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January 2, 2007
  
2006 Mets in Review: Catchers

2006 Catchers: .289/.338/.401

Considering many, including most people around here, assumed that the Mets would sign Ramon Hernandez last offseason, the decision to trade Gaby Hernandez, a good young pitching prospect, for then-Marlins’ catcher Paul Lo Duca certainly raised some eyebrows. When it occurred, most Mets fans felt that Lo Duca wasn’t going to be much of an addition. Lo and behold, Paulie responded with his best offensive season in five years, hitting .318/.355/.428, good for a 105 OPS+. Despite his disappointing defensive numbers, which included a complete inability to control the running game and a maddening ineptitude catching balls on plays at the plate, few would argue that Lo Duca did not have a mighty fine season in 2006.

Offensively, Paul Lo Duca is Tim McCarver’s dream. That is, he hustles, he puts the ball in play as well as anyone in baseball and he rarely strikes out. In fact, last year only three players who qualified for the battling title had a lower strikeout rate than Paulie. But striking out isn’t the only thing Lo Duca doesn’t do. He also seems to have an allergic reaction to walks and extra-base hits. As a result, his offensive value is tied to his batting average and the inherent luck that often comes with it. If the balls he puts in play fall for hits, he’s a good player. If they don’t, he’s not. It’s as simple as that. Considering that in 2006 Lo Duca’s BABIP was .337, which is about 40 points higher than his career average, it’s rather unlikely that Lo Duca will be as good in 2007 as he was last year.

Playing Robin to Lo Duca’s Batman will be Ramon Castro, he of the Bruce Bochy-like cranium. Acquired by Omar Minaya after being touted as a future star in sabermetric circles, Castro found his niche as an elite backup. He and Lo Duca couldn’t be more different as players. Castro hits for far more power and draws a lot of walks but he’ll never hit for average because he strikes out too often. Not only that, unlike Paulie he is a good defensive catcher with a fine arm. I’m confident that Castro would hit 15 homers and draw 50 walks as an everyday catcher, but I’ll have to be satisfied with him being one of the better back-ups in baseball. Because the Mets ran away with the division last year, they didn’t really feel Castro’s loss when he went on the disabled list late last season. That said, the catchers the Mets used to spell Lo Duca when Castro was down were so bad offensively, they managed to lower Met catcher OPS by about 25 points in only a measly 37 at-bats. That’s remarkably pathetic.

Potential Minor League Help for 2007

Mike Nickeas is supposedly a fine defensive catcher who has shown decent on-base ability in the minors. He’d probably do an adequate job as the backup if Castro or Lo Duca got hurt but he’s not a player that should be in the lineup more than once a week because he’s just not good enough offensively.

2007 Guesstimate

There will likely be a decline offensively but I don’t think Lo Duca will fall off a cliff. This is pure conjecture on my part but Lo Duca is in the ideal situation for a player with his hitting style. Pitchers are going to challenge him because he’s hitting behind Reyes and in front of the thunder in the Met line-up.


31 Responses to “2006 Mets in Review: Catchers”

  1. Comment posted by robert griffin on January 2, 2007 at 1:08 am (#205051)

    Whatever happened to that Aussie catcher we signed like 2 years ago??

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  3. Comment posted by Eric Simon on January 2, 2007 at 1:14 am (#205056)

    Whatever happened to that Aussie catcher we signed like 2 years ago??

    Are you thinking of Justin Huber? If so, he was traded to the Royals at the deadline in 1994 (part of the Kris Benson deal) and has put up prodigious numbers in the minor leagues, albeit at first base and not catcher.

  4. Comment posted by jeff on January 2, 2007 at 1:29 am (#205066)

    Nice piece. I too was a bit skeptical about Pauliecakes early on. Once again, Omar comes out looking like a genius. But what I really love about the guy is his attitude. LoDuca is a winner, and he brings that on the field with him. Obviously the numbers speak for themselves, but there are few if any catchers out there that can fill the number 2 spot as capably as him. Proficency at bunts and hit and run my be some of the less glamorus aspects of the game but crucial nonetheless.

