NL All-Zero-to-Three Team

When an elite player hits the open market, a select few teams have the will, and the wherewithal, to pay top dollar for his services. But the vast majority of teams cannot — or more precisely, will not — ante up for the biggest free-agent stars.

The structure of Major League Baseball’s service time and compensation system thus nudges bargain hunters over to younger players, namely those with zero-to-three years of service time. Players not yet eligible for arbitration are to Albert Pujols as Kiribati’s GDP is to America’s.

Of course, not all pre-arb players are created equal. So with a nod to Dave Cameron’s recent All-Minor-League-Contract Team, and to Carson Cistulli’s Dollar Sign on the Scout, we present the All-Zero-to-Three Teams.

Today, the National League.

(Note: Players signed to long-term contracts before they reach arbitration aren’t eligible. These players must all make the league minimum salary, or close to it, without a long-term commitment. Eligible players are those projected on Opening Day 25-man rosters by MLBDepthCharts.com.)

NATIONAL LEAGUE
Position: Player – Marcel Forecasted wOBA/FIP

Catcher: Buster Posey (SF) – .360 wOBA
First Base: Ike Davis (NYM) – .349 wOBA
Second Base: Neil Walker (PIT) – .344 wOBA
Shortstop: Starlin Castro (CHC) – .343 wOBA
Third Base: Pedro Alvarez (PIT) – .344 wOBA
Left Field: Logan Morrison (FLA) – .359 wOBA
Center Field: Andrew McCutchen (PIT) – .363 wOBA
Right Field: Jason Heyward (ATL) – .379 wOBA

Bench: Mike Stanton (FLA) (.359 wOBA), Danny Espinosa (WAS) (.328 wOBA), Chris Coghlan (FLA) (.348 wOBA), Colby Rasmus (STL) (.343 wOBA), Josh Thole (NYM) (.336 wOBA), Casey McGehee (MIL) (.343 wOBA)

Starting Pitcher: Clayton Kershaw (LAD) – 3.15 FIP
Starting Pitcher: Tommy Hanson (ATL) – 3.35 FIP
Starting Pitcher: Mat Latos (SD) – 3.35 FIP
Starting Pitcher: Travis Wood (CIN) – 3.54 FIP
Starting Pitcher: Jaime Garcia (STL) – 3.57 FIP

Bullpen: Luke Gregerson (SD) (3.09 FIP), Jonny Venters (ATL) (3.27 FIP), John Axford (MIL) (3.30 FIP), Kenley Jansen (LAD) (3.31 FIP), Craig Kimbrel (ATL) (3.39 FIP), Zach Braddock (MIL) (3.46 FIP)

A few comments:

–The Phillies might be the projected favorites in the NL East this year with their veteran core of hitters and their potentially historic front four in the rotation. But the Braves, already serious challengers, could close the gap even more in the next years, with most of Philly’s core getting well into their 30s, and Atlanta’s young guns blossoming. By the measures of this exercise, the Braves own the best pre-arb hitter, the (co-)#2 starter, and two lights-out relievers. Scary.

–The Marlins get a lot of flak for their charming owner, their stadium extortion tactics, and their past fire sales. But few teams have done a better job of developing young talent. Morrison, Stanton and Coghlan all made this squad, and Matt Dominguez and Gaby Sanchez weren’t far behind. Another intriguing contender down the road, if the prospects keep improving.

–Three(!) Pirates in the starting lineup, and Jose Tabata didn’t miss by much (neither did James McDonald, on the pitching side). We’re approaching 20 years since Barry Bonds left and the Pirates last enjoyed an above-.500 season. That streak could end fairly soon.

–Three Brewers make the club, and that’s not including under-30 stars Ryan Braun, Shaun Marcum, Yovani Gallardo, Zack Greinke, Prince Fielder, Corey Hart and Rickie Weeks. Now you know why they’re my pick to represent the NL in this year’s World Series.

–Just an aside, but that might be the coolest bullpen ever assembled.

Check back Monday for the American League, and a glimpse of an extensive zero-to-three research project, already in the works.

