Max ScherzerAs the calendar turns into January, the hot stove typically cools until pitchers and catchers report in February. Although in recent years, including this one, a high-profile Scott Boras client has remained unsigned and figures to be a talking point for the next couple weeks. James Shields is also available, but Max Scherzer is the big fish that has yet to find a home.

The Detroit Tigers and New York Yankees are the most discussed landing spots for Scherzer, and one can’t count out the Boston Red Sox or Los Angeles Dodgers. Any of those four clubs, as well as the San Francisco Giants, could be potential fits for Shields too. One team that hasn’t been connected to either of the aces, for a myriad of sensible reasons, is the Seattle Mariners.

A rotation topped with Felix Hernandez doesn’t require the addition of a true No. 1 in the same way the rotation of the Red Sox or Toronto Blue Jays do. Hisashi Iwakuma in the No. 2 slot gives the club one of the best one-two punches in the game. If James Paxton and Taijuan Walker are able to pitch up to their top-of-the-rotation stuff, the M’s could easily have the best rotation in the American League.

For a team that’s already boosted payroll beyond $110 million for the upcoming season, including a pair of players earning north of $24 million annually, spending big on a starter doesn’t make much sense. The addition of Nelson Cruz already marks a significant expenditure this winter.

Realistically, if there’s a sizeable hole on this ball club it’s that the lineup could use one more significant addition, not the rotation.

That’s probably why we haven’t seen the Mariners involved with Scherzer and Shields or Jon Lester before he signed with the Chicago Cubs. The need for frontline pitching really isn’t there. However the goal for the M’s this winter was to improve the roster. Arguably that can be done at any position not held by Felix, Robinson Cano, or Kyle Seager.

And the M’s have the resources to do so.

I don’t want to suggest investing heavily in Scherzer or Shields is the right thing for Seattle to do right now. Safeco Field could set Happ up for a career year, Paxton was excellent when healthy last season, and Elias has another season of professional ball under his belt. Walker is a bit more of a wild card given his struggles last year with injury and effectiveness but showed flashes of brilliance at the end of the season.

There’s strength in the rotation with some significant upside. Even if Elias shows some signs of regression, perhaps this is the year Walker puts it all together.

This is more an exercise to show that the Mariners do have the financial flexibility to make another big move, should they choose to. Acquiring another starter over the next calendar year may become necessity given the uncertainty that will eventually come. The following is a glance at the contract situations for the Mariners starting pitchers.

Mariners SP Salaries

Salaries for pre-arbitration players typically fall between $500,000 and $600,000 but I was purposely generous with the amounts — $500,000 for first year, $600,000 for second, and $700,000 for third. It’s also not exactly clear how much cash the Blue Jays will be including to complete the Michael Saunders trade. Reportedly it will amount to the difference between Happ and Saunders’ salary. The outfielder is arbitration-eligible and is projected to earn around $4 million in 2015.

The part that stands out most in that chart is the $13.7 million set to come off the books with the impending free agency of Iwakuma and Happ. It’s too early to speculate on Iwakuma’s future with the club. He is an extension candidate but there have been no reported talks this winter. Same goes for Happ, though the former seems to be the one more likely to be extended of the two.

For example’s sake, let’s assume that the two will depart as free agents. Another $7 million will be taken off the books as closer Fernando Rodney’s contract will expire after the 2015 season as well. That’s approximately $20 million that will be freed up on the pitching side of things alone.

Shields figures to command an annual salary around the $20 million mark for his next deal and Scherzer is aiming to top the $25 million Lester will earn over the course of his new deal. Seattle could add a $25 million salary to the books in 2016 given the payroll that figures to be shed. Add in the influx of television money and holding three and eventually four salaries — remember the Seager extension — in the $20 million range in 2017 and beyond is feasible.

