Taking the next step: Moving from contender to league leader


If Sports Illustrated will make good on its 2017 Astros’ World Series prediction, many pieces will have to fall into place for your favorite baseball organization.

Are the Astros close? Could there possibly even be a decade dynasty-like team in the making? Is the team one dominant starter away? One middle of the order hitter? A key bullpen arm?

Yes. When you look at the organization and the current roster makeup, it’s easy to see how a piece here, another piece there, or a key addition could put the Astros over the top.

If you recall, back in 2012, I suggested that the Astros could start adding a nucleus piece or two each season and make it back into contention rather quickly. The list is long of players who most of us thought — or at least hoped would be part of the next contender.

Jordan Lyles, J.A. Happ, Bud Norris, Brett Wallace, Brian Bogusevic, Jimmy Paredes, Matt Dominguez, J.D. Martinez. Even Chris Carter, Matt Dominguez, Jared Cosart.  Some thought Jon Singleton, Dexter Fowler, Brad Peacock, Brett Oberholtzer or a myriad of others might play a role. Not to mention names like Scott Kazmir, Asher Wojciechowski, Nick Tropeano, Mike Foltynewicz, Mark Appel, Brady Aiken and others who have been — at some level or another — tapped with that savoir-ness label.  You can likely remember a few others you had counted on as well.

In reality, there are probably 10 players on which the Astros’ fortunes will rise or fall in 2017. These 10 are not only critical, but it is necessary for them to produce if the Astros will step out of the contender role and into the league leader role. An * indicates players who should be untouchable, at least for next season.

  1. * Carlos Correa. No brainer. He’s the foundation.
  2. * Alex Bregman. No brainer 1A. Is he better than Correa?
  3. * Dallas Keuchel. If not the anchor, he may be the best 1A pitcher in the league.
  4. Collin McHugh. Perhaps the best #3 in the majors.
  5. * Jose Altuve. Is he untouchable? Yes, at least for 2017.
  6. George Springer. Do you dare even consider moving him?
  7. * Lance McCullers Jr. Breakout year in ’17 could catapult Astros.
  8. Yurieski Gurriel. Big question mark becomes huge explanation point!
  9. * Will Harris. What else does he need to do? Sign him up for the rest of the decade.
  10. Luke Gregerson or Ken Giles. One of these guys has to become THE guy.

Near misses to the Top 10:

  • Marwin Gonzalez. Why waste your time looking for a Super Sub when you have a known entity? Reward him and let him play…anywhere.
  • A.J. Hinch. No, he’s not a player, but how he handles HIS staff during the offseason and how he grows as a manager for 2017 may be as important as any player for the WS run.

These are the players who could put the Astros over the top. In other words, not the foundation, but absolutely the weight-bearing walls and doorways to the big rooms. These are the guys who won’t come into the season carrying the load but could have breakout seasons that make a difference for Houston’s ambitions.

  1. Preston Tucker. Houston needs him to take a spot in the OF.
  2. Colin Moran. If Gurriel and Bregman make good, is Moran trade bait this winter?
  3. A.J. Reed. If he’s the first baseman of the future, Houston suddenly is all over the radar.
  4. Doug Fister. Bring him back? Does he quietly become a key cog in the rotation?
  5. Michael Feliz. Find a spot for him, settle on it and leave him there. Let him blossom.

And, of course, the winter may hold the key to next season. Will Houston find a major TOR pitcher to slide in ahead of Keuchel, McHugh and McCullers? Does the organization go out and get a prize center fielder or big closing arm (Aroldis Chapman)? There will be a splash. There will be head shaking, eye-popping moves that can move the ball down the field. Or at least around the bases.

But make no mistake. The core of the 2017 World Series Championship team is in Houston now. Or will be by this weekend.

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75 comments on “Taking the next step: Moving from contender to league leader

  1. Do not get Chapman…do not want someone of his class (read: lack thereof) here on this team. Brett Myers was bad enough.

    I’m honestly not too impressed with Tucker. Unless he learns to hit outside pitching (and play even passable defense) I see him as an AAAA player.

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  2. Chip, I believe that Evan Gattis will be a part of the core of the team in 2017.
    I think Altuve is part of this team until he retires or decides to become a free agent. and he is #1 on my list, not #5.
    Bregman is #10 on my list until he is on the 40-man roster.
    Luke Gregerson will be a free agent after 2017. I’m betting he is going to be pushed hard by Hoyt, Gustave and McCurry. Giles is going to be here for sure.
    Reed isn’t ready, but that is not to say that he won’t be by next spring.
    Lourdes and Teoscar may not be ready by next spring, but they might be getting close by next fall. I think Kemp wins a job on this club in April, if he is still with the club.

