Saying Goodbye To A Prince

In the eighth inning of yesterday’s otherwise meaningless game between the Milwaukee Brewers and the Florida Marlins, Prince Fielder received a standing ovation after being removed for a pinch-runner. It very well could have been the last thing he ever did at home as a member of the Brewers, and everyone in attendance knew it.

Fielder is probably the most likely big name player to be traded this winter, as the Brewers have come to the conclusion that they’re not going to be able to sign their first baseman to a long term extension. Talks with Scott Boras earlier this spring apparently ended after the team’s offer – reportedly for 5 years and $100 million or so – was rebuffed, and it seems unlikely that either side will have a change of heart now. Fielder is looking for a market rate paycheck, while the Brewers are just not going to give him one.

So, the Brewers face a choice – they could keep their slugging first baseman, hope the 2011 team performs well in the first half of the season, and evaluate their potential playoff chances before deciding whether to move him at the deadline or collect two draft picks next winter, or they can trade him this winter and retool their roster. If they keep him, they run the risk of having to compete with San Diego next summer, who may be shopping Adrian Gonzalez if their season doesn’t work out so well. They also run the risk of Fielder getting hurt or having a down season, or potentially few contenders needing a 1B/DH type at the deadline, which would create diminished demand for his services.

The smart decision seems to be to move him. However, that might not be as easy as it sounds. Fielder is going to be a 5th year arbitration guy coming off a $10.5 million salary and with strong numbers in traditional categories, so he’s looking at a $15 million plus paycheck for 2011. And, while he’s a good player, that isn’t all that much of a bargain.

In five seasons as a big leaguer, Fielder has hit .281/.385/.538, good for a .389 wOBA. That’s very good, of course, but the only place he adds value is at the plate. UZR has consistently rated him as a below average defender, as he averages about -7 runs per season as a first baseman. While he moves pretty decently for a guy his size, he’s not any kind of asset on the bases. He’s a hitter, and a good one, but that’s all he is. And there are a lot of those available in free agency this winter.

For instance, most teams that would be interested in Fielder would probably also take a look at Adam Dunn, whose .251/.381/.522 career mark is very similar to Fielder’s. They have similar skillsets, and while Dunn is older, teams can sign him without surrendering prospects in their system or have to worry about the long term contract that Boras is seeking for his client. Even if you have to give up a draft pick to sign Dunn, he’ll look like a pretty attractive option at 4/40 compared to giving up premium talent to sign Fielder and then having Boras ask for six years and $150 million at the negotiating table.

While Fielder is a good player, he’s not a huge asset, because his annual salary is already pretty pricey and his lack of value beyond his bat is nonexistent. He’s a good player, but not a superstar, as his career +3.5 WAR per 600 PA shows. Even if we called him a +4 to +5 win player, he’s probably not worth $20 million per year, and Boras has already demonstrated that the expected price tag of keeping him is over that mark.

Realistically, the Brewers are probably better off finding a team who would see Fielder as a rental – a club that needs a big time slugger to put them over the top next year, and is willing to switch out prospects for present value and some long term draft picks. Rather than focusing on finding Fielder’s permanent home, it’s probably in everyone’s best interests if he’s a hired hand for one year, and then lets the market determine his landing place next winter.

How much is a one year rental 1B/DH with an expected salary of $15 million worth? Probably a lot less than Brewer fans are hoping for.




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Dave is a co-founder of USSMariner.com and contributes to the Wall Street Journal.

56 Responses to “Saying Goodbye To A Prince”

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  1. Hunter says:

    “How much is a one year rental 1B/DH with an expected salary of $15 million worth? Probably a lot less than Brewer fans are hoping for. ”

    If it was a perfectly efficient market, you’re probably correct. However, hasn’t the market already shown it overvalues guy with tremendous power numbers and little else? (See Howard, Ryan.)

    Hasn’t it been proven already that the market doesn’t react exactly like the sabermetrics guys would believe? For example, in the Dan Haren trade, although the stats indicated he was an elite pitcher, even Dave himself concluded that teams simply didn’t value him as highly as the stats indicated they should have.

    I’m guessing that the Brewers probably get a more than decent package for Prince even though the stats probably indicate he isn’t worth much more than a salary dump.