EDIT: Clayton Kershaw has been added to the team; he was accidentally omitted on first pass.




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Jonah Keri is the author of The Extra 2%: How Wall Street Strategies Took a Major League Baseball Team from Worst to First -- now a National Bestseller! Follow Jonah on Twitter @JonahKeri, and check out his awesome podcast.


69 Responses to “NL All-Zero-to-Three Team”

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  1. TK says:

    defense doesn’t matter?

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  2. Brad Johnson says:

    Damn you Jonah Keri! damn you…

    I wrote a very similar article to this for THT after reading DC’s Minor League Contract All-Stars last week. We decided to slot it in next week. I imposed slightly stricter rules on myself but I think you’ve more or less stolen my thunder :(

    Shucks (still, good stuff)

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  3. Yirmiyahu says:

    It’s kind of odd that you’re using Marcel forecasts for this. For all of the players with less than a full season of playing time, Marcel is pretty useless. It doesn’t include minor league stats, assumes all rookies are league-average, and regresses very heavily towards league average to compensate for small sample sizes.

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    • ElJimador says:

      Thanks for explaining that. I was trying to figure how Marcel would project a better season from Jaime Garcia than Bumgarner and now I understand since ignoring minor league performance would be the only way to get there.

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  4. Jonah Keri says:

    Both the defense and Marcel criticisms are good ones. Ultimately, these are the tools we have – tough to find good defensive projections (or all-in-one projections). I used the same template for this piece as Cameron did for his minor league contracts one. Like y’all noted, Marcel works better with veterans. But c’est la vie. Fortunately many (probably most) of the players listed have more than one year of MLB service time, so that helps a bit.

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  5. Jonah Keri says:

    Oh, and sorry Brad! As I’m sure you’re finding, topics are scarce before spring training.

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    • Brad Johnson says:

      I hear ya, I’ve been doing most of my writing on fantasy topics.

      Besides I have Oliver projections on my side and some back of the envelope team WAR projections. I also combined the leagues into one roster and eliminated any player who wasn’t eligible for contract renewal at the league minimum. So it’s not identical, just similar…o well.

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  6. JohnOrpheus says:

    Good list. Although Marcel likes McCutchen better, I’d take Rasmus as a higher upside player with star level potential as the starter.

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  7. JasonS says:

    Pittsburgh will be right on the verge of improving and then their management with trade their young studs for prospects once again.

    Gotta keep collecting those welfare(luxury tax) checks.

    -26 Vote -1 Vote +1

    • joe bananas says:

      you mean revenue sharing checks.

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    • ToddSm66 says:

      What young studs did the Pirates trade off for prospects? Xavier Nady? Jack Wilson? Nate McLouth?

      +20 Vote -1 Vote +1

    • MarkInDallas says:

      It’s really funny how so many people like JasonS don’t understand that the Pirates don’t get luxury tax revenue.

      And as far as the welfare comment, MLB’s revenue sharing is more like the graduated income tax system. As the majority of US taxes are paid by the top echelon of wage earners, unless JasonS is making over $200K, I guess he is also on welfare.

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      • EDUB says:

        According to a Jayson Stark article from 2009, the Pirates (and Marlins) “collected more money this season — before it ever sold one ticket — than it spent on its entire major league payroll. In fact, it collected more than it spent on its major league payroll and its player-development system combined.”

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  8. Nik says:

    Everyone keeps waiting for the Phillies to fall apart, but frankly they’ll be very strong for the next 2-3 years. After that they still have a top 5 minor league system and 160 million payroll with which to reload.

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    • Anon21 says:

      I think it’s less about expecting them to fall apart than about expecting the Braves to break out.

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      • Nik says:

        Ok, in that sense I could see it. Braves still have a lot of holes to fill for next year and lots of question marks even for this year.

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      • Anon21 says:

        Agreed. It’s the sort of perfect-world vision that fans of a team (and I count myself among them, in this case) are prone to. Like, if Teheran and Delgado and Vizcaino all hit their ceilings, and Heyward keeps making steps forward, and Matt Lipka sticks at SS and also develops at warp speed, and Jordan Schafer transforms back into a useful ballplayer, then the Braves will recreate the dynasty and win a million games.

