The 2011 Blue Jays

The Blue Jays are in rebuilding mode. That much is pretty clear, given that they weren’t good enough to contend with Roy Halladay, and their chances of doing so in the AL East without him are slim and none. They’ve spent the off-season making trades for young, cost-controlled talent, reloading their farm system and attempting to put themselves in a better spot in the future.

But, there’s an interesting wrinkle to their rebuilding plan – they don’t really have much of a line-up for 2011 and beyond right now.

Here are their current projected starters for this year:

C – John Buck
1B – Lyle Overbay
2B – Aaron Hill
SS – Alex Gonzalez
3B – Edwin Encarnacion
LF – Travis Snider
CF – Vernon Wells
RF – Jose Bautista
DH – Adam Lind

Buck, Overbay, and Gonzalez are free agents at the end of this season. Encarnacion and Bautista are pretty good non-tender candidates, as both will likely be worth less than they would receive in their final arbitration season. Of their starting nine, only four are certain to be back next year, and if Wells has another poor season, he might find himself relegated to a reserve role, or potentially released.

Toss in free-agents-to-be in the bullpen, such as Scott Downs and Jason Frasor, and a huge chunk of the Toronto roster will probably be playing elsewhere next year. This leads us to two conclusions:

1. Expect a really large fire sale from the Great White North this summer. Once the mid-season trading season kicks into high gear, everyone’s going to be calling the Blue Jays. It doesn’t matter what you need, they’ll have one available.

2. The Jays are going to have a ton of money to spend next winter.

That second point is the interesting one that I want to focus on. Right now, the Jays have three players under contract for 2011: Vernon Wells ($26.6M), Aaron Hill ($5M), and John McDonald ($1.5M). Those guys total just over $33 million in commitments. That figure will increase significantly once they hand out arbitration raises to virtually their entire pitching staff (they have a stunning 11 pitchers who will be arbitration eligible next winter), but you’re still looking at only between $40 and $50 million in salaries for the guys who should be Blue Jays next year.

Assuming that ownership doesn’t pare their payroll back significantly, that should give Alex Anthopolous and his crew a pretty decent chunk of change to spend next winter. And, if there’s one thing that’s been pretty evident over the last two winters, it’s that a shrewd GM can do pretty well filling out his roster in free agency these days. Starting shortstops, even good ones, are going for $5 to $6 million per year. Power hitting first baseman are getting less than that. Good defensive outfielders with some power are signing for peanuts.

The young talent that the Blue Jays acquired this winter will be the core of the team that they try to contend with going forward, but they’re not going to be limited to just the guys they develop from within. Thanks to the payroll flexibility they now have, expect to see Toronto give their rebuild a jump start next winter.




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


52 Responses to “The 2011 Blue Jays”

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  1. Joe R says:

    Just what I need as a Red Sox fan, another team to be a potential 90 win team in the near future in the AL East.

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    • Greg says:

      To Mr. Joe R…stop your crying!!! The Blue Jays, along with the Rays and Orioles probably have the toughest road to the playoffs for all the major north american sports clubs. That’s thanks the the Yankees (whom I am sure we both harbor some anger toward) and your precious Red Sox. Those two clubs with their giant payrolls make it incredibly hard to even attract players to the other teams in the AL East because no pitcher wants to face those lineups too often, and no hitters want to face those two staff’s too often. So if by some miracle the Blue Jays’ young players develop, AA can sign a couple guys and the Jays make a run I won’t feel sorry for the Red Sox.

      FYI- I know your comment wasn’t especially harsh toward the Jays, I just went into rant mode.

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  2. Darren says:

    I was thinking this yesterday. Since Wallace is likely their 1B by 2011 and D’anard or Arencebia are the Cs, and assuming Snider & Enarcarcian step it up in 2010 – you could spend that entire load on a SS and another OF (assuming we are happy with the pitching staff) Anyone know what Free Agents fill that mold in 2011? Reyes and Crawford. Rogers has the money to do it. Get ir done.

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  3. Mike Green says:

    “Assuming that ownership doesn’t pare their payroll back significantly”

    There’s the key phrase. Ownership has spoken of matching expenses to revenues. If revenues fall during a losing season in 2010, it would not be a surprise if payroll decreases significantly in 2011. Ownership would likely say that the club is not yet ready to contend.

