched in center, Raul and his 11.5 million dollar contract in left, the fear is Willingham’s at-bats will come at the expense of Domonic Brown.  This is concerning for a few reasons.  For starters, Dom’s development is possibly the Phillies best hope at improving their offense.  Allowing him to get 500 PAs this year, could turn the former #1 in all of baseball prospect into a huge weapon come October.

The second, and more urgent issue is outfield defense.   Willingham is undoubtedly a good hitter, as his career .833 OPS suggests.  He is unfortunately not quite as gifted with the glove.  There are varying opinion about advanced defensive stats, but whether you use them or prefer the ol’ eyeball test, there is little debate he’s a below average fielder.

Willingham’s UZR (theoretical runs above or below an average fielder) has been -5.7, -1.9, -4.0 the last three years.  The -4.0 this year is admittedly a small sample size, but its still not a great sign.  Even worse, this negative opinion on his defense has formed while Josh spent his whole career in left field.  One can only imagine the fielding would get worse moving to the more difficult right field.

To complicate the issue, the Phillies already employ one of the worst defensive left fielders in the league.  Running Willingham-Victorino-Ibanez out there may be enough for Roy Halladay to demand a trade back to Toronto.  This is simply not a sustainable defensive team, even with the Phab Four’s excellent ground ball rate.

Brought in as a platoon partner for Raul, and a power bat off the bench, Willingham could provide good value over the next 100 games and hopefully 3 playoff series.  Using him as the new RF at the expense of Domonic Brown’s development and our pitcher’s sanity, and Willingham is a stone better left unturned.  So go ahead Ruben, make the call, right after Charlie tells you what he’d do with him.

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47 comments

  1. Richard

    June 14, 2011 08:03 AM

    Good points.

    My gut feeling is that this is Buster Olney being a shitty journalist (hey! I heard something! must tweet it!) and that these are non-rumors at best.

  2. BrandonG

    June 14, 2011 08:18 AM

    I wouldn’t say I’m ready to just give up on Brown yet. It’s been a SSS, with only 21 games played this year.

  3. Frank K

    June 14, 2011 08:57 AM

    Great article here. Agree with Richard on the so called “professional journalists.” I’m still waiting for Albert Pujols to show up after we sent Ryan Howard to St. Louis earlier this year, according to a “professional journalist.” A really good sports journalist knows when NOT to repeat unconfirmed gossip.

  4. Scott G

    June 14, 2011 09:49 AM

    Bill,

    Completely off topic, but how did you feel about using Stutes in the 8th inning on Sunday? With a 1-run lead and the heart of the Cubs order due up, any chance you’d prefer Madson in the 8th? I’m not trying to make a big deal out of it, but I feel like at the time, Barney, Pena, and Ramirez seem like the worst case scenario.

  5. sean

    June 14, 2011 10:01 AM

    if willingham is brought in to platoon with ibanez i’d be a lot more happy with that. in the NL he’s been solid .260-.270ish hitter with projected 25-30 power if he played 162, which he wouldn’t. he gives solid .360 obp almost every year and can steal the occasional bag.

    the main issue i have with him is that he’s currently injured with an achillies, so that may have something to do with the bad defensive numbers along with playing in spacious oakland outfield. he’d be an upgrade offensively over ben fran and john mayberry, defensively i don’t know i could say he’d be better.

    if you had willingham plus jim thome as your two late inning pinch hitting bats i’d be pretty comfortable with that. they could cut ties with ross gload in august or whenever, and finally end the rule 5 nightmare of mini martinez.

  6. SJHaack

    June 14, 2011 10:16 AM

    They have almost equivalent value to Willingham on their roster RIGHT NOW. Ben Francisco is struggling currently, but he hits an almost-like-clockwork .770 OPS every year he’s gotten playing time. He’s struggling right now, but has a .226 BABIP with the exact same batted ball rates he’s had his career, which means he’s getting extremely unlucky. He’s also striking out less and walking more, which means he’s kept an above average OBP despite that.