  5. Comment posted by robert griffin on January 2, 2007 at 5:15 am (#205163)

    naw it was another guy from Aussieland we picked up two years ago, I remember reading the article, but haven’t heard from him since.

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  7. Comment posted by Alex Nelson on January 2, 2007 at 8:12 am (#205200)

    naw it was another guy from Aussieland we picked up two years ago, I remember reading the article, but haven’t heard from him since.

    I think you’re thinking of Patrick Maat, an 18 year old catcher the Mets signed in January 2005. He was still completing his education in Australia and last I heard (sometime around July) he was attending the MLB academy there. Hopefully he’ll show up on a Mets minor league roster sometime this year, though I haven’t heard anything.

  8. Comment posted by C Low on January 2, 2007 at 9:42 am (#205209)

    New York Mets pitcher Pedro Martinez is also recovering well from rotator cuff surgery, but the ace right-hander still doesn’t plan to return to the mound until July or August.

    “The progress has been excellent,” said Martinez, who joined Guerrero in the softball game. “The problem has to do with the calcification of the bone that was broken with the tear and that had to be operated on.

    “You have to let it run its course, so we’re aiming for July or August as the return date.”

    Martinez, 35, missed the end of last season — including the Mets’ playoff run — due to injuries to his leg and arm. Since having surgery, the three-time Cy Young Award winner says the mobility in his throwing arm has already improved.

    “I don’t have problems anymore with my reach or flexibility, and so far everything is going very well,” he said.

    As part of his offseason regimen, Martinez said he is bulking up.

    “I’ve put on about 10 pounds of muscle, because that’s one of our strategies,” he said.

    The pitcher praised the Mets’ moves during the offseason. They added left fielder Moises Alou but were outbid by the San Francisco Giants in their attempt to sign left-handed starter Barry Zito.

    “It would have been good to have Zito on the team, but it wasn’t possible,” Martinez said.

  9. Comment posted by Danny on January 2, 2007 at 9:50 am (#205211)

    Paulie’s BABIP wsa pretty high, no doubt, but since he doesn’t strike out, hits line drives and bats between Reyes and Beltran (a wonderful place to be), I don’t necessarily see a precipitous drop in his performance this year, unless age catches up to him real quickly. He caught 124 games last year, which is about right. So Willie did a pretty good job of resting him (made easier by running away with the division).

    I think we would be remiss not to mention the minor league debut of Francisco Pena this year. I am very excited/intrigued by how we will perform.

    The Nats are crazy to do it, but I think they will be able to keep Flores on their 25 all year. They are playing for the future anyway, so what would it hurt. He could have been at least good trade bait down the line. Too bad.

  10. Comment posted by Lister on January 2, 2007 at 9:59 am (#205216)

    The only way I see a significant decline for Paulie is injury (that he can’t play through).

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  12. Comment posted by El Deppo on January 2, 2007 at 10:07 am (#205218)

    I thought Ramon Castro was horrible in 2006.

    calling him an elite backup is quite a stretch imo.

  13. Comment posted by Jessica on January 2, 2007 at 10:29 am (#205235)

    What’s interesting about LoDuca’s BABIP was that in ‘06 it was actually in line with his line drive rate (the general rule of thumb is that a player’s expected BABIP is line drive percentage + .12), while in each of the previous 4 years it was below what would be expected from his line drive rate. I don’t know if that means that ‘06 was the first year in a long time that he wasn’t unlucky, or if he was lucky in ‘06 and his low BABIP from the previous years is a function of being such a slow runner.

  14. Comment posted by BryanB on January 2, 2007 at 11:03 am (#205279)

    The Nats are crazy to do it, but I think they will be able to keep Flores on their 25 all year. They are playing for the future anyway, so what would it hurt. He could have been at least good trade bait down the line. Too bad.

    I don’t see how it works out for WAS, if he sits on the bench all season he doesn’t develop, if he plays he’ll be severly overmatched. Right now he’s the backup catcher, Schneider is the only other catcher on the 40 man roster, which is currently full. I hope Flores is in Binghamton this season, but you never know.