    Since Ted Rogers fell into ill health (and subsequently died), ownership has been in the hands of the bean counters.

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    • Torgen says:

      Also, don’t forget that the team owning the TV station (eg. Red Sox, Yankees, Mets) is great for the team. The TV station owning the team (eg. Jays) is terrible for the team.

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      • joser says:

        The Braves seemed to do all right under the thumb of TBS. (Granted, that was a different era and both TBS and the Braves were embodiments of The Ted).

        The Angels won a WS while owned by a network/studio.

        There’s something to be said for the creative accounting that can be done when both the product and its broadcaster are under the same roof (moving revenue around so the team appears to be losing money and eligible for MLB revenue sharing even as the broadcasting side is turning a profit). And Toronto no longer suffers the currency handicap it endured through almost all of the Jays’ history.

        I don’t think you can make a blanket statement. It comes down to the people running the team, regardless of who is writing the checks. The price of entry is higher in the AL East, of course, but even there a smart GM can make all the difference.

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    • joser says:

      Matching expenses to revenues is a bit of an ominous statement. The Jays recorded the third worst drop in attendance in ’09 vs ’08 (down 22%) among all the teams in baseball: only the Mets (down 24%) and the Nationals (down 23%) were worse, and not by much — and that understates it a bit, because the Mets’ numbers were distorted by their move into a significantly smaller stadium (and the Nats numbers were affected by the first year in their new ballpark the year before). Recall that overall attendance was only down 7% across all of baseball last year: the economy had an impact, certainly, but there’s something very rotten in Toronto. With the loss of Halladay and with a attendance being influenced by the W-L record of the previous season, I’m sure they’re not expecting that to bounce back.

      Meanwhile, their $80M payroll in ’09 ranked them exactly in the middle (15th), right in between the Indians and the Brewers. They’re comfortably outspending the O’s and Rays, of course, but that’s not really the issue. Dividing payroll by paid attendance, they were spending over $46 in payroll for every butt in a seat last year — on par with the White Sox, Mets, and Mariners, and much more than the O’s or Rays, but also much more than the Red Sox ($39), Angels ($34), Phillies ($32), Dodgers ($29) or Cardinals ($24). There’s a lot more to revenue than paid attendance of course (especially when the team is owned by the broadcaster) but if they’re really trying to bring costs into line and attendance continues to drop, something’s got to give.

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      • Alan Marshall says:

        Under Beeston, the Jays stopped giving away lots of free seats which they then subsequently counted as attendance, as had been done under Godfrey. Thus the drop in paid attendance was minimal.

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  4. Neil says:

    “Ownership has spoken of matching expenses to revenues.”

    And herein lies the problem for the Jays – it’s well known that Rogers devalues the revenue that the Jays should make from its parent corporation.

    I recall reading that the Jays billed Rogers for something like $2 million in advertising last year. Which is absolutely ridiculous: the stadium is named after the company, is plastered with ads, and runs multiple Rogers commercials between innings. (I know, I know – Rogers owns the stadium. But let’s not kid ourselves – if they were ever to divest themselves of the Jays, the stadium would be part of that package.)

    It is not for nothing that the team is often mockingly referred to by fans and local media as the Rogers Blue Jays.

    On the other hand, Beeston has suggested that AA has been authorized to spend as much as $125 million, provided he can justify it. Maybe slashing this year’s budget is part of the deal?

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  5. Mark says:

    I’m not sure how you figure Bautista & Encarnacion will be worth less than what they’ll get in arbitration next year. Bautista won’t get a significant raise because he’ll do poorly in the “pretty stats” (BA, HR, RBI) thanks to the fact he’ll be exposed to RHP. If you expect him to be worth a win over replacement in a platooned role for 2011 (ie what he did this year), than he’ll provide about $2 M more in value than what he’s paid to do.

    The Jays don’t have much of a reason to non-tender Encarnacion either. He makes 4.75 M, and if he has a bad season he won’t get more than that in arbitration. It’d be reasonable to expect Encarnacion to provide at least one win above replacement, and if that’s the case he’s worth the salary.

    The alternative is that he reverts to his career norms, in which case there’s no reason to non-tender him. It’s not like the Jays are deep in options at third base.