    Liked by 1 person

    • OP, total agreement here. Until their performance changes, Altuve is Number One in my book and, yes, foundational to the team. Five feet six inches (if that), close to the ground, like any good foundation has to be. Sorry to be Pete and Repeat. I like the guy.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Chip….you know what I don’t get is why Luhnow goes after big ticket pitchers when we have 2-3 guys in Fresno that are ready to make it up to the big club. Hauchild and Musgrove both have great arms, and are pitching shut outs on a regular basis!!
    Man….I’d hate to keep them in Fresno pitching like that, just to package them in a deal for ANOTHER pitcher. I don’t *get* it.

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  4. Thoughts:
    – I get the feeling that Bregman may be “special” and that really excites me
    – They need to figure out how to get Hoyt into this bullpen and that may be by saying goodbye to someone – like Neshek
    – I think a big question for the front office is who (long term) will be in the pen and who will be in the rotation from Michael Feliz, Chris Devenski, Joe Musgrove, Mike Hauschild (and I’m sure I’m forgetting someone). One of the best ways to keep a reasonable payroll over time is to develop your own pitching staff.
    – Are the Astros buyers, sellers or observers at the trade deadline.

    My son up in Austin said the local radio up there interviewed Reid Ryan after the Express game and he hinted heavily that Bregman will be here tomorrow.

    Liked by 2 people

  5. I’m hoping Bregman is the key, like a young Biggio that is the leadership, lead by example piece that holds this team together the next 10 years Gurriel if he can be a 3 year Bonus awesome. Rogers, Feliz, Musgrove, Devenski, Hoyt, Hauschild. all could be a big part of 2017. I would bring Fister back as of today.

    Reed looks really lost right now maybe Fresno for a while. I like Kemp, Tucker, White. Moran but right now all I see with them is AAAA.

    We need to sign one big time OF in the offseason, I think all the other pieces we have will be really good next year.

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  6. We cannot really use both Tucker and Kemp – both of which are LH hitters who pretty much can only play LF or DH for us. So we have to choose between them. Of the two, Kemp has better defensive skills and speed, so it looks to me like Tucker is the odd man out, despite his much higher power and RBI numbers. We could slot in Kemp at #1 or #2, and with his OBP and speed we could see the RBI #s of Altuve [in the 3-hole], Correa [at clean-up], and Bregman [in the 5-hole, which has been our biggest black hole for years], and hopefully Gurriel in the 6 hole. Or we could give Kemp the #9 hole to jump start our late inning rallies, and use Bregman in the 2-hole.

    The outfield situation: For 2016 I see us pretty much stuck with Rasmus in LF against righties, Gomez in CF even if his BA drops to .100, and Springer in RF. I am hoping Bregman will handle the OF transition well, and take Marisnick’s place as the 4th outfielder. But this FO sure does like Marisnick, so . . . . In 2017 I think we could have a great outfield if we put Bregman in LF, Springer in center, and Teoscar Hernandez [or someone acquired by trade] in RF, and if we use Kemp as our extra outfielder and part-time DH. Marwin could also play OF in a pinch – but his main role needs to be off the bench.

    The infield situation: For 2016 – assuming Gurriel comes on board on schedule – I see us using Valbuena at 1st, Altuve at 2nd, Correa at SS, and Gurriel at 3B. Gonzalez is the spare infielder – and Bregman can be tapped for 2B, SS, or 3B in a pinch. For 2017, I see Valbuena giving way to Reed, otherwise the IF situation remains the same.

    For 2016 I see Bregman at DH when Rasmus starts in LF [i.e. only vs. righties]. For 2017, with Rasmus gone, I see T. White being the DH against lefties and Kemp being the DH against righties.

    The catching corps looks set with Castro and Gattis. The bullpen looks solid. Starting pitching is the real question mark for me – both for 2016 and 2017.

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    • I don’t think the Astros intend to give Kemp any starting job. He will have to hit .300 to have a high OBP consistently in the majors, they just throw more strikes here, especially to hitters with no power. I love the guy, I think he should get a chance, but I don’t think the computer driven front office sees the numbers in the right place for them to make him their left fielder. If second base was open, maybe, LF, I think they are looking for a different kind of guy.