    Does he play GOOD defense? No, not by any means. But he plays average defense and is a fairly good baserunner, which all told is almost enough to match Willingham’s better bat (which is also struggling mightily this year with a career average BABIP rate).

    Platoon Benny Fresh, the upgrade’s not worth it.

  7. hk

    June 14, 2011 10:32 AM

    SJHaack,

    I agree that Ben’s numbers this year have been negatively impacted by his BABIP. However, in their respective careers, Willingham has a big advantage over Ben vs. LHP’s in OPS (.875 for JW to .776 for BF) and wOBA (.380 for JW to .341 for BF). If the cost is low enough and the plan is to platoon Willingham with Raul, I’m on board.

  8. Jeff T

    June 14, 2011 11:39 AM

    Is it really feasible that Chawley will platoon Raul if we gewt JW? My guess is that he will cut in to Dom’s AB’s. This is no good since I like what I see from his AB’s and think the more he plays in 2011 the more we all will benefit in 2012 and beyond. Dom’s gonna have his ups and downs this year, but the org needs to commit to him so they can reap the benefits in the future. My biggest fear is the Dom’s growth is stunted because of the pressure of the pennant race felt by the higher ups.
    To paraphrase Norman Dale “Our team is on the field”

  9. SJHaack

    June 14, 2011 11:59 AM

    @hk

    He costs almost as much as Hunter Pence does, and in fact is probably a better value for a single year. But if they truly can’t take salary, then you’ve got to get Oakland to eat salary (good luck), which means you have to sweeten the pot even more.

    Plus the fact that dealing for Willingham even under best circumstances means you’re going through Billy Beane, which scares the crap out of me. The A’s will probably end up with Cosart, Worley, and Singleton. Nightmares.

  10. COAL HAMLETS

    June 14, 2011 12:24 PM

    Buster Olney IS a terrible journalist, and he makes lazy guesses more often than providing something with a little more meat to it. The Phillies could very well be interested in Willingham, but the trade would have to make sense to both sides for it to happen. Ruben absolutely CANNOT trade away anything more than like a few C prospects for Willingham, and Billy Beane would probably try to demand more than Willingham is worth, and hope Ruben is stupid enough to go for it.

  11. Jeff T

    June 14, 2011 12:36 PM

    If it’s Beane vs. Rueben in a battle of the minds the we are screwed.

  12. Utley4God

    June 14, 2011 12:51 PM

    Doubt salary would be an issue. Willingham is only making 6mm this year. That would put it around 2 by the trade deadline. That wouldn’t move the Phils over the luxury tax, and could send back Francisco if need be (for salary purposes, obviously actual prospects would be involved). Willingham isn’t having a great season (due to a few factors) so that can’t help Beane’s leverage. I think its a trade candidate that makes sense assuming Hunter Pence is out of reach. I just simply can’t imagine Ruben not making some sort of move this deadline, maybe I’m wrong.

  13. Sundar

    June 14, 2011 01:12 PM

    @ Jeff T

    Beane over Rueben in the battle of the minds? Do you even pay attention? How’s that Carlos Gonzalez/Huston Street for Matt Holiday deal working out for Beane right now? How’s anything for Beane working out other than a book/movie and one ALCS appearance?

    I’m not saying RAJ is a genius, but he’s addressed almost every need the Phils have had in the last 2 years.

  14. Sundar

    June 14, 2011 01:38 PM

    IDK about this platoon talk. RAJ is either looking to replace a bench bat like Gload or he’s going after Pence who is making 4 mill less than Ibanez, in the prime of his career, and is controlled for another 2 years.

    There is no reason why you don’t send Singleton and a prospect pitcher for a young reasonably inexpensive All-Star.

  15. COAL HAMLETS

    June 14, 2011 03:12 PM

    I would NOT Trade any of Singleton,Cosart,Colvin etc. in ANY trade less than for a guy like Justin Upton who has TONS of upside and a bright future. Hunter Pence is a very good player, but I don’t consider him being worth Singleton and/or Cosart…and Ruben would have to walk away from any trade involving them.

