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    Default Bucs bringing upbeat attitudes to Bradenton

    Bucs bringing upbeat attitudes to Bradenton
    Buzz up!By Rob Biertempfel, PITTSBURGH TRIBUNE-REVIEW
    Sunday, February 14, 2010
    About the writer
    Rob Biertempfel is the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review's Pirates beat writer. He can be reached at 412-320-7811 or via e-mail.

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    After two years of roster upheaval, it is at last time for the Pirates to stop fretting about who might be leaving and concentrate on winning.

    The work begins at noon Thursday, when pitchers and catchers will hold their opening spring training workout at Pirate City in Bradenton, Fla.

    "We know we've got an opportunity to break that (17-year losing) streak, to start winning with this group," reliever Evan Meek said. "To be part of that is very exciting. So, let's get down to spring training. Let's get this season started. Let's get going."

    Meek spoke more than two weeks ago, on the first day of PirateFest, but he was clearly excited about getting back to work. He grinned and windmilled his right arm, as if warming up in the bullpen.

    That let's-roll attitude is the opposite of what the clubhouse mood was like after Jack Wilson, Freddy Sanchez and John Grabow were traded away last July. Those were the final, bold strokes in management's plan to remake the roster.

    Disillusioned and lacking a leader, the Pirates lost 41 of their final 59 games. The team had a new look, but got the same results as before.

    "Things were different after those trades went down," third baseman Andy LaRoche said. "I don't think we were able to play as a team for a while after that."

    August was a particularly brutal stretch. Their 5.31 team ERA that month was the worst in the National League and their offense was stagnant. The Pirates dropped 12 of their first 14 games and later lugged a five-game losing streak into September.

    "When you have a lot of young guys who are trying to make a name for themselves, sometimes they try to do too much," LaRoche said. "That's how a lot of the guys here, I'm sure, felt last year. It's only natural."

    And now?

    "It looks like the core of this team could stick around for a while, and I like that," LaRoche said. "We're a bunch of kids. As long as we play together as a team if we don't just play to get our personal stats up or anything like that if we come together, we'll do the job."

    General manager Neal Huntington already proclaimed the Pirates have the centerpiece players in place, both at the major- and minor-league levels, and that no further roster shakeups are planned. With the exception of closer Octavio Dotel, the Pirates signed free agents to serve in support roles.

    "We need to let these young players show us what they can do," Huntington said. "We are better. We are moving forward."

    During the offeseason, manager John Russell kept in touch with his players. One message he heard softly at first, but louder as the end of winter drew nearer was that they were warming to their teammates.

    "It's nice to see a team start to embrace the team concept," Russell said. "I think they're ready to bond. It's definitely something we need to develop. We (coaches) can help with that, but they themselves started the process and that's half the battle."

    Pitcher Daniel McCutchen doesn't believe there's any added pressure, being part of the group which is tasked with turning around the franchise.

    "We all go out there every day, wanting to succeed," McCutchen said. "We all believe in ourselves. We know we're young, but we all feel we can compete at the highest level against anyone."

    Meek, on the other hand, admitted the pressure to succeed is higher and welcomed it.

    "You can either be afraid of it or you can embrace it," Meek said. "I think it's a great opportunity."


    Breaking down the Bucs


    THREE QUESTIONS

    1. Where's the offense?

    Last season, the Pirates were last in the majors with 636 runs scored, next-to-last with 612 RBI and third-worst with 125 homers. They also were last in the majors in "manufactured" runs, i.e. those scored without a hit out of the infield. That's especially bad news for a lineup devoid of power. Garrett Jones, who sizzled in half of a season, will shoulder a lot of the burden. If the Pirates are a low-scoring train wreck by June, the temptation to call up top prospect Pedro Alvarez might be too great for management to resist.

    2. Who will be the fifth starter on Opening Day ... and July 1 ... and Sept. 1?

    Kevin Hart and Daniel McCutchen will battle for the spot this spring, with the loser possibly ticketed for long-relief duty. Whoever wins shouldn't feel too secure, though, especially if Brad Lincoln is lights-out at Triple-A Indianapolis.

    3. How will the bullpen come together?

    None of the seven relievers who were in the 'pen last Opening Day will be there this year. Free-agent pickup Octavio Dotel steps back into the closer's role after spending the past two seasons as a setup guy, and must show he still has his stuff. Brendan Donnelly, Joel Hanrahan and Evan Meek are locks. Candidates to fill the other three spots include non-roster invitees D.J. Carrasco, Vinnie Chulk, Wil Ledezma and Jack Taschner and mix of varying experience, pitching styles and success levels.