    The Jays can’t just release Wells cause they owe him 86 M between 2011-2014. I agree his performance has been awful, but I can’t see them just releasing 86 M even if he proves he can’t play anymore. Closer to 2014 they could, but for 2011 that isn’t going to happen.

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    • Dave Cameron says:

      Arb awards are much more about service time and playing time than the triple crown stats. Unless you’re injured or lose your job, you get a raise. If you play at your standard level, you generally get a raise between 40 and 60 percent of your prior year salary.

      If Encarnacion and Bautista have “normal” years, they’re looking at salaries of ~$6.5M and $3.5M respectively. They aren’t worth that.

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      • Mark says:

        I know arbitration awards are about service time as much as the stats they put up. My point is that the arbitrators don’t read fangraphs and the player would lose an argument if they didn’t have good triple crown stats, because that’s all the arbitrator would know about. Bautista’s just not going to win any argument against the team with a 235 BA. The arbitrator who knows nothing about advanced metrics is going to see a 235 BA and say “This guy had a lousy year, there’s no way I’ll agree with giving him a significant raise”. For all intents and purposes Bautista had a career year in 2009, and ended up with the exact same salary in 2010. If he didn’t get a raise this year, can we really expect him to get one next year?

        I disagree that Bautista & Encarnacion should be non-tendered. They’re useful players and those salaries you suggested are right in line with the value they’re providing. Obviously if Encarnacion hits like he did in 2009 you’d have a case, but if he reverts to his career average, which seems to be a 1.5-2 win player, than he’s worth 6.5 million. Anything more than that and yeah, I’d agree that the value they provide isn’t worth the salary.

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  6. JayCee says:

    The Jays have a ton of pitching depth and a dearth of quality position players outside Aaron Hill and the untouchable Adam Lind. Guys like Overbay are garbage. Aside from a Hill mega-deal, I look for the Jays to add, not subtract, to deal pitching for elite ML-ready position prospects.

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    • Kevin S. says:

      Guys like Overbay are garbage.

      In what world is a guy who’s been more or less a league-average player in five of the past six years ‘garbage?’

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      • Torgen says:

        This isn’t Hockey or Basketball. League average misses the playoffs.

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      • Big Jgke says:

        Overbay was pretty great for a few years here, but his run of injuries seems to have cost him the minute edge that a guy with his limited athletic abilities needs to get by in the league. Overbay is a defense and doubles guy, and without the burst he used to have, he’s a singles-hitting 1B with a mediocre glove.

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      • Kevin S. says:

        This isn’t Hockey or Basketball. League average misses the playoffs.

        An entire team full of league average players misses the playoffs. Having a league-average player at a position doesn’t make him garbage, though, especially considering Overbay doesn’t have a particularly onerous contract. In ’07, Overbay was replacement level. In the other five years since ’04, he’s been between 1.8 and 2.5 WAR consistently, averaging 2.1 WAR for those seasons. Factoring in his clear outlier year still only makes him slightly below average over that timeframe. It’s also not really UZR-driven – he’s been average with the glove, average (for a 1B) with the bat. I’m not sure what the problem is, that he doesn’t hit home runs? His w0BA last year was .363. I’m not seeing the problem.

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      • Kevin S. says:

        HTML fail. *facepalm*

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      • Typical Idiot Fan says:

        If 25 replacement level players can win ~40 games, 25 league average players should win ~90 games. That isn’t how it happens, of course, but league average is not terrible.

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      • Torgen says:

        @Typical Idiot Fan: League average relievers beyond the first few and league average bench players don’t get enough reps to provide the 2WAR a league average starter generates.
        @Kevin S.: In part the problem with Overbay is the contract. League average pre-arb guys are nice to have around until you have a chance to add a superstar at that position, at which point you trade or non-tender them. (see also: what the Brewers did to the guy they had before Prince Fielder.) By giving Overbay so many years the Jays screwed up their ability to replace him with a star, whether they found him internally or externally. Also, he can’t hit lefties, which means he’s useless in late innings, which affects his WPA more than his WAR and makes him look more useful than he is.

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  7. Mike Green says:

    “On the other hand, Beeston has suggested that AA has been authorized to spend as much as $125 million, provided he can justify it. Maybe slashing this year’s budget is part of the deal?”