        Still, I think it is realistic to say the Braves will remain a real threat to the Phils over the next 5 years.

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      • Brad Johnson says:

        As a Phillies fan, I must say I’m a little concerned about the club’s ability to remain this good. The farm cannot take a step backwards and honestly can’t afford another gutting. A few 1-3 year stars would be a huge boon towards remaining competitive.

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  9. DavidCEisen says:

    In defense of the Phillies’ future:

    Johnathan Singleton will be able to either replace Howard or play LF in a few years. If he replaces Howard, the Phillies will need to eat a lot of Howards salary, but they did that with Thome and Singleton’s low costs will help offset the hit. If he plays LF, he can’t be much worse than Burrell and Ibanez defensively, right?

    Brown should be up by midseason and could replace Morrison on your list.

    Colvin, Cosart, Biddle, May, and/or Worley could end up forming a very nice rotation behind Hamels.

    And then they have a handfull of high upside prospects like Valle and Santana.

    During the next few years I imagine they will offer arbitration to Oswalt, Halladay, Lidge, and (maybe) Ibanez.

    The Braves window may be smaller than many believe. They currently have a hole at short and third as far as prospects are concerned, but for as much as people like to shit on the Phillies front office they have done really well drafting and signing prospects. For some reason they just suck at trading for them.

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    • Nik says:

      Phillies do not trade for prospects. They trade for Aces.

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      • DavidCEisen says:

        They did try trading an ace for prospects. It didn’t turn out well. Luckily they turn out to be very good at signing aces as well.

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      • Nik says:

        Oh so after 1 year we know the outcome of this trade? So if Gillies turns into our CF for the next 10 years this trade will still suck?

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      • Kevin S. says:

        Gillies isn’t going to turn out to be a starting CF on a contender for a decade. Let’s be serious here.

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    • Ryan says:

      Sorry, but Prado is their 3rd baseman in the post Chipper Era. Keith Law had 2 shortstops in his top 10 in their (3rd overall) organization. They had four pitchers in the top 50 overall list. It wouldn’t be too farfetched to trade one of them if a hole in the outfield was needed.

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      • Nik says:

        Too bad those SS prospects aren’t expected to actually stick at SS. And if Prado is the 3rd baseman, that just opens a hole in LF.

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      • DavidCEisen says:

        I’m not saying that the Braves suck, I fully expect that the Braves to be contenders in the NL East. A lot of people though seem to think that the Phillies will fall way behind once Utley, Howard, Rollins, and Halladay fade. I don’t think that will be the case.

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    • Anon21 says:

      Their window just fits awkwardly. Their super high-ceiling pitching prospects may be ready to contribute to the big league ballclub in 2012, but Lowe and Hudson don’t come off the books until 2013. If it all fit together a little better, I could see them making respectable signings to cover their two lineup holes, but as is, it’s hard to know what to expect from 2012.

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      • Kevin S. says:

        That’s why they trade one of Lowe or Hudson to the Yankees for an outfielder, whom the Yankees then replace by removing Montero from behind home plate.

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    • Brad Johnson says:

      Scouts say Singleton has above average defensive potential in LF. Worst case is probably slightly below average.

      Other points of contention, Hamels is in line for a Lee/Sabathia type contract after 2011. Do you really think the Phillies have another one of those in them?

      You’re reminding me of a Mets fan the way you’re dreaming on prospects. Let the guys develop before you mentally compose a lineup around them.

      If the Phillies offer Lidge or Ibanez arbitration I…um…well I don’t have a good threat lined up but I will write several scathing articles. Oswalt is talking of retirement so arbitration helps nobody. And I suspect Halladay will keep re-upping on 3-5 year deals until he’s ready to settle down permanently in Florida.

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      • Brad Johnson says:

        My Mets fan comment was directed at the guys who rosterbated over guys like F-Mart, Humber, Davis, Maine, Guerra, Nieuwenhuis, etc etc. You know who you are.