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    • Gio says:

      Ryan Howard never went on the market.

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    • wobatus says:

      I think the nest bet is keep him, and deal him at the deadline or let him walk for the draft picks. If indeed the market for him is not that much, may as well get 2 picks for him.

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      • JH says:

        “If indeed the market for him is not that much, may as well get 2 picks for him.”

        The thing that gets talked about very little in terms of draft picks v. prospects is that you have to pay to turn your draft picks into organizational assets. Even at near-slot prices a late-1st round pick and a supplemental pick will run at or above $2 million. Overall teams tend to get similar value in terms of WAR, but the draft picks you get back are unknown quantities, and prospects in return tend to be much closer to the majors, which is important for teams looking at dealing the face of the franchise. I think the extra $ for a medium to low-market team tips the balance towards trading him unless the return offers are just insultingly bad, or unless the Brewers plan to make a major run at it next year. I think neither of those things will happen, and they’ll take a decent return that dissatisfies a lot of Brewers fans.

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      • wobatus says:

        JH, I thought about that when posting. I like the potential upside with draft picks, although I get the point.

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    • JH says:

      Yes, big time HR power tends to get overrated, but there’s some evidence that that’s starting to correct itself. I’ll guarantee you Adam Dunn was absolutely shocked at the lack of interest he received in the 2008-2009 offseason. Russ Branyan thought his 31HR effort in ’09 would land him a multi-year deal, and had to settle for a $2 million, 1-year contract. I’ll wager that Carlos Pena will find free agency a little less lucrative than he’d like this winter as well.

      I agree with you that Prince Fielder will likely be an exception to this trend come free agency. Reputation and raw power still carry a lot of weight with a lot of teams. I don’t think that will necessarily carry over to the trade market, though. Even the least SABR-savvy teams around know that they’d be trading for the right to pay Fielder near-market value for a short period of time, and the value of prospects in trade around the league has never been higher.

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  2. Luke in MN says:

    Isn’t it also likely that Fielder/Boras simply miscalculated by declining the Brewers’s 5/100 offer and now that Fielder’s numbers look non-spectacular at the end of this season, they may reconsider an offer in that neighborhood?

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    • James says:

      I’m not sure the Brewers would offer/pay that now…

      Boras seems to be stubborn and insisting on looking like he made the right decision for his client – so my guess is he ends up somewhere for what looks like more money/year to save face, but a lot of it will be deferred and it will end up being a wash or loss in terms of present value relative to what the Brewers previously offered.

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  3. Bob Jones says:

    Fielder is overweight and (as crazy as it sounds) his best years could be behind him. Can anyone name an overweight hitter who got better around age 28++ ?? I think he’s a free agent landmine if anyone goes 6 years. Those will be his age 28-34 seasons.

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    • wobatus says:

      David Ortiz’s best seasons were his age 28, 29, 30 and 31 seasons, geting better each year relative to league. Admittedly, he then slowed down.

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    • JH says:

      David Ortiz posted the 3 best WRC+’s of his career at ages 29, 30, and 31.* He’s remained productive through age 34.

      I don’t think a team should go to 6 years on Prince either, as there’s definitely some Mo Vaughn potential there. What we know about the age curve for players with different skills/body types are a generalization, though. They are a reason for caution, but not a reason to be convinced any particular player is due for an imminent and rapid collapse.

      *that’s assuming he’s actually his listed age. He signed out of the DR at the height of age falsification, and had an infamously shady buscon – and in the world of 1990s Dominican baseball player development being infamously shady among the island’s buscons is really saying something.

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      • Rich says:

        Right, but most of the Dominicans were older than they said…. which would make him an even stronger counterpoint.

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      • JH says:

        I probably didn’t say it very articulately (jet lag’s a b*tch), but yeah, that was my point. A huge number of Dominican players who signed in the 90s are 1-3 years older than their listed age, so Ortiz may have been even older when he broke out.

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      • Rally says:

        Ortiz was already caught lying about his age – but the result was that he was one year younger than originally thought. I’d be surprised if they corrected one false date with another one.

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    • Rich says:

      David Ortiz.

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    • BX says:

      Ryan Howard.