  15. Comment posted by Boo Radley on January 2, 2007 at 1:09 pm (#205445)

    1 REYES
    2 WRIGHT
    3 BELTRAN
    4 DELGADO
    5 ALOU
    6 VALENTIN
    7 LO DUCA
    8 MILLEDGE

    Not sayin’ just sayin’.

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  17. Comment posted by Alex Nelson on January 2, 2007 at 1:41 pm (#205451)

    I thought Ramon Castro was horrible in 2006.

    calling him an elite backup is quite a stretch imo.

    I think calling Castro horrible in 2006 is a stretch. Castro posted an 86 OPS+ last season. Care to guess how many NL backup backstops topped that? 5. And of those five, one was Toby Hall whose combined AL and NL OPS+ last year was 66, and the other two were Josh Bard and Chris Coste, who both have been promoted to starting gigs. Oh, and both have “fluke” written all over them.

    That leaves Chris Snyder and Mike Rivera. Of the two, the only guy I’d consider keeping before Castro is Snyder when you bring defense into the equation.

    So if Castro had a “horrible season” and, as things currently stand, is the second best backup in the league, even throwing away everything but 2006, then I think you could call him an elite backup.

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  19. Comment posted by the loose cannon on January 2, 2007 at 1:46 pm (#205453)

    But Castro is not an elite backup. This is some fairytale that Mets fan keep telling themselves. I could care less how he hits, I want someone who calls a good game as the backup. I don’t think he calls a good game. For whatever reason, Billy Wagner could never get comfortable with him behind the plate. Vance Wilson > Ramon Castro

  20. Comment posted by Lister on January 2, 2007 at 1:49 pm (#205455)

    nice, chris

    i agree

    i like blastro but he’s not ‘elite’ i don’t care which stat you choose to juke

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  22. Comment posted by El Deppo on January 2, 2007 at 1:51 pm (#205460)

    Horrible may have been too strong a word and OPS+ is a swell stat to counter that but I cant get past Castro’s inability to do anything offensively with runners on.

    he made Nady look clutch with RISP.

    and he’s just not that good a receiver as TLC points out.

    I just dont think he’s all that as a backup

  23. Comment posted by tom totem on January 2, 2007 at 2:10 pm (#205491)

    Um, hello, I think we’re forgetting the real elite backup — DiFelice! The Mets were 7-1 with him in the starting lineup! You can’t argue with success, baby. He’s the Steve Trachsel of backstops. Who cares if he can’t hit his age?

  24. Comment posted by Jessica on January 2, 2007 at 2:12 pm (#205496)

    For whatever reason, Billy Wagner could never get comfortable with him behind the plate.

    The “coo-ba/curveball” anecdote from that SI article still makes me cringe.

    That being said, Castro is better at controlling the running game than LoDuca is.

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  26. Comment posted by Alex Nelson on January 2, 2007 at 2:17 pm (#205506)

    But Castro is not an elite backup. This is some fairytale that Mets fan keep telling themselves. I could care less how he hits, I want someone who calls a good game as the backup. I don’t think he calls a good game. For whatever reason, Billy Wagner could never get comfortable with him behind the plate. Vance Wilson > Ramon Castro

    Well, I can’t seem to find any kind of stark evidence that he’s any worse a game caller than Lo Duca is. Pitchers had a 4.25 ERA with Castro behind the plate, a 4.31 ERA with LoDuca. It’s a devil of a thing to get a handle on, but it’s also not something I’m gonna hold against Castro without any kind of hard evidence. After all, he’s a backup.

    Horrible may have been too strong a word and OPS+ is a swell stat to counter that but I cant get past Castro’s inability to do anything offensively with runners on.

    Without a doubt Castro was awful with RISP last year, but in 2005 he hit .305/.410/.515 with RISP in twice as many at bats (and had one of the biggest at bats of the year). The simple fact is that both are pretty meaningless; there’s just not enough data to say anything conclusive about his abilities there and considering he’s a backup catcher, there likely never will be.

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  28. Comment posted by El Deppo on January 2, 2007 at 2:44 pm (#205529)

    Fair points Alex. Coo-ba’s for everyone!!!

  29. Comment posted by argonbunnies on January 2, 2007 at 2:57 pm (#205568)

    For whatever reason, Billy Wagner could never get comfortable with him behind the plate.