As it has been noted before, the incoming television money is significant. A future payroll in the $150 million range is palpable. Whether or not ownership is willing to earmark that much to player salary remains to be seen, however. The one thing we do know is that these financial resources will be used in some capacity or another; for example, significant upgrades to the Spring Training facility in Peoria.

[pullquote]Earlier in the winter, Prospect Insider profiled the pair of free agent starters. Scherzer’s profile can be seen here, and Shields’ here.[/pullquote]

The problem with adding one of these starters may be in the present. Payroll is already set to increase for the upcoming season and it’s unclear exactly how much more ownership is open to spending. The club was willing to pay Melky Cabrera $14 million or so in each of the next three seasons, but that was before acquiring Seth Smith. The left-hander will earn $6 million in 2015.

Justin Ruggiano, previously acquired from the Cubs, is projected to earn between $2 and 3 million through arbitration as well. Between the two outfielder most of the Cabrera money has already been eaten up.

GM Jack Zduriencik has gone on record saying that ownership is willing to give the green light to the right payroll-adding transaction. But adding another $20 million to the 2015 payroll doesn’t seem likely. Of course the club could backload a deal to make the cost palatable in the short-term, but there’s no evidence to suggest Shields or Scherzer are willing to do that right now.

Ken Rosenthal of FOX Sports reports that Shields may in fact have a five-year contract worth more than $100 million in hand right now and is seeking a higher guarantee. If the dollars get crazy like that then obviously the M’s would be wiser to abstain. Just because there is money to spend doesn’t mean that it should be spent haphazardly. Zduriencik and company obviously have some sort of plan in place, and Shields isn’t the type of pitcher worth blowing it up for.

Prospect Insider’s Jason A. Churchill and Alex Carson addressed the Mariners payroll situation and potential interest in Shields and Scherzer on this past week’s edition of The Hot Stove Report. The conclusion drawn was that a fit between the two sides is unlikely at this point in time. Adding significant payroll also doesn’t appear imminent given the sizeable increase from Opening Day 2014.

Right now the bulk of what will be the 2015 Seattle Mariners roster appears to be in place. The addition of a back-up catcher and some pitching depth are the most likely tasks to be perpetrated over the coming weeks.

The Mariners aren’t likely to make another big splash this winter, but at least it’s nice to know that they could if they wanted to.

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    Smith is not going to learn firstbase regardless of what was discussed with the Padres. Further, Ryan Howard is owed $30M for 2yrs and had a OPS+ of 93 with a -1.1 WAR last year. I wouldn’t want him for free much less giving up anything for him. Just my thoughts anyway.

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    MLB network had Smith on before he was traded and there was mention of him maybe learning 1B to increase his role with the Padres. Being at the time he was one of the few LHB the Friers had. Moving a player to learn 1B when they become a bit slower or are not known as a top end defender in the OF is not un heard of. And one that would make a lot of sense given the M’s only have Morrison right now.

    As to Howard, I am on the fence for him being a split guy with Morrison. Rather have Smith learn the new position.

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    As the roster stands, I think the Mariners will be a pretty good team in 2015. One reason I’d love to see them add Shields or Scherzer is that after Felix and Iwakuma, the M’s look like they are counting on “potential” to fill much of the rest of the rotation. Granted, Walker and Paxton have pretty high ceilings, and Elias showed us good things last year. And yes, Erasmo looks good this winter and Happ added some velocity last season, so those two have potential to be better pitchers in 2015 as well. Can a few of those guys take their games up a notch when it comes to durability and quality?

    Then again, thinking about it some more and looking at it from the payroll standpoint, any extra money could be very good to have if they want to make a deal for a good player at the trade deadline. And what they are entering the season with now is pretty good, even with no further moves.

    Are there more big question marks in the rotation, or in the lineup? Yeah, probably in the lineup. And as Maq said in the first comment of the thread, they probably do need to find out more about what their staff is made of before dealing for more pitching. I guess if they end up ever having to go to a Plan B, I want it to be as much of a “quality” Plan B as possible.