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  4. Phantom Stranger says:

    Given the risk involved, I as a team would much rather choose to pursue Adam Dunn. You get basically the same production for much less cost. Boras will really have to trick a team to get a gigantic contract for Prince, but the White Sox look like a decent target as a large market with big pockets and questionable value evaluation skills.

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  5. Mike says:

    If the Brewers wanted an elite prospect, Fielder would have been dealt last winter. There was a time when they thought they would bag a young ace-caliber pitcher and another #2 or #3 guy. No longer – the #3 may be the headliner of the package.

    The joke could be on Boras though. If the Cardinals fail to extend Pujols, which I doubt they will, Fielder could hit the market with Pujols and Gonzalez and be a mere afterthought. If a team is going to give up big money, it has to go to AP or Gonzalez. Otherwise, I’d take that $23-25M per year and get 2-3 of Weeks, Uggla, Rollins, Willingham, Ludwick, Bell, Broxton, etc. and spread the risk.

    I think the Brewers are in for a rude awakening this offseason and will be left with no choice but to give Fielder $15-16M to come back and try to get them into the hunt early next year. Catch 22 – if they don’t trade Fielder for front-line pitching or out-bid the Yankees and Rangers on Cliff Lee, they won’t have the pieces to compete in 2011 with or without Fielder.

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  6. Mike says:

    And to be clear, the Brewers don’t exactly have a .280/.400 type hitter that is capable of knocking 35-50 HR’s in the system.

    While that offense is pretty deep with him, that will be a very different lineup if Hart or McGehee have to slide into cleanup. I know Braun will get his knocks, but as a fan of the opposing team, that lineup has one bat that strikes fear in me every time he’s up – Fielder. Braun will get his doubles, Hart will strike out more than he’ll hit doubles and HR’s, and McGehee will occasionally connect, otherwise he’ll take his singles and walks. Fielder is the X factor that can put up a crooked number nearly every time he comes to the plate.

    Real tough decision for the Crew this winter.

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    • Geoff says:

      Really? Ryan Braun is a much better hitter than Fielder and hence I’d be more scared of him than Fielder.

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      • BrewersFan says:

        Ryan Braun is a much better hitter than Fielder? Huh?

        Braun hits for a higher average (although Prince has shown he has a .300 AVG season in him, and was actually more of a Pablo Sandoval type high-AVG fat guy coming up) but clearly eclipses Braun with his raw power and OBP skills.

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      • William says:

        I guess Pablo Sandoval really been showing his high average skills this season.

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      • NEPP says:

        Jim Abbott would likely have made a better 1B defensively than Fielder too. Prince wont be paid for his glove.

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  7. tdotsports1 says:

    Stranger things have happened, but I have to think the Jays would be an ideal trading partner given they finally have a few pieces (especially pitching) that could be potentially moved in a rental situation.

    They could cut their losses when they get two high end compensation picks or dump Fielder at the deadline if they aren’t in contention in 2011 (like Matt Holliday in Oakland).

    Just a thought.

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    • tdotsports1 says:

      Well, what the heck, I wrote a piece on Toronto as a potential landing spot, check it out if interested….

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    • grandbranyan says:

      If the Jays offered up Drabek I’m sure the Brewers would jump at it. If the best the Jays are willing to part with is Marcum or Cecil I hope Melvin passes as Marcum is too much of an injury risk and Cecil just really isn’t all that good.

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      • guy above me is a clown says:

        no way they offer drabek…
        they wouldnt even be able to get cecil…
        cecil isnt that good? xfip under 4 with 4 years remaining on a contract not to mention he is brewers number two starter if he goes there….
        a package of stewart zep and henderson alvarez would get it done
        1 year 15 mill for fielder who has boras as an agent….
        fielder is not halladay and the jays arent taking on 6 mill and drabek improved his value large this year…. no way they get give up drabek

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  8. JH says:

    Cross-posted at USSMariner:

    My gut (I know, sorry) tells me that the Tigers will end up with Fielder. If they do the sane thing and decline Magglio Ordonez’s option they’ll have about $40 million coming off the books (actually more like $46, but that’s offset by Verlander’s contract beginning to become expensive next year). They don’t have any regulars or starting pitchers due big arbitration raises, they’re coming off a disappointing season, and Dombrowski has never been shy about shipping off prospects for major trade pieces in the offseason. I’m not sure if they’re more likely to get him this offseason or wait to open the pursestrings after next year, but they stand out as his most likely landing spot to me.