    THREE GUYS WHO'D BETTER PRODUCE

    1. Jeff Clement The front office would love for Clement to settle in at first base during spring training, grab hold of the job and not let go. He's got the lefty power bat they desperately need (see Question No. 1 above) and would pair well with right fielder Garrett Jones. Clement's got a minor-league option left, but he'll also turn 27 years old in August. Tick, tick, tick ...

    2. Zach Duke The lefty had a torrid first half and earned his first All-Star bid, then slowed a bit in the second half of the season. An 11-16 record his fourth straight year with more losses than wins still enabled Duke to practically double his salary to $4.3 million. With one year of arbitration eligibility remaining, Duke could pitch his way into even bigger paydays.

    3. Ronny Cedeno Management cast about this winter for a replacement, but failed to land anyone. Cedeno's .213 on-base percentage with Mariners before the trade was the lowest in the majors among batters with at least 200 plate appearances.


    THREE PROSPECTS TO WATCH

    1. Pedro Alvarez A year ago, in his first taste of a big-league training camp, Alvarez launched tape-measure homers and hung around until March 16. He struggled out of the gate at Class A Lynchburg, yet still earned a midseason promotion to Double-A. "El Toro" will begin this year at Indy and could be in Pittsburgh by mid-season.

    2. Jose Tabata The next big step in the renovation of the outfield will be Tabata's arrival. Despite a slew of obstacles adjusting to a new organization, high expectations, personal issues Tabata last season made huge strides. He hit .303 with a .774 OPS at Double-A, then hit .276 with a .744 OPS in 32 games at Indy.

    3. Brad Lincoln Three years removed from Tommy John surgery, and still just 24 years old, Lincoln could be in the Pirates' rotation by summer's end. The right-hander split time last year between Altoona and Indy, and went 7-7 with a 3.37 ERA. However, his stats at Triple-A a 4.70 ERA, a 10.6 hits per nine innings ratio suggest he needs a bit more seasoning.


    Who's coming to Bradenton?


    Pitchers

    Player: B-T/Age Note

    Ramon Aguero: R-R/25 Hard-throwing prospect is still a few years away.

    Jose Ascanio: R-R/24 Timetable is iffy as he rehas from shoulder surgery.

    x-Jimmy Barthmaier: R-R/26 Has 10.45 ERA in three outings in majors

    x-Brian Bass: R-R/28 Led majors with 30 long (25-plus pitches) relief outings last year.

    x-Brian Burres: L-L/28 Has made 41 starts, 40 relief outings in past four years.

    x-D.J. Carasco: R-R/32 Played in Pirates' farm system from 1999-2002

    x-Vinnie Chulk: R-R/31 Will provide bullpen depth at Triple-A.

    x-Anthony Claggett: S-R/25 Still has upside as a starter.

    x-Neal Cotts: L-L/29 Still on the mend from Tommy John surgery.

    Brendan Donnelly: R-R/38 Allowed just 3 of 15 inherited runners to score last year.

    Octavio Dotel: R-R/36 Went 0 for 3 in save opportunities last season with ChiSox.

    Zach Duke: L-L/26 Parlayed three very good months into a $2 million raise.

    x-Craig Hansen: R-R/26 Too early to predict when, or if, he'll return from nerve damage.

    Joel Hanrahan: R-R/28 7.71 ERA/34 games for Nats, 1.72 ERA/33 games for Pirates

    Kevin Hart: R-R/27 Could be facing his last chance to remain a starter.

    x-Steven Jackson: R-R/28 Just another arm to stock the bullpen at Indy.

    Chris Jakubauskas: L-R/31 16 of his 25 outings last year were 25-plus pitches

    x-Jeff Karstens: R-R/27 Didn't show enough to stick as a starter in Pirates' plans.

    x-Wil Ledezma: L-L/29 Another castoff from Nats' 2009 train-wreck bullpen.

    Brad Lincoln: L-R/24 Long-shot candidate to win No. 5 spot in Pirates' rotation.

    Javier Lopez: L-L/32 Soft-tosser faces battle for bullpen job.

    Paul Maholm: L-L/27 Induced 33 double plays, tied for most in the majors

    x-Jean Machi: R-R/27 Averages 7.5 Ks, but also 8.4 hits, per game in minors.

    Daniel McCutchen: R-R/27 Might not have many chances left to impress management.

    Evan Meek: R-R/26 Plenty of time to groom him for closer's role.

    Bryan Morris: R-R/22 Was perhaps biggest disappointment in farm system last season.

    Charlie Morton: R-R/26 Is unhittable when focused and unflappable.