      Which brings us to Tucker. I think Tucker is the kind of hitter they are looking for. He will be nearly 27 by opening day next year, so he is the far end of the prospect scale – it needs to be now or never. I personally think that the Astros FO didn’t expect Rasmus to take the QO and Tucker was the plan, and when that happened he went to part time status and struggled because of it. I’m not convinced he is my LF’er that I want, but he does appear to be the best in house option (at least to me), unless Bregman ends up out there. The key is that it isn’t about one guy, we have a competition.

      I’m not entertaining any plan that anoints Hernandez my RF’er. His minor league career is as consistent as my wife’s driving. I’m going outside the organization to fix my RF/CF issue. Trade, FA, something. If Hernandez shows up and takes the job from that guy, it will be a good problem to have. If you just give him the job and he is hitting .210 in June, well, you have no other plan.

      Does anyone think, knowing he is a good athlete with a good arm, the Astros have considered Bregman for RF as well? They seem stuck on the Springer in RF solution, but CF is a lot harder to solve via FA or trade than LF or RF. It would be hard for me to imagine that Bregman could play CF in MMP with no experience at the position.

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  7. Just saw a blip that said the Rangers put Shoo and Fielder on the DL and Fielder may be out for the season with a herniated disk.

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    • That’s probably a blessing in disguise for Texas. It removes Fielders abysmal bat from the lineup and allows the Rangers to play Profar at 1B everyday and Moreland at DH. I wish Fielder was healthy. 🙂

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      • He’s been bad against the Angels, the As and the Mariners. But he has hit us well this year, as well as the Yanks, Red Sox and White Sox.
        It seems he hits well against teams he gets up for and we’re one of those. Personally, I’m glad he’s out, especially when Sipp is the only lefty we have to bring in to face him late. OMG, Sipp has been hit so hard this year.

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    • thats how much salary on the DL for these two? again i will say no gargantuan long term contracts for players already in their 30’s. too injury prone, too much performance slip over time. we’ll see if yuli (our new cuban player) makes us regret his contract in a few years.

      Liked by 1 person

      • I’m not trying to be argumentative, but 5/47 is not huge money in this day and time, especially if some of that is signing bonus to a sought-after free agent, who has made $50 a game for most of his career. He may not be Carlos Lee but Lee got paid more than twice as much in 2007 dollars as we paid for Yuli in 2016 dollars. Yuli is also in shape and can play infield and outfield.

        Liked by 1 person

      • OP is dead on. That contract for Yuri is very reasonable, especially considering it is front loaded. Less than $10M/year in this market is a good deal.

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      • i happen to agree that this is one we wont regret. its not that rich, he has less wear & tear and is in shape, he is ‘hungry’ and by all accounts ive seen has great work ethic and personal character and will be 37 the last year of the contract. i can deal with that. the two for the rangers however are bad deals.

        Liked by 1 person

  8. I don’t know if there are premium ticket prices in effect for the Yankee’s series(like the Astros normally do), but a Monday through Wednesday night series against New York, might be the perfect time to spring Bregman on the world and sell extra tickets and wring every dollar out of your fans(like the Astros normally do).
    I’m just sayin’.

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  9. It’s kinda like waiting for that package you’ve been waiting for to be delivered………….
    Come on already!! I’m almost as excited to see Bregman, as I was to see Correa!

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  10. I think that when Bregman gets here, he will not be used as a DH and will not be used all over the field. I see him at third or in left. If he proves not to be a liability in left, I think that’s where he’ll spend most of his time this year.

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      • He had two chances. He played five innings in LF and moved to SS. At least, that’s what I remember when I checked that out this morning. I looked for a comment about him on their website, but never will the writeup say anything about a player making a mistake. The writeup mentioned that the Grizzlies came from behind late in the game, but never made mention of who the pitcher was for Fresno who gave up all the runs early(Valdez). So, any comments on bad fielding by Bregman would have to come from an outside source.

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    • With that arm, that head, those legs and that batI would put Bregman in LF for as long as he is needed there and would love it!
      But, if we don’t have a third baseman who could play good defense with our shifts lined up for 2017 I would play him there.
      Personally, I would llike Bregman at third, Correa at short, Altuve at 2B, Valbuena/Marwin at 1B, Springer in RF, Rasmus/ Gomez in CF, Eaton in LF, Castro/Gattis at C and Gurriel at DH for the stretch run and playoffs this year.
      But that’s just me.

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      • Throw something out there. Would Moran, Teoscar, Hauschild do it?
        Would Moran, Kemp, Gustave do it?
        Would Paulino, Moran, Sierra do it?