    The reason is that Castro sets up too far off the plate. When he wants a pitch inside, his glove’s off the inside corner instead of right on it. So, Wagner hits the glove and it’s ball one.

    I think Castro’s pitch calling is fine, it’s his target that’s the problem.

    I also think that at the plate he’s not un-clutch, he’s just a terrible matchup for certain guys and can look helpless at times. Ramon’s a low fastball hitter, and any other quality pitches will give him trouble.

  30. Comment posted by argonbunnies on January 2, 2007 at 2:59 pm (#205575)

    Castro’s ability to hit mistakes out of the park is a rare commodity in backup catchers. That plus the good throwing = “elite” in my mind.

  31. Comment posted by tom totem on January 2, 2007 at 5:14 pm (#205740)

    I wonder how many wins lie between the best and worst backup catchers. One a season, maybe?

  32. Comment posted by tom showing-his-age totem on January 2, 2007 at 5:15 pm (#205742)

    ED HEARN!
    ED HEARN!
    ED HEARN!

    Goooooooooooooooooo SASSER!

    The toughest batter Tom Seaver ever faced? “Barry Lyons.” He said so himself.

  33. Comment posted by Wallace Stevens on January 2, 2007 at 5:17 pm (#205743)

    Ramon Hernandez, tell me, if you know…

  34. Comment posted by The Real Marty on January 2, 2007 at 8:33 pm (#205875)

    By the way, Florez was traded to the Rockies. Since he isn’t good defensively, I bet he comes back to us..ie

  35. Comment posted by BryanB on January 2, 2007 at 9:58 pm (#205939)

    By the way, Florez was traded to the Rockies. Since he isn’t good defensively, I bet he comes back to us..ie

    Haven’t seen this anywhere, he’s still on WAS roster, do you have a link??

  36. Comment posted by robert griffin on January 2, 2007 at 11:34 pm (#206014)

    I don’t think you can trade a player that was chosen from the draft that way, I really doubt that trade went thru, and I haven’t read anything about it at all.

  37. Comment posted by robert griffin on January 2, 2007 at 11:39 pm (#206023)

    Scouting REPORT on FLORES

    Vital Statistics:
    Name: Jesus Flores
    Position: Catcher
    DOB: November 26, 1984
    Height: 6’1”
    Weight: 185
    Bats: Right
    Throws: Right

    Flores entered the 2006 season with a world of talent but had not yet proven it on the field. He hit just a meager .216 with seven home runs in the South Atlantic League in 2005, but a broken hand in the final game of Spring Training prior to the start of that season hindered his abilities and shattered his confidence.

    “I felt really good going into big league camp last year,” Jesus Flores told InsidePitchMagazine.com through the help of a translator, “but when I got that injury, I felt I had such a setback. I wasn’t where I wanted to be. What I’ve been able to do this year is what I wanted for last season. All I can do is build on what I’ve done now and look forward to the future.”

    Normally a very confident player, Flores put his disastrous 2005 campaign behind him and flourished under Gary Carter this past season, his manager in St. Lucie.

    “Gary’s trying to instill in me to be a leader on the field,” the 22-year old catcher told us at the end of the 2006 season, “just to be an overall strong leader. He’s making me a strong-willed person and to be an intelligent catcher.”

    “He’s taught me to work my very best with the pitchers, to learn the pitchers - their strengths as well as their weaknesses - so I can call a better game. Overall he’s just taught me to be more intelligent and be a leader in the clubhouse as well as out on the field.”

    Making tremendous strides in his mental game and defensive prowess, especially on his throws to second base, it was Flores’ bat that drew the attention of scouts. He finally started putting up the production many had been predicting for the past two years.

    “If you look at most of my hits, they’ve all been either doubles or home runs,” Flores said of his .476 slugging percentage in the notoriously pitching-friendly Florida State League. “If you’d like to categorize me as a power hitter, then that’s what I see myself as. I’m here to drive in runs. Power is a big part of my game now and that’s something I need to work on even more.”

    Year

    Team

    AVG.