    40 days until pitchers and catchers report.

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    I guess that came off sounding that I dont value super utility players that high but I didnt mean it to come off that way. I personally dont value Taylor as high as Miller. I dont think that Taylor currently is good enough to beat Miller for SS this spring. Once that happens or Marte or a trade comes along I want Miller focusing on improving at SS and his hitting than learning 4+ different position and still trying to learn to hit. If you scale Millers last two seasons he was better defensively in 2013 than in 14 and I think his hitting woes were affecting his defense in 14. He can play 2nd and has some innings at 3rd so he already is part way to being a “utility” player. I just feel at this moment we dont have a need for him to become that super utility type, in regards to not having a solid SS to replace him.

    While there is extreme value in a player becoming a super utility type player ala Maclemore or a Zobrist they filled that role because the teams they played for needed a player in that role. As of right now (knocking on wood) we have pretty much all positions except SS filled except backup/bench players. If Taylor does win that SS job by all means start making that transition to a super utility for Miller but as we stand Miller is the better SS on the roster he just has to prove last year was a hiccup on what has been a solid young professional career. I want us to have too many starting SS as that would give us depth at a position of value for once that could land us something good. I stand for what I said before about not needing miller in that role (which is not worthless by any stretch) but the other options currently at SS are lesser players in my opinion. I would gladly except being wrong in my opinion but its the way I see it. As I wrote above I feel that Millers offensive woes made his defense suffer and if he is learning to play multiple positions that is all the more pressure he is under to produce more on offense. I truly want to be wrong in this but I dont see him playing full time as a super utility actually helping the M’s currently. I think he needs to establish his bat first.

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    I would love to see the m’s aquire allen craig, I think it would really balance the roster and give us a lot of depth



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    Speaking of bench guys, the M’s would be wise to pick up a few AAAA 1B/DH types who can hit. Someone who could fake it a bit in the OF would be ideal. We are paper thin there.

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    “I dont want Miller to be turned into a super utility until that is warranted. I want that to be forced which is to say there is a better player for SS than him.”

    Again, I think the thing we disagree upon is the value of a super utility guy. I don’t think this is a role that should be a last resort type of thing, and thus warranting him getting pushed off the position. I think that guys like Zobrist are a lot more rare – and potentially valuable – than someone who can be a solid average starting SS. That’s what I think Taylor could be.

    With PED’s, I think people tend to focus way to much of steroids. But a TON of players were taking amphetamines, which don’t really improve performance but instead make players more able to get through a grueling 162 game season.

    If you look at the M’s stats in September, all of our best hitters put up bad numbers:
    Cano: .731 OPS
    Seager: .690
    Zunino: .620
    Taylor: .574
    Ackley: .504
    Jackson: .424

    What do those guys have in common: they all played a lot.

    The guys who did better:
    Morrison: 1.024
    Saunders: .952 (why the fuck did we trade him again???)
    Miller: .889

    What do those latter three guys have in common: they were coming off stretches of not playing very often, and were probably more fresh.

    Now that things have changed a bit with the ban on amphetamines, I think it would be really smart to build deeper rosters and give guys more time off. The focus on the ‘everyday player’ is likely something that teams will start to rethink soon, and having a deeper club that allows you to sub players out often, and keep them fresh. I really think a deep bench could be the new market inefficiency.

    We missed the playoffs last year by one game. If we had gotten typical numbers from Cano, Seager, Jackson, etc., thinks might have been much different.

    That’s why I think someone like Miller – or Zobrist (who could probably be picked up via trade now, and will be available next offseason) or MacClemore – could really help the club. Miller could be one of those rare guys who can be an above average player at multiple positions.

    I’m not talking about making him a part-time player. But a player who gets 600+ PAs at CF, LF, SS, 3B, and 2B. I don’t think anyone else on the team can do that. Its a unique skill set.