    Ross Ohlendorf: R-R/27 Led the majors last season with eight pickoffs

    x-Jeremy Powell: R-R/33 Nats still were called Les Expos when they drafted him.

    x-Jeff Sues: R-R/26 Shoulder injuries have slowed him in minors

    x-Jack Taschner: L-L/31 Career 5.00 ERA in 202 relief appearances

    x-Justin Thomas: L-L/26 Oregon native pitched for Youngstown State.

    Ronald Uviedo: R-R/23 Spent the past three seasons at Class A level.

    x-Virgil Vasquez: R-R/27 Versatile pitcher has best hair on team.

    Donnie Veal: L-L/25 Regained hot prospect status after dominating Arizona Fall League.

    x-Tyler Yates: R-R/32 No longer a key piece of the bullpen after elbow surgery.


    Catchers

    x-Luke Carlin: S-R/29 Could battle Kratz for playing time at Indy this summer

    Ryan Doumit: S-R/28 Hit .244 with .297 OBP last year vs. right-handers

    x-Hector Gimenez: S-R/27 Caught 48 games at Triple-A Indy last year

    x-Erik Kratz: R-R/29 Big, rangy and ticketed for Triple-A

    Jason Jaramillo: S-R/27 Did a solid job filling in while Doumit was hurt last season

    x-Tony Sanchez: R-R/21 Climbed all 3 Class A rungs last year, will go higher in 2010.


    Infielders

    Pedro Alvarez: L-R/22 It's just a matter of when, not if, he'll reach majors this year.

    x-Doug Bernier: S-R/29 Was twice used as a mop-up pitcher in A ball.

    Ronny Cedeno: R-R/26 It's not easy being Jack Wilson's follow-up act.

    Jeff Clement: L-R/26 Still has a lot of work to do before he can claim 1B job.

    Bobby Crosby: R-R/30 Will be traded by July 31 if he puts up solid stats.

    Argenis Diaz: R-R/23 Might be ready for a tryout in the majors in 2011

    x-Brian Friday: R-R/24 Pirates' 3rd-round pick in 2007 inching along in system.

    Akinori Iwamura: L-R/31 What shape will his knee be in when he gets here from Japan?

    Andy LaRoche: R-R/26 Super-utility role probably is in his future.

    Steve Pearce: R-R/26 Still young enough to make an impact ... for some team.

    Ramon Vazquez: L-R/33 Entering final year of contract; won't be back.

    Neil Walker: S-R/25 Hanging in there, albeit just barely, as a prospect.

    Delwyn Young: S-R/27 Has career .297 BA and .372 OBP as a pinch hitter.


    Outfielders

    Ryan Church: L-L/32 Sixth-best defensive RF in the game, according to Bill James Handbook.

    Gorkys Hernandez: R-R/22 Successful in just 19 of 35 steal attempts last year at Double-A

    Brandon Jones: L-R/26 Was cut by the Braves when they added ex-Pirate Eric Hinske

    Garrett Jones: L-L/28 20 percent of his outfield fly balls were homers

    Andrew McCutchen: R-R/23 Right now, he's the closest thing to a star on this team

    Lastings Milledge: R-R/24 Appears to be poised for a breakout season

    Brandon Moss: L-R/26 Wasn't the same after spring training injury last year.

    x-Bryan Myrow: L-R/33 Will provide organizational depth at Triple-A

    John Raynor: R-R/26 Rule 5 pick's speed is a fine asset.

    Jose Tabata: R-R/21 Made big strides last year. Everyday player in 2011.

    x-Jonathan Van Every: L-L/30 Could make for tough roster decision before camp is over.

    x-non-roster invitee
    Are these morons getting dumber or just louder-Mayor Quimby

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    Default Re: Bucs bringing upbeat attitudes to Bradenton

    Thing about Zach Duke's record is remember how many games and ND's he had last year where he either left with the lead or had complete game losses.

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    Default Re: Bucs bringing upbeat attitudes to Bradenton

    Quote Originally Posted by wvkeeper View Post
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    Thing about Zach Duke's record is remember how many games and ND's he had last year where he either left with the lead or had complete game losses.
    Duke got ****ed royally in the Wins/Loses department last year... It's why W-L isn't the best stat out there. Duke was putting up a ton of quality outting and the offense wasn't scoring.

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    Default Re: Bucs bringing upbeat attitudes to Bradenton

    Brandon Moss: L-R/26 — Wasn't the same after spring training injury last year.
    What was his injury last season? I don't remember this

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    Default Re: Bucs bringing upbeat attitudes to Bradenton

    Quote Originally Posted by Kipper View Post
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    What was his injury last season? I don't remember this
    He had a knee injury early in spring training I think.