    AB

    Hits

    HR

    RBI

    R

    SB

    BB

    K

    OBP

    SLG

    2006

    St. Lucie

    .266

    429

    114

    21

    70

    66

    2

    28

    127

    .335

    .487

    2005

    Hagerstown

    .216

    319

    69

    7

    42

    34

    2

    12

    90

    .250

    .339

    2004

    Brooklyn

    .333

    6

    2

    1

    3

    1

    0

    0

    1

    .333

    .833

    2004

    GCL

    .319

    141

    45

    4

    25

    16

    1

    8

    26

    .368

    .532

    Batting and Power. Flores is a decent contact hitter who doesn’t exactly employ a patient approach at the plate. He’s very adept at pulling inside pitches with power and while he does have very good opposite field power, hitting to that part of the field is not his biggest strength. Now headed to the big leagues with the Nationals, it is an area in his offensive game that will most likely get exposed. When he’s on though, he’s an extremely powerful hitter capable of putting up some big home run totals, even in a big park like RFK Stadium.

    Base Running and Speed. Flores has some athletic ability for a thick catcher. He is aggressive on the base paths and will take the extra base when it’s there. He won’t be a huge factor on the bases but he is an above average runner for a catcher.

    Defense. Physically, Flores was already a very good defensive player with a strong arm and a quick release. Sometimes he gets a little too full of himself and tries to showcase his arm on pick-off plays and that gets him in trouble. However, playing under Gary Carter this past season, Flores excelled defensively and he picked up a lot of the little things from his manager. He made marked improvements working with pitchers and in in-game situations. He’s an above average defensive player with some room to grow.

    Projection. Flores is a complete catching prospect. He can hit for average, hit for good power, and plays the catcher’s position defensively as well as most, but the problem now is he’ll need to do that at the big league level. He projects to be a Ramon Hernandez type of catcher someday, the question now however is, can he do it next year with the Washington Nationals?

    He’s got some serious upside to him and he’s definitely an interesting risk for the Nationals. Flores is cocky enough to possibly stick in the big leagues. In some ways, he compares to the Marlins’ Hanley Ramirez [mentally] in that he might flourish in the Majors because of the mere challenge. Ramirez seemed uninterested in the minor leagues and didn’t give it his all until the big leagues and it’s not out of the question that the same thing could happen for Flores. Flores certainly has big league talent.

    ETA. 2007. We’ve been predicting a 2009 arrival for Jesus Flores for the last two years and his selection by the Nationals in the Rule V Draft obviously changes his ETA. The jump from high-A to Double-A is huge, let alone a leap from the Florida State League to the big leagues. The chances are better than average he won’t be ready for the big leagues in 2007 and the Mets could see him back in the organization sometime next season.

  38. Comment posted by Raskolnikov on January 3, 2007 at 12:36 am (#206086)

    Nice report on Flores. I don’t think there’s much of any shot that Flores returns. Ah, that pisses me off.

  39. Comment posted by robert griffin on January 3, 2007 at 8:10 am (#206097)

    SCOUTING REPORT ON DREW BUTERA

    Vital Statistics:
    Name: Drew Butera
    Position: Catcher
    DOB: August 9, 1983
    Height: 6’1”
    Weight: 190
    Bats: Right
    Throws: Right

    For Drew Butera, it was an easy decision to accept an invitation to the Hawaiian Winter League, with each week promising of five days of play against top competition, plus two days to explore the island’s natural beauty.

    “It was tough, but somebody had to do it,” Butera said.

    Suiting up for the North Shore Honu following what the second-year professional catcher called a “learning season” with the Hagerstown Suns, Butera took in one final lesson before preparing for 2007 – one that he believes will help him rebound from a disappointing offensive campaign.

    “I got real pull-happy a couple of times when I was going hot, but when I’m going my best, I go the other way with breaking balls,” Butera said. “Over in Hawaii, I learned a key thing that I think is going to help me; to be relaxed and go as slow as possible. When I don’t think and go slow, I stay back and recognize the breaking ball. Most of my hits (in Hawaii) were off the breaking ball.”

    A fifth-round pick of the Mets in 2005 from the University of Central Florida, where he received rave reviews as a top-flight defensive prospect, Butera found his first taste of long-season baseball challenging.