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  9. Mike says:

    The Tigers are a valid landing spot, especially if he hits free agency. The question is, for an organization that is not overflowing with front of the rotation arms, would the Tigers be inclined to wait one more year and join the fray for Fielder on the open market?

    And if not, who would the headliner of the deal be? Porcello, Scherzer, Turner, Crosby? Porcello and Scherzer have lots of upside with just as many question marks, and Turner and Crosby would project a bit further out than the Brewers might like.

    Interesting point though – the Tigers and Giants two of the few teams that match up with the best interests of each party.

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    • JH says:

      I wouldn’t be at all surprised to see the Tigers ship Turner out. I don’t think it’s the best move, but this is the FO that dealt away its top 2 prospects in the Miguel Cabrera deal just a couple years back. One of the young milb starters plus Daniel Fields would be a start, but I don’t really like to speculate about specific trade chips, as these deals have a way of constantly surprising me. The Tigers’ system has some talent though, and they’re not afraid to spend it on premium MLB guys. This is probably of minimal importance, but the name “Fielder” carries a lot of weight in Detroit as well. They may see Prince as a very good marketing opportunity, particularly coming off a disappointing season.

      Since I don’t have any horse in the AL Central race, I must admit that I take some perverse joy in thinking about Cabrera and Fielder hitting in the middle of the same batting order.

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    • Patrick M says:

      Detroit could be a great spot if the Brewers are willing to take an offer thats pretty bare behind Turner or Furbush or Crosby. I doubt they trade Porcello and they’ll most likely sign Scherzer to an extension this offseason. Scherzer has been the best pitcher in the AL Central since the All-Star break, so he will not be going anywhere (2.23 ERA/1.08 WHIP)

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      • Scherzer to an extension? He’s not even due arbitration yet, he’s under team control for 4 more years.

        I don’t see where Fielder makes sense at all for Detroit, unless they plan on having a full-time DH. This wouldn’t be the worst thing in the World, but it seems unlikely that they’d use their resources in this way. Especially if they’re forking over a big money contract to Fielder.

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  10. Jordan says:

    In order to move Fielder, the Brewers are going to have to pay a large portion of his salary. I think the Rays could be a landing spot, if Milwaukee is willing to pay a good chunk.

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    • Cidron says:

      if the Rays were gonna spend that money, they would keep Crawford instead, (and maybe Pena).. Just don’t see the Rays as a destination.

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  11. Dan says:

    Dave has completely ignored the possibility of the Brewers adding some of Prince’s salary. With nearly $25M in dead money (Suppan, Bill Hall and David Riske) coming off the books, I’d hope the Brewer management would be smart enough to throw in the money that it takes to take what would be an expensive rental into a cheap, very valuable rental. Not comparing Cliff Lee to Fielder, but the market has shown that teams are willing to surrender top 10 guys for a player who is a rental and doesn’t make any money.

    Obviously, if the Brewers paid, say, all of their arbitration bid in a deal, Prince is a very, very valuable player who will be overrated due to his dominance in traditional categories and his reputation. What it also does is expand the number of teams who could legitimately make a deal for Prince. Currently, in order to be a fit, the team needs an opening at 1B or DH (rare) and have the capacity to take on an additional $15M + in salary, as well as have the MLB ready pitching that the Brewers are said to be interested in. That leaves a team like the Rays, who would be an outstanding fit on paper, out in the cold and leaves the Brewers with one less suitor to drive up the market price.

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  12. Bless Your Hart says:

    The correlation between value and production is relevant when used to evaluate talent, but ultimately misguided when applied to marketability and revenue production (which also guides contract decision making).

    Otherwise the Rays would have a packed house every night and everyone would be wearing Crawford, Longoria and Price jerseys.

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  13. mstrchef13 says:

    If the Brewers are paying 0% of Fielder’s 2011 salary, they might find that teams aren’t really going to offer much. I’m an Orioles fan, and I’d love to have him batting fourth in our lineup for the next five years. Therein lies the problem: unless the team is allowed to negotiate a contract extension before the trade goes through, and then successfully does so, I doubt if a team like the Orioles gets involved. Few teams around the league have the need for Fielder, the ability to pay him, and the ability to absorb his loss if he walks after the season is over.