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    Very true jerry that is a great point but I dont want Miller to be turned into a super utility until that is warranted. I want that to be forced which is to say there is a better player for SS than him. Right now Miller is at least average defensively if not better (I know the errors but still) and his offense is already better than most SS anyway. Taylor to me reminds me of Ryan to be honest. I think he will hit better than Ryan did but isnt quite as good defensively so they even out in my book. Having said defense is extremely important but you cant win games -1 to 0 so I feel that offense holds more value. That is not to say I disregard defense I value it very highly except I will sacrifice a little of it for more offense if the all is equal.

    I guess what I’m trying to say is if Miller were to be turned into a Super Utility type (which you are right are not many) it wouldnt be that bad but if he were I would hope they have a strong SS to replace him and a need for him to become one in the first place. Taylor to me atm has to prove he can sustain his hitting ability at the show because they were helped by a unsustainable BABIP rate last year. Ofcourse all this could be moot if Marte takes over anyway lol.

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    I think the reason why the M’s are potentially considering using Miller as a super utility is because he could do it, and be valuable in that role. Its not necessarily because Taylor is a better player. One of those guys will hopefully turn into a consistently solid ML shortstop. But in a perfect world, both guys end up being reliable starters. While I agree that Miller has more offensive upside (and definitely more power), he isn’t quite as good as Taylor defensively. But that fact that Miller apparently is a natural in the OF could make him a really valuable guy: an everyday player who can play multiple defensive positions.

    There aren’t a lot of legit super utility guys around anymore. It seems like there is a negative connotation to players who don’t have a set position, but defensive versatility is a huge advantage. I’ve always thought that bias was strange. Guys like Zobrist – a good hitter who can play multiple positions well – are great guys to have on the team. We used to have that guy in Mark MacLemore, and Figgins should have been that guy.

    If Miller can turn into a that type of player, and Taylor is best at SS, that’s great. Miller is a guy who could potentially play all OF and all infield positions except 1B and C. The M’s could get him 600 PAs each year as an everyday guy who just moves around. That would be awesome.

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    I took offense since you said what you did right after my post regarding something I wrote. So yeah that was a bit harsh. I never said he should learn it or we should move him there at any point. Again my original point was how far I would have gone until I would consider Howard on this team. The last remaining option I considered was teaching Smith 1b for a temporary fix until a 1b was brought in but that was after 3 other options I wrote about.

    I have never brought it up before as I dont post as much as used to here, but as far as why I think people bring it up is it could be a possibility down the road for smith. Big body 6′ 3″, doesnt dominate on defense in the OF, has a bat that could play the position. Again not ideal by any stretch. I wouldnt want him as my 1b but if worst came to worse there are worst options. I mean really WFB prime example. Having said that though I get the annoyance of it getting brought up as he has never played that in the pro’s and others now more about his ability then I do for sure. I could be completely wrong in that assessment of him being able to play 1b even for emergency situations. I will gladly accept it if Im wrong.

    The person I heard get moved around or turn into something other than he is was Miller. While I believe he should be our starting SS a ton of people think he should be a super utility ala Zobrist or even a CFer which I dont understand until he doesnt have a position to play. Taylor was helped by an unsustainable BABIP last year that kept him in good favor. Could he hit in the majors? Yes I believe he can and his defense plays the part right now but there is much more upside with Miller and after the second half he really was playing good. The only problem Taylor was playing well also.

    Glad we could clear that up Kaehlaone

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    “Seth Smith learning to play 1b?”

    I am looking forward to ST when we have a chance to see the defensive range of our new outfielders: Ruggiano, Cruz and Smith. W.A.R. is becoming sacred one-numeric assessment tool despite seeing wide swings in UZR from year to year (a variation that one seldom sees in offensive stats). In other words, the defensive metrics continue to be suspect.