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    Default Re: Bucs bringing upbeat attitudes to Bradenton

    Quote Originally Posted by indybucfan View Post
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    He had a knee injury early in spring training I think.
    Part of me remembers nothing about that and part of me what's to say that I knew something happened to Moss.

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    Default Re: Bucs bringing upbeat attitudes to Bradenton

    Not sure I agree with 2 points in that article:

    Kevin Hart and Daniel McCutchen will battle for the spot this spring, with the loser possibly ticketed for long-relief duty.
    I'm not sure how likely either pitcher, especially McCutchen, is to head to the bullpen if he loses the battle for 5th starter. Both guys have options left and I think management might prefer that both guys kept throwing in a starter's role.

    THREE GUYS WHO'D BETTER PRODUCE
    3. Ronny Cedeno — Management cast about this winter for a replacement, but failed to land anyone. Cedeno's .213 on-base percentage with Mariners before the trade was the lowest in the majors among batters with at least 200 plate appearances.
    I'd hardly consider Cedeno as a "guy who'd better produce". Crosby is virtually interchangable with him and it's not like the team is really counting on offense from either one anyway. I think LaRoche or Doumit would have been much better choices. They both have something to prove and top prospects knocking on the door behind them (or in LaRoche's case, breathing down his neck). This season is huge for both of those guys.

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    Default Re: Bucs bringing upbeat attitudes to Bradenton

    Quote Originally Posted by Daskid View Post
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    Not sure I agree with 2 points in that article:


    I'm not sure how likely either pitcher, especially McCutchen, is to head to the bullpen if he loses the battle for 5th starter. Both guys have options left and I think management might prefer that both guys kept throwing in a starter's role.


    I'd hardly consider Cedeno as a "guy who'd better produce". Crosby is virtually interchangable with him and it's not like the team is really counting on offense from either one anyway. I think LaRoche or Doumit would have been much better choices. They both have something to prove and top prospects knocking on the door behind them (or in LaRoche's case, breathing down his neck). This season is huge for both of those guys.
    Great point on the "BETTER PRODUCE". Another one that could get thrown on that list is Garrett Jones. He's being considered a complete shoe in but he could be an absolute fluke. Tabata is breathing down his neck and there's a couple OF options back there and there's a younger guy at 1B getting a chance right now... Jones could easily go from having an unreal half of a season to being a flop without a spot if he doesn't duplicate a lot of what he did last season

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    Default Re: Bucs bringing upbeat attitudes to Bradenton

    Quote Originally Posted by Kipper View Post
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    Great point on the "BETTER PRODUCE". Another one that could get thrown on that list is Garrett Jones. He's being considered a complete shoe in but he could be an absolute fluke. Tabata is breathing down his neck and there's a couple OF options back there and there's a younger guy at 1B getting a chance right now... Jones could easily go from having an unreal half of a season to being a flop without a spot if he doesn't duplicate a lot of what he did last season
    I absolutely think Garrett Jones is for real. That swing is a low maintenance easy to maintain swing. Unfortunately for LaRoche, he's losing his 3rd base job regardless of what he does. If Iwamura is not kept, I see them moving Andy to second to make room for Pedro at some point. Nice problem to have, but I think I'd get Andy some work at second this spring just in case.

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    Default Re: Bucs bringing upbeat attitudes to Bradenton

    Quote Originally Posted by Kipper View Post
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    Great point on the "BETTER PRODUCE". Another one that could get thrown on that list is Garrett Jones. He's being considered a complete shoe in but he could be an absolute fluke. Tabata is breathing down his neck and there's a couple OF options back there and there's a younger guy at 1B getting a chance right now... Jones could easily go from having an unreal half of a season to being a flop without a spot if he doesn't duplicate a lot of what he did last season
    Definitely agree. Jones could fall flat on his face.

    The difference I see with Jones is he's not being pushed directly by anyone. In a way, he's one of 3 guys fighting ultimately for 2 spots, and he's the only one of the 3 that can play both positions. That gives him a lot of leeway.

    LaRoche isn't moving to 2B as long as Iwamura is around and, at least at this point, management has shown zero intention of moving Pedro to 1B. That pressure on LaRoche is very real and very immediate.

    Doumit is an important trading piece. They don't have too many guys left who both have some good potential trade value and make sense to deal away. Another year like 2009 could crush his value, and Sanchez could force their hand on a Doumit decision sometime in 2011. It could be a big blow to the rebuilding effort for Doumit to tank this year. The Pirates really need him to do well.

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    Default Re: Bucs bringing upbeat attitudes to Bradenton

    Quote Originally Posted by Daskid View Post
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    Definitely agree. Jones could fall flat on his face.