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    • Bill says:

      I’m also an O’s fan, but I would much rather see Dunn, Adrian Gonzales, or even Carlos Pena. Pena clearly isn’t as good as the others, but he’s proven he can play in the big leagues whereas Dunn, Gonzales, and Fielder have not. One needs only to look at Aubrey Huff’s success to realize the disparity between the leagues.

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  14. Sal Bando says:

    Sorry, but “He’s a good player, but not a superstar”? He has a 6.9 WAR season and a 5.3 WAR season under his belt and he’s 26 years old. His defense hurts him and he undoubtedly had a down year in 2008, but you’re dreaming if you think he’s just a “good” but not “great” player.

    If Prince was on the Mariners this blog would be declaring him the greatest baseball player of all time.

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    • grandbranyan says:

      Prince | 5 full MLB seasons | 20.2 WAR

      KING | 5 full MLB seasons | 24.8 WAR

      One win annually is apparently the difference between good and OMG FELIX.

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      • Raf says:

        Slugging 1B/DH aren’t as rare as ace caliber pitchers.

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      • grandbranyan says:

        I fully realize that, and as a Brewers fan I’d much rather have the KING than the Prince any (fifth) day. I just think Fielder gets a little undersold sometimes is all. I’ll admit the glove is a liability and that eats into a decent chunk of his value, but as a hitter he really is elite. Even among 1B/DH types.

        Everyone is talking about how this is such a down year for Prince. Well he’s 10th in MLB in batting runs. I can think of about 300 guys who’d love that down year. And he ranked 3rd, 34th and 8th the previous three seasons. Which one is the outlier?

        As far as 1B/DH go, in terms of true hitting talent. Pujols is Pujols. Miggy has a firm grasp on 2nd. 3rd/4th comes down to Prince/Votto for me. Votto has better contact skills, but Prince has better power, is younger and has done it for longer.

        Whoever gives him his $$$$ after 2011 can at best hope for a value neutral contract I would guess. But whoever has him for 2011 will get one of the top (if not THEE top) run producer in all of MLB. Boras client in a walk year? I’ll take the over.

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  15. durs836 says:

    I wonder if they’ll end up doing better than the Giants offering Jonathan Sanchez… i have my doubts

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  16. 7North says:

    I don’t see the Brewers getting much more than the Braves received in the Teixeira deal to the Angels. There just isn’t much value to be had at this point.

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    • Bill says:

      I think they could do better than Casey Kotchman with a monkey (or Bill Bavasi) as a GM. If they can’t do better than a Kotchman equivalent, they’ll hold on to him.

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  17. NEPP says:

    One thing on Fielder: What’s up with him alternating Good Year/Bad Year for his entire career. Its so odd when a nominally very good hitter does that. Is it a motivation issue, is it luck related, a fluke? etc etc?

    So odd. I’d be reticent about banking on him to carry my team with that pattern…as flukish as it might seem. That and the fact that he doesn’t have the body type to age well.

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  18. lovesthegame says:

    I wonder, since one of the issues is Fielder’s cost next year, if the Brewers, who already have a lot of money coming off the books ate 2-8mm what that would do to his trade value. If the argument is he is a great bat, but a one year rental bat for 15mm is not worth great package what about a one year bat at 10mm?

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  19. Cidron says:

    Boras and Fielder may be in for a surprise. Just not a market for an immobile, poor defending slugger of a 1B/DH type. Isn’t that the last position the average big fella plays? And, with the Dunn’s, Gonzalez (carlos and adrian) as well as others hitting this very same market soon, why would a team pay the BIG dollars when you can get semi same production at a far more affordable price. I just see a very disappointing offseason for Boras and Fielder this year. Maybe a 4yr deal tops, with a very .. average pay.

    Not many teams need that particular spot filled, not many willing to pay his price, and a boat load of similarly able people (at cheaper prices).

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  20. muzica says:

    N-are incredere in camile si in general in nici o fiinta care rezista mai mult de o saptamana fara bautura.

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  21. Len Broaden says:

    Thank you for a wonderful experience. Hey all. A am glad to discover this site. Extremely usefull.

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