  16. T Did

    June 14, 2011 04:49 PM

    The order or outfielders we should be targeting:

    1) Matt Kemp ( unlikely the dodgers will be getting rid of him though, and we will have to sell alot of the farm)
    2) Hunter Pence (Might have to give up Brown and a C-level prospect, but I would in a heartbeat)
    3) Carlos Quentin ( dont think we will have to give up as much as we would for Pence, but i don’t think he would be as good either)
    4) Josh Willingham ( will be available, won’t have to give up too much to get him, compared to the others, but as others have said I dont think he is a legitimate upgrade, i would rather keep our current outfield)

  17. COAL HAMLETS

    June 14, 2011 04:58 PM

    We DO NOT trade Brown for Pence, that is a terrible move…not to mention we’d still have a gaping hole in our OF next year without Brown here. Also Brown is cheaper, younger, and will probably be better than Pence within a year or two.

  18. Sundar

    June 14, 2011 05:07 PM

    @T Did Dom Brown was untouchable in the Halladay trade. You think he isn’t now for Pence?

    @COAL HAMLETS
    What exactly has Singleton done to prove that he’s more valuable than an All-Star OF, in his prime, at a reasonable cost? And I love the Cosart, Colvin, May trio as much as anyone, but we’ll be very lucky if just one of them pans out. Classic overvalue of your own team’s prospects.

    Meanwhile, Pence is crushing on a horrible team that’s gearing up for rebuild mode

  19. T Did

    June 14, 2011 05:14 PM

    As far as I know Pence is locked up until 2013 so we wouldn’t have a hole in our outfield next year. If you’re talking about who will replace Ibanez, i think Mayberry and Singleton might platoon. Also, we would still have Francisco.

    I’m not sold on Brown being better than Pence, and Pence can contribute now, and is young enough to be a piece for many years, if we decide to re-sign him when he is a free agent.

    Also, we might be able to give up a combination of Rizotti, Savery, Singleton, Colvin, Cosart, May, Worley etc. We have a really good farm and i wouldn’t be opposed to giving up an A level prospect for someone who is as good as Pence

  20. Sundar

    June 14, 2011 05:18 PM

    @T Did Singleton is 19 playing in A ball with an ankle injury. He’s far away from the majors.

    Neither of you two have a handle on what’s actually happening in the farm. All you know is names. You have no clue how high the attrition rate is or what value prospects hold.

  21. T Did

    June 14, 2011 05:29 PM

    No need to get malignant Sundar, its just a forum and last time i checked your not the general manager either. Cool your jets

    I know more than just names, Im just a big proponent of this team winning a world series, even if it means selling the farm. we are in a win now mode with the amount of salary we have invested, and the team isnt young anymore. If we need a power bat to win, then we should get one. Dom brown isnt the answer, atleast not this year anyway. Why not do what we need to do to win, since thats the way its been built so far.

    I do know that all of the names I mentioned have high upside, or are close to major league ready, and many clubs would be excited to get. so i say, we just disagree and i acknowledge that RAJ is in a better position to make calls than I am, but I do know enough about the team to chime in and give my opinion. its guys like you that turn forums into crazy disgruntled fans at each others throats just because you disagree. You kinda suck

  22. hk

    June 14, 2011 06:01 PM

    @ Sundar

    It’s really not fair comparing Beane and RAJ without mentioning budgets. RAJ took over the 2008 World Champions, a team with a payroll of $98M and one of the top 2 or 3 farm systems in baseball. In his tenure, he’s overseen a $68M increase in payroll over three seasons with further increases to come. If he’s “addressed almost every need the Phils have had in the last 2 years” as you suggest, which is debatable, he’s done so by throwing a lot of money at the situation, not out-smarting anybody. Beane, on the other hand, has had to work a payroll of less than half of RAJ’s.

  23. Dan

    June 14, 2011 06:56 PM

    T Did, Rizzotti only has upside as a DH. He is nowhere near the majors unless he gets traded to an AL team in need of a DH. And even then he might not be. He’s suspect, that’s for sure. Also, if you’re so high on upside, then you wouldn’t want to give Brown away for anyone short of a Ryan Braun type. He’s got a good eye, is patient for a young guy, has good power (which could get better), and he’s fast. Really his only flaw is his defense which is passable and will get better as he learns to naturally assess the best route to the ball.