    The 23-year-old batted .186 with five home runs and 38 RBI in 295 at-bats for Hagerstown, and admitted that he had worn down as the South Atlantic League schedule continued – after Aug. 1, Butera ended the year in a 5-for-41 (.121) skid.

    Of equal concern, Butera said his defense behind the plate suffered as a result of fatigue as well, with passed balls skipping by as the dog days of summer settled in. Butera committed nine errors and had 21 passed balls with the Suns.

    “I think there were times that I got a little lazy mentally behind the plate, and that can improve,” Butera said. “But I was pretty happy with my performance throwing runners out and dealing with a young pitching staff in Hagerstown. I really took pride in handling them personally and physically on the field, and getting to know them. That was a fun part for me.”

    Through it all, Butera – the son of former big league backstop Sal Butera – said he was able to keep his head up.

    “I never got down on myself,” Butera said. “I know the talent’s there, and I know I’ve done it before. Everything comes with time and it’s a learning experience.”

    Butera said a new training program implemented with the help of coach Jason “Nitro” Craig could help him gain leg strength to avoid similar issues in 2007. But he also said he did not want to use being tired as an excuse.

    “When you get to the big league level, you can’t have passed balls and wild pitches,” Butera said. “It’s better to correct it now, rather than have to deal with it up there.”

    Butera was arguably at his best in June for Hagerstown, when he batted .286 with two home runs and 11 RBI in 18 games. It was at that time that Butera was able to stave off the temptation to become pull-happy, he said, a factor he’ll look to extend in 2007.

    “I had to deal with failure, but I think that will help me in the long run,” Butera said. “I showed some different sides of what you have go through in your first full season. There’s a physical aspect, getting stronger and dealing with that part, but there’s also mental learning. You have to get yourself out of that jam so it doesn’t turn into a full-on slump.”

    Playing about every third day for North Shore, while using his down time to hit the gym and build muscle toward 2007, Butera said he made adjustments against some of the top pitchers in professional winter ball.

    He batted .232 (13-for-56) in 21 games for the Honu, picking up more regular play as the season reached its conclusion in late November.

    Butera said the experience could pay dividends when he reports to the Mets’ spring training complex in February. He is eyeing a promotion to Class-A St. Lucie of the Florida State League and, ideally, would like to see Double-A before the year is out.

    “My goal is to get as physically strong as I can,” Butera said. “I want to make sure when the season comes around again, I’ll be prepared for the dog days of August. I’m just going to work as hard as I can, and hopefully they just keep moving me up.”

    Batting and Power. Butera has been a tad unlucky in regards to his batting average as a professional. He is a patient hitter with good gap power, but real good breaking stuff does tend to give him fits. His swing is very long at times, which helps on outside pitches but does give him problems on the inner half of the plate. He has posted just a .198 batting average in his career thus far and he’ll need to cut down on his strikeouts, make his swing more compact, and improve his selectivity to raise his average. He has moderate power right now and it doesn’t appear it will get much better than that.

    Base Running and Speed. Butera a bit quicker than his career tally of two stolen bases indicates. He is a decent base runner with good baseball instincts and he is above average on the bases for a backstop.

    Defense. Butera certainly looks the part of a big league defensive catcher. He’s adept at blocking balls in the dirt and he uses a strong arm and quick releases from behind the plate to gun down runners. He is also very good at receiving the ball and working well with his pitchers. Butera is an intelligent catcher who knows the strengths and weaknesses of his staff. His defensive abilities are strong enough on their own merit to carry him all the way to the Major Leagues.

    Projection. Becoming a starting big league catcher is a bit of a stretch for Butera. And as even as strong as he is defensively, he is going to have to make some significant progress offensively to project as a big league backup catcher. Scouts initially believed he had the offensive potential to develop into a Brad Ausmus and Mike Matheny type, but he’ll have to start proving it on the field in a hurry.

    ETA. 2009. Even with a disappointing offensive campaign in the South Atlantic League this past season, Butera is advanced defensively enough to still warrant a promotion to the Florida State League in 2007. Expect to see him behind the plate for the St. Lucie Mets next season and he could be big league ready as a backup catcher by 2009.

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