        Every team has those fans, the Mets just seem to have particularly ridiculous ones. Runner up to the Giants though the guys they drool over tend to turn out.

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      • DavidCEisen says:

        Dreaming on prospects? Everytime I mention a prospect I used the term ‘could.’

        I doubt Hamels will receive as much as Sabathia or Lee. Both of them were Cy Young winners and not only the best pitcher on the market, but one of the five best pitchers in baseball. Hamels isn’t on their level (unless he really steps up this year). I think it is more likely that the Phillies resign him than let him walk. With Oswalt’s, Blanton’s, and Ibanez’s contracts off the book, the Phillies can afford to pay him around $20 million for five or six years.

        I listed five pitching prospects. If two of them reach their potential then the Phillies have a solid rotation of Hamels, Halladay, and two young pitchers. If three pan out they have a top in the league rotation. If in the unlikely case all four pan out, they’ll have a rotation almost as good as their current one. That’s not rosterbation, that’s being fairly conservative.

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  10. greg says:

    It is good to hear America’s GDP surpassed Kiribati’s. We must have made a tanglible good or product of some sort since 2008. For a second there, I thought we just trading debt and rollin’ some dice up against a wall.

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  11. Xeifrank says:

    Any interest in seeing how the zero-to-three NL/AL and even all minor league contract teams would do in a head to head simulation? If so, let me know. Perhaps pit them against the minor league All-Star team like I did over at BtB.
    vr, Xeifrank

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  12. Jonah Keri says:

    @XeiFrank: Sure, NL vs. AL sim sounds groovy. I’ll punch the AL sim out Monday, then look forward to seeing the results. Thanks!

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    • Xeifrank says:

      Ok, I assume we don’t want to make it too complicated and worry about a different lineup depending on if a RHP or LHP is pitching. Also, you might need to pick out an NL DH for me from the bench list.

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  13. Mattsd says:

    Kershaw?

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  14. Glomp says:

    Strasburg? Or too much uncertainty with the elbow?

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  15. Marc H says:

    You take that starting nine and you could win a division easily.

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  16. Tomas says:

    Cool list, Jonah.

    Another player (Brewer) you might be missing: Chris Narveson. 4.22 FIP over the last two seasons and Marcel gives him a 4.13 in 2011 (using (13*HR+3*BB-2*K)/IP + 3.20)

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    • Tomas says:

      (By missing I don’t mean that he would have made the above starting rotation, just that he is another very solid 0-3 player on the Brewers right now)

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  17. Alex says:

    No Drew Stubbs? He’s definitely someone who would be aided if you included defense.

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  18. justin says:

    Where the heck is kershaw. as a dodger fan I love Jansen on the list but emitting kershaw is unjustifiable . Kershaw is arguably better than any if the starters on this team.

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  19. Jonah Keri says:

    Thanks for noticing the Kershaw omission. Due to the hunt-and-peck nature of the player gathering, I missed him. We’ve got him on now, so we can get a better sense of each team when we (hopefully) sim the NL vs. AL teams later.

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    • Xeifrank says:

      As a preview of the “NL Zero to Three” vs “AL Zero to Three” simulation matchup, I did a “NL Zero to Three” vs “Minor League Contract” team simulation. I pitted the NL Zero to Three team listed here against the team that Dave Cameron created from players signed to minor league contracts this off-season. Obviously, the “NL Zero to Three” team dominated. Here are the results.
      vr, Xeifrank

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    • Xeifrank says:

      And I ran the NL Zero to Three team vs the 2011 Phillies.

      The average win probability for the Phillies was 52.83%, so the Phillies hold a slight edge over this team.

      Phillies win probability for all ten games were…

      C.Kershaw vs R.Halladay 55.67%
      R.Halladay vs C.Kershaw 45.86%
      T.Hanson vs C.Lee 62.97%
      C.Lee vs T.Hanson 53.42%
      M.Latos vs R.Oswalt 58.02%
      R.Oswalt vs M.Latos 47.24%
      T.Wood vs C.Hamels 60.16%
      C.Hamels vs T.Wood 50.37%
      J.Garcia vs J.Blanton 52.09%
      J.Blanton vs J.Garcia 42.48%

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  20. CircleChange11 says:

    Oliver and Cairo might be better systems to use than Marcels.