    Pence is good, but he’s getting pretty lucky this year. He’s got a .389 BABIP so far this year, while also having a career high K% at 22.1% and a BB% slightly lower than his career mark at 6.5%. After he regresses, will he still be worth what you’re willing to give him? Probably not. Brown needs to stay. I’d also like to hold onto the top pitchers and Singleton, but I wouldn’t be terribly upset giving away one of them for an acceptable return.

  24. sean

    June 14, 2011 09:02 PM

    another possible name, though i wouldn’t want it per say is ryan ludwick. san diego has a log jam of outfielders with rizzo being brought up. the main issue with him is he makes a good chunk of change though i’m not sure how much of it is paid for by saint louis. he has hit .304 away from petco, and .286 vs lefties this year.

  25. LTG

    June 14, 2011 11:29 PM

    @ T Did,

    I don’t think Sundar was being “malignant” (malicious? I’m pretty sure malignant is reserved to describe dispositions not acts. A tumor is malignant because it tends to cause death not because it happens to cause death in this or that patient. And a typically cordial person can act maliciously on one occasion without being malignant.) He was, in fact, being charitable. He gave you as much credit as possible given the opinion you expressed. Your opinion that Singleton will be ready for MLB duty next year is a bad one. As such it requires explanation and there are two possibilities: 1) You lack the requisite information about Singleton’s career in the minors so far (he’s got a ~.700 OPS in Clearwater this year, he’s only 19, etc.); 2) You make unreasonable inferences from good information. It is always more charitable to assume bad opinions come from bad information rather than bad inference-making. Sundar simply gave you the more charitable reading. If you claim that you are well-informed about Singleton, then you must draw inferences badly. This would make you a much less trust-worthy participant in the conversation. Moreover, to be a valuable contributor you have to be able to admit when you’re wrong. Your post, instead, tried to hide behind the useless shield of unresolved disagreement while calling foul on someone who made a reasonable criticism of the discourse so far. Contrary to the popular maxim, you are not entitled to your opinion unless you are willing to revise it in the face of reasonable criticism.

    In conclusion, Sundar doesn’t suck. He helped advance the conversation rather than let bad opinions fester.

    On another topic, does anybody know how other teams value Singleton? He’s been highly rated by Baseball America and put up good-looking numbers in rookie ball and Lakewood. But can he be the center piece of a deal or will other teams see him as too much of a risk due to his age and relative lack of exposure? If he isn’t the center piece of a deal, is it worth trading him at all since his ceiling looks high? If only Buster Olney were here, he’d know the answers…

  26. J.Kaat

    June 15, 2011 06:48 AM

    I think we should go all out for Mike Morse. A RH who can play 1B,3B,LF,and RF. Also, he’s only making $1.05 million this season. I was thinking of a package of prospects like – SP-Julio Rodriguez, OF-Leandro Castro, and RP-B.J. Rosenberg in exchange for Morse and the rights to Mike Martinez?

  27. SJHaack

    June 15, 2011 07:42 AM

    Ahahahaha the rights to Michael Martinez.

    Mike Morse is very cheap, hitting very well right now, and under team control until 2014. He will take multiple prospects you’ve actually heard of to pry him off the Nationals, who probably don’t want to give him up for anything less than the Matt Capps > Ramos mugging. They will likely want more polished prospects, as well. Someone ready by 2013.

  28. Dan

    June 15, 2011 07:59 AM

    LTG, the fact that Singleton grades out well pretty much across the board for all major prospect rating systems would indicate that other teams probably hold him in high regard. In addition, his age probably isn’t much of a deterrent because he’s succeeding at not just a young age, but a young age for his minor league level. Essentially, he’s playing beyond his years (note, I’m not calling him major-league ready or anything, he’s just ahead of the curve). This is proved by the fact that he was the youngest regular in the entire South Atlantic League. Add onto these things the fact that he has shown good plate discipline and you essentially “remove” the risks of him being young (the risks are still there, as they are with anyone, but they are put at ease). So, all in all, clubs would probably be perfectly fine with him being a center piece.