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      • Let me add that Eaton is exactly the kind of player Luhnow would pursue. He’s on a reasonable contract, plays gold glove defense in the OF, rarely strikes out and gets on base.

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      • Tim, that’s why I threw his name in there. White Sox have the lowest BA of any team in baseball at 3B(So, Moran?). They have Lawrie at 2B(So, Kemp?). They have Rollins at SS(Sierra?). If CWS need a replacement in the OF for Eaton(So,Teoscar?) I thought I covered their wants/needs with a three player package at league minimums, so that they can still pursue some free agents with the money they save on Eaton. Eaton’s contract negates the need for Teoscar, Bregman/Guriel negates our need for Moran and we have 3 SSs ranked 13th, 14th and 15th in our top 30, so we could afford to trade one of them(We also signed 4 SSs this July 2nd who are 16-17 years old).

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  11. Bregman, Correa, Altuve, Valbuena/ Marwin? We would not only have the BEST outfield in MLB…..we would also have the BEST infield in MLB!! That would be SOOO awesome!!!

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      • If you can bring in Eaton, OP1, great! You could also figure on trading PTuck [about the same age, also LH] and Kemp as well, for pitching – as we would have no use for any more left-handed hitting outfielders. So, out of curiosity, is a gentleman named Chris Sale coming with Adam?

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      • Umm, I don’t think so, Mr. Bill. I think our stud pitcher will have to come when all those great pitchers hit free agency after 2017 is over. The Astros will be drafting 30th in June, 2018 so they could give up their first round pick to sign a star pitcher in free agency, if there are still compensations in place.

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  12. Any interest in a left handed reliever, who has a .163 BA / .196 OBP/ .451 OPS against lefties, is 30 y.o., is only making $1.25 million this season and according to mlbtraderumors may be available?
    Oh we also wanted him out of here bad a few years ago. In fact we wanted him out abad a few years ago.
    Fernando Abad

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  13. Joe Musgrove was interviewed today and mentioned he had been focusing on throwing more curves, especially first-pitch curves, so that he would have the confidence to throw that pitch anytime, at any count for a strike.
    Throwing that curve more often to improve it might explain why he has been touched for more hits in AAA than in previous stints, because his curve has always trailed his fastball in his scouting reports.
    It’s one of the reasons why I trust Ks and BBs and GO/AO percentages when looking at a pitching prospect. Sometimes BA doesn’t tell you much, especially when a guy who has pinpoint control on his moving fastball isn’t throwing many fastballs.

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  14. The orioles top pitching prospect, Hunter Harvey needs TJ Surgery. Remember Dylan Bundy? The Orioles have had some bad luck on the pitching front.

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  15. Alex Bregman led off the game against Round Rock with a walk but was erased on a Tyler White DP ball.
    Tommy Shirley walked the first three batters he faced in the bottom of the first but struck out the cleanup hitter and then got Ruggiano to hit into a DP.
    No score in the second.

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  16. Tucker has been on fire in Fresno, and the fact that Gattis has a sore wrist they need a DH. I’m sure Bregman was disappointed but he has some work to do in the outfield to feel comfortable..PLUS…..more time at 3rd. Bregman will get his shot at the big club soon, just not now. Now….if Tucker all of a sudden forgets how to hit that little white ball, like the other guys did when they got called up…..it’s not the player, it’s the coaching. The Angels embarrassed the other team in texas this week let’s not throw Uncle Albert any cookies, since he’s been on a homerun jag, and he absolutely *LOVES* hitting in Minute Maid.

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    • I don’t think it’s a case of Tucker forgetting how to hit. Issue is…on the MLB club many of the guys try to pull everything, and stand further off the plate than they have in the past, to take advantage of the short LF fence. It seems to happen to a lot of people, even before Hudgens (heck, it happened to Biggio too). But yeah, it is a Hudgens trademark, and the ones who are successful are the ones who don’t listen to him, like Altuve.

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      • In the case of Tucker I think it is as simple as MLB pitchers know to throw it up and in. He can’t catch up to the high strikes. We saw this with Brett Wallace too. They pounded him up and in with hard stuff and threw breaking stuff in the dirt. He couldn’t get comfortable and just started guessing, I think.