    Bottom line is that, with the amount of money invested in Nelson Cruz indicating that he will be an everyday presence for the M’s, if his defensive range is rapidly shrinking, then it might behoove both Nelson and the M’s to begin transitioning him to playing Firstbase as the better alternative to RF when he is not DHing. Cruz was serious, one would think, when he said that just DHing is boring. Who will be LoMo’s backup should he struggle or get hurt? (Jesus Montero?? Bloomquist??).

    Smith is not being paid so much that there will be front office pressure to play him everyday (specifically, against lefties). Again, it will be nice to see with our own eyes how well he can handle Rightfield and/or Leftfield if Ackley falters. It will also be interesting to see if Ruggliano shows enough range to spell Austin Jackson in CF.

    Nelson Cruz learning First Base to complement his DHing makes sense moving forward on his four year age 35, 36, 37, 38 contracted seasons. We don’t want him bored.

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    Perhaps you should go back to the other threads and see that this has been suggested on every one of them since we acquired him. All I’m saying is let’s drop the turn a 32yr old outfielder into a firstbaseman…if you take offense to that I don’t know what to tell you as I clearly did not refer to your post at all…it was a general post.

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    Rickie Weeks has always been a good hitter? Umm no. He’s had two good years in a very average career. I’ll pass.

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    Of the list of less than ideal 1b options I would have over Howard the last one I even mentioned you have a problem with is Seth Smith learning to play 1b? He is not known for his defense in the OF. Yes he can play the corners but he is not above average out there. I was using as an example of how far I would go before even considering having Howard take a roster spot. Man please stop nit picking at everyone’s posts. Take a look at the context before replying.

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    One possible addition that could be brilliant:

    Sign Rickie Weeks, and get him to be a super utility guy.

    He sucks at 2B, but he could probably be a decent sub at 1B, 2B, and 3B, plus play the OF a bit and DH. Who knows if he’d be interested. But he’s always been a good hitter, and could help us with our biggest need: depth at DH, 1B, and corner OF. Jack drafted him, so perhaps he might know a bit about him.

    Just a thought.

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    Pitching is the one area where we do have some depth. I agree with those that say Shields and Scherzer don’t make much sense, as it would be a much better idea to spend that cash next offseason (or perhaps midseason) on a position player. I don’t really like huge contracts for pitchers in general, although Felix is one of the few exceptions.

    I had hoped that the M’s would look to add a good #2-3 type. Brandon McCarthy would have been a good fit. Or a high-risk, high-reward type like Brett Anderson or Justin Masterson.

    As it stands, the M’s just need to add a few interesting NRIs. We’ve already got six legit starters in Felix, Iwakuma, Paxton, Walker, Happ, and Elias. Ramirez is better than he’s performed, and provides some depth. Add a few Chris Young types, and hope for the best. Save the $$$ for Justin Upton.

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    Where do things like Seth Smith can learn 1B come from? There’s a reason he’s been an outfielder his entire career..this isn’t beer league softball.

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    Nope I would not. All he would be here is a spot on the 25 man roster that can only pinch hit and be a backup to 1b. Why waste a spot on the roster for such a limited player when we have a DH (Cruz) and a 1b (lomo) already? He was good but the injuries have taken their toll on him. I wouldn’t give up anything for him at this point in his career regardless how much money they throw in.

    Yes we need a backup 1b but its not all that important to have since we have less than ideal options already. Ackley played 1b in college after his arm injury, WFB can field 1b and we all know what his hitting ability is, Cruz in a pinch might be used there possibly, Seth Smith could learn it. We have people who can cover it. Not ideal but doable for temporary amount of time.

    My .02 cents

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    So, reports are that Ryan Howard has a no trade clause to all but nine teams. Seattle is one of the teams he would accept a trade to. Would you pick him up if Philly ate most of the contract?