    Or an average of the 2-3.

    In the work I’ve done, Oliver seems a bit high(compared to Cairo), Cairo a bit low, and Marcels projects much less playing time. Taken together, they’re probably more accurate than alone.

    Olver projects Stanton for 46 HR, taken together, they project 28-32.

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  21. bryan says:

    I’m (pleasantly) surprised that Travis Wood projects better than Jaime Garcia.

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  22. colin says:

    no carlos santana ?

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  23. miguel says:

    Johnny Venters is the most underrated reliever in MLB. Last year the Braves essentially had two Billy Wagners.

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  24. Dave says:

    In a perfect world, the Phillies would just have to worry about their aging star’s gradual production arc decreasing bit by bit…but the injuries are the thing. One guy out? No problem. Two? Eh, they’ll eek by. But when 3 guys and a couple of those pitchers go down, or take turns going down, they’re going to struggle to win 90 games. Maybe no this year, but in the next 2-5 years, they’re not going to be some sort of dominant force in the East, sorry.

    *The 0-3 team would be a division winner and a HELL of a lot of fun to watch. They’d pack the house.

    *Stubbs’ as a batter reminds me of a 3B-type….strange production from a CF.

    *Rasmus is great, mainly because he’s learning to hit LHP. As long as that stays respectable, watch out!

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  25. CircleChange11 says:

    The big problem with PIT has been having the pieces at the same time.

    They had pitching but no hitting. Now they have some hitters but little pitching.

    If they could just get 3 good hitters and 3 good starters at the same time and fill in the rest with affordable, decent players they could make waves in the central. Easier said than done. But one of their obstacles has been timing … Compounded with a lack of patience and jumping the gun instead of letting rebuilding take it’s course.

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  26. CircleChange11 says:

    The interesting thing with some of the pitchers is how they respond and perform as they are asked to pass the 200 IP mark.

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  27. stew says:

    Braves waiting on Salcedo, Lipka, Pastornicky, and Simmons. Why would they move Huddy instead of Lowe? Move Lowe and make Minor and Beachy 4 and 5.

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    • GTStD says:

      Braves aren’t going to be able to move Lowe. They’d probably like to, but he’s the highest paid player on the team, and he’s not the pitcher he used to be. Unless a team has a bunch of excess money and doesn’t mind paying ace money for their 2nd or 3rd pitcher, he’s living out his contract with Atlanta. Maybe Frank Wren should give the Angels a call; sounds right up their alley…

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    • Undocorkscrew says:

      If Teheran or Delgado is deemed ready at the break and the Braves have holes to fill on offense, I can see them trading a couple of those young arms. Lowe won’t bring back much in return, if anything at all. Again, if Teheran or Delgado is ready that’ll give the Braves….

      Hudson
      Hanson
      Lowe
      Jurrjens
      Minor
      Beachy
      Teheran/Delgado
      Medlen(who’s expected to return around August)
      Kawakami(assuming he’s not traded, which he probably will be)

      You can never have enough starting pitching candidates, but if the Braves have holes to fill on offense I can see a couple of those guys being shipped out. Lowe looked like a completely different pitcher during those final two months, hopefully that carries over to this season.

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  28. Jane says:

    Correction: Last year Gaby played all year for the Marlins so the comment that he along with M Dominguez weren’t far behind isn’t correct. LoMo and Stanton came up after the All Star Break.

    Here is your quote: “But few teams have done a better job of developing young talent. Morrison, Stanton and Coghlan all made this squad, and Matt Dominguez and Gaby Sanchez weren’t far behind.

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  29. Jonah Keri says:

    “This squad” = 0-to-3 team, not Marlins

    “Not far behind” means their wOBA projections didn’t miss by much, had nothing to do with when they made the Marlins roster

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  30. Will says:

    Kiribati? Wow, I hadn’t even heard of that country, and I actually read about obscure islands on Wikipedia when I’m bored at work regularly.

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