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  17. What I don’t understand is how the bloggers or anyone can anoint this newly acquired Cuban as a starting infielder in front of Bregman. I never even heard of the guy 2 weeks ago. I certainly have not seen him play or followed his progress. Have any of you before 2 weeks ago ? Bregman is a ss by trade. Shortstops can easily transition to 3rd if need be….. Which is where I would move Correa with his big arm.
    This team needs a good left handed reliever and another outfielder that can hit.
    The Stros have pretty good trade bait to make that happen. They should do it . They will have addressed the glaring issues and then They can go win the pennant.

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    • TNT…..I’m pretty sure Luhnow is trying to get a trade or two done, but pickings are pretty slim. As far as Yuri is concerned, non of us know how long the scouts have been looking at him, but the crown jewel is his little brother Lourdes who is 22yrs old.
      I assume they saw enough of him to offer him some big money.

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    • Until Gurriel defected with his brother this year, there was no use whatsoever talking about him or even thinking about him. The first time I ever heard him mentioned was when MLBTR talked about his defection and the fact he was an MLB caliber player. He was immediately linked to the normal wealthy clubs and to Houston. Then I heard Luhnow say the Astros had done their due diligence in scouting him and less than a week later he is sitting at a tryout wearing an Astros cap on social media. Boom!
      After he gets a five year deal with Houston, you hear not a peep about his brother from anyone. Boom. I think he wants his much younger brother close by.

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  18. I noted earlier this week that I have no idea what our front office is thinking. I recollect Dan said something similar. We really have a big problem playing against lefty pitching. With Worth, Marisnick, Gomez and even with Correa having dismal stats against lefties, I just don’t understand bring up Tucker, who has had his own significant issues hitting left handed pitching. He’s also a defensive liability and he’s certainly not a pinch runner. It’s another head scratcher for me.

    Liked by 1 person

    • My recollection is that Tucker handled lefties well in milb but rode the pine against them for the Astros. He can’t be (much) worse than what we have seen…may as well give him a shot.

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      • PTuck has paid his dues. And at his age, it’s pretty much now or never. I applaud the FO for giving him this opportunity. Son, you’ve hit the ball hard, far, and often all your life. Now is the time to do it consistently on the big stage. Good luck, Bam Bam. Make it impossible for them to send you back down.

        Liked by 1 person

  19. Well, I think I understand the move. We had a left handed bat on the bench in Reed who isn’t ready, wasn’t hitting and was so frustrated with himself that he wasn’t helping the club. After his last strikeout he slammed down his bat and threw his helmet , as the umpire behind the plate stared at him and the pitcher and catcher were gone from the scene. That’s when I knew he was going to be optioned back to AAA and I said so in a post here.
    Tucker has been brought up to offer an option of a LH DH and a left handed bat off of the bench which we didn’t have. That’s it.
    When it’s Bregman’s turn, Worth will probably go or somebody will have been traded. Right now, Worth is the RH guy on the bench.

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  20. I was just staring at the Astros roster yesterday and it suddenly hit me. Yes, Jose Altuve is one of the best players in all of baseball and has been here through all the tough times, and has tons of awards and the resume of a guy who has been around through a lot of stuff. But I am staring at the dates of births and realize, again, that this marvel of a player is younger than George Springer. All the while we have waited for Springer to show up and play like we all hoped he would, and here’s Altuve, right here shining, and he is the younger player.
    We are so lucky to have Jose Altuve.

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  21. Bringing up minor league players and expecting them to be the missing piece that completes the puzzle before they have half a season of constant playing time (and by constant, I mean not participating in lefty/righty match ups) is an unrealistic expectation in my opinion and ruins a lot of prospects. The difference between major league pitching and AAA pitching is yuge….patience to allow the adjustment to occur is essential. Not playing a LH hitter against a LHP when they come up dampens confidence at a time when they are hungriest to do well. Players called up need to play every day if you ever intend for them to be an every day player.

    So, I am not expecting Bregman to come up and be the savior this year. And I think bringing up a rookie in the middle of a pennant race can do more damage to their development if expectations are too high. I still don’t understand why Reed was brought up when he was. It seems like it was a panic move because White was slumping. I knew he was going down when I saw him slam down his helmet after that AB too, OP.

    So, barring a trade for somebody like Adam Eaton, I think for the rest of this season, the team is what it is. IF our pitching holds up, I am becoming cautiously optimistic that our inconsistent hitting along with the black holes in the bottom half of the lineup can overtake the ailing Rangers unless Jon Daniels pulls a rabbit or two out of his hat. I would really like to see JL get us an effective lefty reliever. I would like a starting pitcher, but there just don’t seem to be any available at a reasonable cost.

    Liked by 1 person

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