    This is just my opinion, which is admittedly worthless for current uses, but hopefully the facts I’ve laid out make other teams feel the same way I do.

  29. JB Allen

    June 15, 2011 08:26 AM

    J.Kaat – I agree about Morse. The Phils could really use a RH who can play in the infield. Spelling Utley, Rollins and Polanco every so often wouldn’t hurt, especially with a sub who can hit a little. Having Morse wouldn’t help with Rollins, but he would allow Manuel to slide Polanco over to second every now and then.

  30. sean

    June 15, 2011 10:30 AM

    michael morse? he’s as much an infielder as john mayberry is an infielder. he’s not a 3rd baseman, or a backup third baseman. he’s what’s called “an adventure in the field”. he’s a first baseman/DH. he’s as much a left fielder as raul is and i’d give up nothing worth while to get morse.

  31. jeff s.

    June 15, 2011 10:35 AM

    Willingham would be brought in to, at least, platoon with Ibanez, not Brown. My hope is that he would start over Ibanez, who’s totally washed up despite his brief hot streak a couple of weeks ago. Ibanez’s OBP is below .300 and dropping.

  32. jeff s.

    June 15, 2011 10:38 AM

    I’d also take a serious look at getting Ryan Ludwick. I don’t think they should break the bank and go for a Pence or Quentin. Ludwick had a couple of good years hitting 5th behind Pujos. He could give us a decent half season hitting 5th behind Howard.

  33. Phillie697

    June 15, 2011 11:07 AM

    Why do people feel that in a trade situation Amaro will be owned by Beane? Remember, this is the guy who fleeced Houston last year to get Oswalt… And the year before that did pretty well to get Lee. I’m quite comfortable that Amaro will not trade the farm for… Willingham. Who knows, maybe with Pujols doing as “crappy” as he is, Amaro will employ his patented “out of nowhere” strategy and trade Howard for Pujols, lol.

  34. LTG

    June 15, 2011 12:29 PM

    Dan,

    Thanks for the wisdom! What you say makes a lot of sense.

  35. SJHaack

    June 15, 2011 03:02 PM

    @Phillie697

    Because Ed Wade is one of the worst GMs in baseball, and Billy Beane is one of the best.

    At this point, almost anyone worth trading for in LF would (should) slot in as the starter. Ibanez is having the worst season of all the Phillies outfielders with any kind of playing time (martinez excluded).

  36. JB Allen

    June 15, 2011 03:53 PM

    sean – so you’re saying you’re not a big fan of Morse’s glovework? Don’t you miss Greg Dobbs?

    Morse or no, I just think it would help if the Phillies had a back-up infielder who could hit a little. 300 ABs of replacement-level hitting blows.

  37. E

    June 15, 2011 04:50 PM

    Blaming Beane for trading for Holliday to win now? Really?..Really?

    Street would be the a’s 4th best reliever, and Gonzalez can’t hit outside Coors, or lefties, or can’t hit off speed stuff unless in coors.

    What an ignorant post.

  38. J

    June 15, 2011 05:02 PM

    I’ll trade Singleton. I know he is gaining a great rep, but has been put back to 1st – which isn’t getting him to the Bigs, and Larry Greene will also play LF/IB. Get what you can. I’ll trade him for Pence, easy.

  39. Sundar

    June 15, 2011 10:34 PM

    Beane clearly lost the Holiday for Gonzo/Street deal no matter how you slice it. In fact, the trade goes against the whole concept of “Moneyball” b/c he could have controlled Cargo much cheaper for much longer. And everyone knew that Holiday wanted 100+ mill, which is why the Rox traded him. Meanwhile, CarGo/Street have put in a combined 12.8 WAR for the Rox, while Holiday put in 2.8 WAR in one half season. Ignorance be damned.

    @ LTG Thank you. Well put. I couldn’t have said it better.