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    Would love to dump $25-26m on Scherzer, but we have better options for a LOT less that could be had. The Nats Zimmerman is about $15m. They are not getting Walker for a 1yr rental, but if the Nats allowed a 72 hr window for an extension I could see Z pulling it off, and Zimmerman is one that seems content on getting an extension done ‘if’ it’s a reasonable amount. If Z could somehow land a Zimmerman/Scherzer quality pitcher I will be pretty excited at this point.

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    The rotation is never really a sure thing. After Felix, who is pretty much a sure thing, there is Iwakuma who as Kahelaone noted, didn’t pitch well at the end of the season. After that, there is no guarantee Happ will flourish at Safeco, that Paxton or Elias can put together a whole season of their best stuff, or that Walker is ready for a full-time job in the majors. Given the possibility of injuries (heaven forbid), even Feliz is not a sure bet… and you can never have enough pitching.

    Given all of that, I would have no problem whatsoever with the Mariners taking on a big-dollars contract for a starting pitcher, especially one like Scherzer, and possibly one like Shields. Of course it’s not my money to spend, and it’s very possible that any available money could well be spent on whatever the team needs by the trade deadline.

    But with offensive upgrades (at least on paper) in RF (Ruggiano/Smith should be able to get on base at a nice clip near the top of the order) and at DH (Cruz should be able to help Cano and Seager with driving in runs), the team should score more runs in 2015. I think that is fairly bankable, so I’m all for bringing in a guy like Scherzer or Shields now, rather than waiting to upgrade the team later. Even if it isn’t for hitting, adding either of those SPs upgrades the team.

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    I wouldn’t mind adding a true top end pitcher this season but I wouldn’t think Shields would be worth $20M per year. I would rather see a reasonable trade for a one year rental guy like Zimmerman or Cueto frankly. Again, I wouldn’t move any of our top young players so it would be tough to do. To be frank, my biggest concern this offseason is that Iwakuma regresses to how he looked the last month plus of the season and in Japan. If you could add a guy to slot #2 and could start the year with Walker/Elias in AAA would be great.

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    We do have a basic outline on what the M’s do plan on spending. Based on increased revenue and contracts that have been offered but not signed. Such as M. Cabrera subtracting what they have added via trade. The M’s have about 12-15 mill on the low end. And you think what is going off the books next season. They could add a pitcher like Price. I think the M’s would be most likely to do a big pitcher signing next season. Zimmerman would be a great huge add next season.

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    I see Jack possibly taking on payroll at the trade deadline through a trade. The big splashy signing will likely happen NEXT OFFSEASON when they sign a big name free agent outfielder. I agree with you though, that Jack has some flexibility, which is always a good thing…

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    Signing a pitcher to these mega-contracts is a sizable risk. Both Shields and Scherzer are on the wrong side of 30 (sadly, so am I). While we might be able to take on the salary, I would be somewhat shocked at the M’s taking on that kind of risk, unless it is a shorter deal. Something like 2-3 years for Shields or 3-5 years for Scherzer. Get them in that range of years for even at the $20M/yr (Shields) or $25M/yr (Scherzer) and I would like the deal. Put Paxton, Elias or Walker back in AAA and push back the clock until next year.

    All this is assuming we do not sign Iwakuma again.

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    Nobody outside of the FO knows what the team’s financial resources are currently or looking forward. We know that their income from the national and regional media rights sales will increase over the length of the contract periods. We don’t know what they have or will receive from MLB shared revenues, season and single ticket sales, stadium revenue, advertising sales or other revenue sources. Lincoln stated that their 71% ownership interest in ROOT NW would enable them to compete financially with the Angels and Rangers. He however did not say when that income would be received or what the figures would be. Given GMZ and Mather statements about this off-season’s spending on payroll it would seem there is still some room for minor deals throughout this coming season. I can’t see any reasonable motivation to add a nine figure contract for a top end rotation arm at this point. They need to define K-Pax and Walker more definitively and find out what Kuma has left in his tank and if Happ can contribute before making any major investment in their rotation.

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