    Which explains the Kevin Gregg signing.:) My own view is that this club will not make a serious effort to compete (barring a significant revival from Wells) until 2012.

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    • Giancarlo says:

      Some notes. Toronto doesn’t often get referred to as the Rogers Blue Jays. I’m a Torontonian, and I never hear this saying penned.
      Rogers is willing to spend the money. If AA wanted to go out on a spending spree this winter, he would’ve been allowed to pick up Bey, Lackey, etc. He chose to build the system for perennial success at the Major League level.
      He’s taken a big step in revamping the scouting department in order to build our minor league system.
      I agree that there will be a fire sale in 2010, and it could start as soon as spring training, as relievers like Downs and Frasor, as well as Tallet, are getting interest.
      Losing all this payroll doesn’t mean that they’re going to buy the world next season. He’s not looking to kick start until he’s sure the team is ready to win (not just compete).
      AA has been making signings with the intent of using them as trade chips, or getting draft picks through free agency. We already have a deep draft in 2010, with 10 or so picks in the first 3 rounds. He wants the same out of the 2011 draft.
      Here’s what’ll happen after the 2010 season. Once all veterans have been traded away, or signed with other teams as Type A or B’s, the Jays will re-evaluate their needs, and look at their surplus’.
      I’m guessing that you’ll see some of our young pitching prospects moved for other positional prospects.
      Money still won’t be spent in 2011, as it will be a showcase year. 2012 will be the year the Jays start to win again, and with a young, cost-effective team. Our all-stars will then be signed to 3-4 year deals, or traded away for more prospects to replenish the system, and more young studs are ready for the majors. No need to overspend on all-stars just to keep them away from the yanks and bosox, when you can get more young talent for them.
      Also, money is being saved to buy out Vernon Wells in the final 2 years of his contract (2013-2014), assuming, he continues to decline in talent.
      Jays will have spectacular pitching, even in 2010-11, and they’ll stay in a lot of games because of it.
      You’re going to see sustained success in Toronto, and the yanks and red sox will tremble at the sound of the Toronto Blue Jays.

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      • Neil says:

        The Toronto Star has used the ‘Rogers Blue Jays’ line quite a few times, but I have to admit that it’s the Jays’ bloggers that mostly use it. So I overstated a bit.

        But… “Rogers is willing to spend the money. If AA wanted to go out on a spending spree this winter, he would’ve been allowed to pick up Bey, Lackey, etc.”

        This is unlikely. Beeston is always very equivocal – they could spend more, they’re authorized to sign big free agents – but never gives any indication that they have an inclination to go in this direction. More likely, he’s trying to give fans a reason to pay attention – if they could spend more, then we have reason to believe that they will. Not today, mind you, but maybe tomorrow.

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  8. Jose Bautista is a fine utility player to have on a modern team of 12 or 13 pitchers, but no team including the Blue Jays would make him plan A for a regular job on the field. He gets almost regular playing time due to injuries, veterans getting traded at the August rush, or disapointing young players who get sent back to the minors. Randy Ruiz emerged as the Jays’ DH last year and did nicely. I would think he would keep his job until it was proven that it was a fluke and expect Travis Snyder to start rightfield with Adam Lind taking leftfield.

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    • Neil says:

      Cito Gaston has a weird affection for Bautista and Veterans With Character in general. How else to explain batting Millar clean-up so often last year, or having Bautista occasionally bat lead-off well into the fall – especially when Ruiz dramatically out-produced both but only played in half the games that he could have?

      Sadly, the defensive alignment above is probably a very good guess…

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    • Giancarlo says:

      Ruiz has been playing LF in winterball and has shed 40-50 LBS, don’t be surprised if he gets a lot of playing time in LF and Lind at DH.

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  9. rh146 says:

    As a Mets fan who casually watches American League baseball solely for the passion of the game, I love to see teams like the Blue Jays and Orioles take organizational moves in positive directions to legitimately have a chance at taking down the Goliaths in their division (as long as they’re AL teams).

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  10. geo says:

    Dave, you “the Jays have three players under contract for 2010: Vernon Wells ($26.6M), Aaron Hill ($5M), and John McDonald ($1.5M).” Do you mean 2011, which would change the whole meaning of the sentence?