    The difference I see with Jones is he's not being pushed directly by anyone. In a way, he's one of 3 guys fighting ultimately for 2 spots, and he's the only one of the 3 that can play both positions. That gives him a lot of leeway.

    LaRoche isn't moving to 2B as long as Iwamura is around and, at least at this point, management has shown zero intention of moving Pedro to 1B. That pressure on LaRoche is very real and very immediate.

    Doumit is an important trading piece. They don't have too many guys left who both have some good potential trade value and make sense to deal away. Another year like 2009 could crush his value, and Sanchez could force their hand on a Doumit decision sometime in 2011. It could be a big blow to the rebuilding effort for Doumit to tank this year. The Pirates really need him to do well.
    I see what you're saying but Sanchez is a year or 2 away and Jaramillo is more backup than starter IMO, so Doumit is fairly safe. I think he's safer than Garrett Jones. Andy Laroche... yeah, he's in a tough situation... but even though Jones has 2 places to go, he's got legit options behind him in both spots just like Andy Laroche... if he doesn't produce, he'll be on the bench..

    Iwamura, Milledge, Mccutchen are safe position players IMO... I'd put Doumit next... after that you have a lot of guys with competition which I think is a good thing

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    Default Re: Bucs bringing upbeat attitudes to Bradenton

    Quote Originally Posted by Kipper View Post
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    I see what you're saying but Sanchez is a year or 2 away and Jaramillo is more backup than starter IMO, so Doumit is fairly safe. I think he's safer than Garrett Jones. Andy Laroche... yeah, he's in a tough situation... but even though Jones has 2 places to go, he's got legit options behind him in both spots just like Andy Laroche... if he doesn't produce, he'll be on the bench..

    Iwamura, Milledge, Mccutchen are safe position players IMO... I'd put Doumit next... after that you have a lot of guys with competition which I think is a good thing
    Doumit's starting spot is as safe as anyone's on the team. No question there.

    The reason he has to produce is because the questions surrounding him are extremely important to the Pirates rebuilding efforts. I just don't think they can afford to go into next season still wondering if he can put it together, and the difference in his trade value between a good year and a bad year could be enormous.

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    Default Re: Bucs bringing upbeat attitudes to Bradenton

    Quote Originally Posted by Daskid View Post
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    Doumit's starting spot is as safe as anyone's on the team. No question there.

    The reason he has to produce is because the questions surrounding him are extremely important to the Pirates rebuilding efforts. I just don't think they can afford to go into next season still wondering if he can put it together, and the difference in his trade value between a good year and a bad year could be enormous.
    See, I don't think it matters much with Doumit. Tony Sanchez is in the waiting. Doumit CAN produce, he just needs to stay healthy. I think he's here (unless his trade value goes way up ) until tony Sanchez gets a call up. there's not much intriguing as far legit options in Free Agency with catchers

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    Default Re: Bucs bringing upbeat attitudes to Bradenton

    Quote Originally Posted by Kipper View Post
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    See, I don't think it matters much with Doumit. Tony Sanchez is in the waiting. Doumit CAN produce, he just needs to stay healthy. I think he's here (unless his trade value goes way up ) until tony Sanchez gets a call up. there's not much intriguing as far legit options in Free Agency with catchers
    Doumit's Pirate days are numbered IMO. Sure he probably lasts the year.....unless someone comes to NH with a McLouth type deal. Next year though Doumit starts to get expensive 5.1 mil.

    I would bet he doesn't make it through the year in 2011 because for one Sanchez should be knocking on the door and the Pirates will be on the hook for his entire 2 contract option years after the 2011 season...which is worth 15.5 mil!

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    Default Re: Bucs bringing upbeat attitudes to Bradenton

    Quote Originally Posted by PittFaninVa View Post
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    Doumit's Pirate days are numbered IMO. Sure he probably lasts the year.....unless someone comes to NH with a McLouth type deal. Next year though Doumit starts to get expensive 5.1 mil.

    I would bet he doesn't make it through the year in 2011 because for one Sanchez should be knocking on the door and the Pirates will be on the hook for his entire 2 contract option years after the 2011 season...which is worth 15.5 mil!
    That's exactly my point. His days with the Bucs are definitely numbered and this is the year that determines what we get out of him.

    If he has a big year he's suddenly a big-time bat at the position who's worth his contract and can bring back something of real value in trade. (That option is a team option, isn't it?)

    If he has a crap year, he'll just be an often-injured 30 year-old catcher, who's never put it all together but once showed some potential as a 27 year old. He holds down the fort until Sanchez is ready and that's about it.

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