  40. Sundar

    June 15, 2011 10:37 PM

    @ E “Gonzalez can’t hit outside Coors”
    They said same thing about Holiday. It’s mostly a useless assertion when the player plays half his games there.

  41. E

    June 16, 2011 09:14 AM

    It’s not useless when you’d have to think Gonzalez wouldn’t be playing his games in Coors, but Oakland’s stadium, where if you have such issues, you’d be completely exposed.

    Holiday’s #s have been excellent in STL. Not sure where you are going with that.

  42. Sundar

    June 16, 2011 12:00 PM

    “Holiday’s #s have been excellent in STL. Not sure where you are going with that”

    Exactly, they said Holiday couldn’t hit outside Coors; however, it’s now proven that he can.

    You can’t definitively prove your assertion unless a player plays his home games somewhere else.

    Besides, CarGo hit .290 away from home last year. This conversation has reached its logical end.

  43. BG

    June 16, 2011 12:13 PM

    I would love to see Pence in Pinstripes, however I think the Astros will want too much because he’s controlled for at another year and a half. A scenario to ponder, though: Lidge comes off of DL, gets dealt to NYY. NYY trades some prospects to Oakland, Oakland sends Willingham. Yanks are dying for a set up man, and any team in contention right now won’t trade a quality guy. Just a thought, obviously contingent on Lidge’s return.

  44. philfan

    June 17, 2011 12:11 PM

    Willingham right now is a a borderline type A free agent which im sure factors into his trade value

  45. LeftysCurve

    June 17, 2011 01:23 PM

    @ JB Allen

    Morse or no, I just think it would help if the Phillies had a back-up infielder who could hit a little. 300 ABs of replacement-level hitting blows.

    Morse is probably not available now doing so well (challenging JW in SLG and OPS) and replacing LaRoche for rest of the season at 1B.

    I was advocating a pre-season Kyle Kendrick, Mayberry and Rizzotti swap for Mike Morse. that would’ve been nice and pretty fair as things turned out.

    Morse only fits in as RF if Brown goes to LF to replace Ibanez anyway.

    The infielder you describe is Mike Aviles, sent down to make room for Moustakas last week.

  46. Lippy

    June 17, 2011 07:13 PM

    Put Josh in left. Love ya, Raul, but the time has come.

  47. John L

    June 20, 2011 04:14 PM

    It seems that everyone attends the church of the Great White Hope Hunter Pence.
    I think he’s a real good RH bat and would be a nice addition to any ball club, the exception being the Phils right now unless he is willing to convert to LF. Mayberry is definitely a keeper, either as Raul’s replacement or the utility OF/1st baseman and RH bat off the bench. With more big league exposure all batting #’s will improve and he has a lot of power. He possesses speed in the field and on the base paths.
    Francisco must go as he brings nothing to this team. He is slow and has no arm. As a RH batter, he is hitting .172 against lefties. Charlie continues to platoon him with Dom B.
    This year, Raul, as much as I love him, is finally showing that he’s long in the tooth. Ruben needs to replace him.
    I’ve gone long.
    So, we need to utilize Mayberry. He is NOT a career minor leaguer. Championship teams need good role players.
    Francisco was an Indians throw-away in the 1st Lee deal. We should trade him or throw him now.
    Domonic Brown is untouchable!! He will be a super star. His 5 tools, his gifts rank with anyone who ever played the game. Scouts and GMs have drooled over this guy for three years. He turned 23 last September and has a long list of minor league accolades. DB is a better defender than Hunter Pence and has more power. He’s already hit the longest HR ever hit at CBP. Go to philadelphia.phillies.mlb.com/video/index.jsp?c_id=phi&tcid=mm_phi_vid
    • In the upper left it’s called
    SF@PHI: Brown blasts a solo homer to right-center
    Other HRs have landed in the 2nd deck and they are said to be 450’, but this one was just starting to level off when it strafed three rows of fans. If unimpeded, that ball would have landed in the parking lot. It was easily 500’+. Also on that same web page includes some incredible defensive plays that neither Pence nor Werth could have made in a million years.

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