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  11. mlbfan says:

    How about oakland?

    Off the payroll after 2010

    Chavez/Ellis/Cust/Sheets/Duchscherer/Crisp- thats close to $40+ mill off the payroll

    Their next wave of prospects carter, cardenas, taylor, and a few others should be ready to takeover some positions by then

    Not including arbitration cases or signing extensions, their payroll could be in the $15-20 mill range prior to 2010/2011 freeagency next fall

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  12. John says:

    There is literally nothing in this article that suggests the Jays will be a 90 win or even a good team in 2011. It is simply stating that they will have something of an offensive clean slate, a chance to make some smart signings.

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    • Torgen says:

      Unfortunately the free agent SSes who are any good next year are Reyes (except the Mets have a club option, so actually no) and Jeter. Do you think the Jays are going to lure Jeter away from the Yankees?

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      • Renegade says:

        With Gregg signed, look for Jays GM AA to parlay Downs, Frasor, Cecil/Romero into a high-ceiling SS prospect.

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      • Torgen says:

        I find it hard to believe that a team that could have had Gregg for $100k more than what Frasor is making is going to give up a high ceiling SS prospect to get him.

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  13. Ju1ced says:

    If you followed the Jays at all, you would know they had permission to sign Bay, Lackey, Figgins, or any number of free agents they wanted. Since they are rebuiliding, that would have been pointless. They have the green light to spend when they want. There is no ‘payroll’. So to say they will have X amount of money to spend after X year, is pointless.

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  14. R M says:

    The Jays have a guy named Brian Dopirak who lit up AA and AAA last year. He is a little old for those levels, but was a top-top prospect before falling off the map, being forgotten, and re-emerging. Any chance he wins out the job from Overbay in Spring Training? He definitely deserves a shot to start in some form or another.

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    • Brian Dopirak says:

      Mom, stop posting here! You’re embarrassing me!

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    • Renegade says:

      Why would Dopirak win the job out with Brett Wallace waiting in the wings? Dopirak’s time has past. Wallace is first basemen of the future for the Jays. And AA has been trying to move Overbay for SOMETHING, ANYTHING for months.

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  15. Veto says:

    You invest heavily in a scouting system to do 2 things , build prospects to play for your team or someone elses. The Jays real chance to flip the switch when ready will be through trades of some of those many many prospects they will accumulate (via their record, letting people walk etc). This may be easier than trying to draw a high level free agent to a mid market club before they become attractive

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  16. Brian Cartwright says:

    Everyone assumes that Brett Wallace will be moving to 1B asap. My number crunching says Wallace is a below average 3B, but he’s still a lot better than Encarnacion, and a better hitter. I project Wallace at 3B in 2010 having the highest WAR of any Jays batter, but that’s because they have a really crappy lineup – I rate them at 11.4 WAR (offense & defense) for their starting 9, besting only the Padres 9.5

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  17. Matt C says:

    I expect the Jays to have a rough year this year – they will live and die by their bats. If the bats go through slump similar to the 9 game losing streak they had last year then it’s going to be an even longer season than I would care for. The pitching will be mediocre, which is why you see so many signings of bullpen pitchers. That said, I’ll still go to 1 game this year (as I normally do) and watch/listen to as many as I can..and cheer when they win and groan when they lose.

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  18. 92-93 says:

    I say do not do it. Don’t spend on unwanted free agents. Build internally then spend. We have to find our Jeter, our Mo’, Then we can fill the void with CERTAIN free agents. There are only some that are truly worth their money, AROD, DOC, C.C. MO’, JETER, ICHIRO… GUYS you KNOW are going to produce. GUYS like REYES who cant do it for the mets, and others are NOT worth it. Keep building, don’t throw away your our money. But I say this… they should have spent on Chapman. He’d easily be our top P prospect. OOPS!

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  19. Torgen says:

    In a moderated chat on bluejays.com today, Paul Beeston said he didn’t believe in giving players more than 4 guaranteed years on any contract. So while they will have a lot of money to spend next year, they won’t be willing to give it to anyone who’s any good for enough years to actually bring them to town. So much for rebuilding.

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  20. Great template. Did you create it or use a custom theme maker?

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  21. Ismael Ranks says:

    Have you got a ezine that you supply? Or any kind of coaching or maybe training?

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