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Geoff Baker covers the Mariners for The Seattle Times. He provides daily coverage of the team throughout spring training, and during the season.

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March 30, 2008 2:25 PM

Workout day

Posted by Geoff Baker

workout 006.jpg

A look at broadcaster Dave Sims watching this afternoon's workout, still going on at Safeco Field. The final roster has been set with the placing of pitcher Anderson Garcia on the 15-day disabled list. Garcia hasn't pitched in eons, given the biceps tendinitis in his throwing arm, so that move is hardly a shock. Unlike the past few springs, the Mariners opted not to make a last-minute player importation from elsewhere. The M's have become famous for such last-minute additions. Thing is, though, they've rarely worked out. So, to make one this time for the sake of making one would have been foolish. I liked the idea of bringing in Reed Johnson, but so did the Chicago Cubs. Once Johnson was off the radar, there wasn't much out there better than what Seattle already has.

The bench moves yesterday caused quite a surprise amongst many observers. Count me in on that front. I wrote this week that there's no point trying to always be right about things and I was obviously wrong on some of the bench speculation. So, as I wrote last week, the thing to do next is to figure out why. In that spirit, I've spent the past 24 hours trying to figure out why the M's would go with only an 11-man pitching staff given their bullpen woes.

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What I've come up with is, they obviously get to avoid making any hard decisions on losing someone because they now get to keep everybody. So, that's the good news.

They don't have to risk losing Cha Seung Baek on waivers. They can also now use Mike Morse as a platooning regular with Brad Wilkerson and still have Charlton Jimerson (pictured above with Ichiro's interpreter, Ken Baron) as a backup outfielder who plays all three spots. And if they opt to start Jimerson, they can still have two pinch runners late and not have to worry about burning one.

That's the upside as I see it.

The downside is that the team appears to be using three roster spots to satisfy the skillset that one backup player often brings to a team. Jimerson, Willie Bloomquist and Miguel Cairo are three players whose main asset appears to be pinch-running ability. It's definitely not their bats. So, with those three guys on the team, I now expect to see the M's attempting to run their opponents out of the building late. Thing is, the M's have to get guys on base first.

I don't know about this decision. If the team was going to keep an extra position player, I'd rather it be a guy like Greg Norton, who could bring some serious pinch-hitting ability to the table. Pinch-hit for who, you ask? How about some of the lefty bats that get dominated by southpaw relievers? You know who they are. I know some of you have bemoaned the lack of a lefty bat off the bench as well. For me, the splits of some of the Seattle regulars are more worrisome batting from the left side of the plate. The team has addressed some of that by the Morse-Wilkerson platoon.

But if it were me, I would have avoided that debate altogether by going with 12 pitchers in the first place. A dozen arms is becoming the AL norm even for healthy staffs. But the M's have some serious question marks in their bullpen. Their two hard-throwing righties, outside of J.J. Putz, are Sean Green -- dominated by lefty hitters last season -- and Mark Lowe (pictured below walking behind Eric O'Flaherty), a guy who hasn't pitched in the majors since August 2006. Throw in the fact Miguel Batista has battled a bad back all spring, not to mention the struggles some of the starters had in Arizona, and there are a lot of little things that could go wrong for this team in April.

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I'd feel a lot more comfortable with R.A. Dickey's arm in that bullpen. I believe the insurance it brings far outwieghs the need to have three speed clones on the bench.

The Mariners were high on the idea of going with only 11 pitchers when camp opened. They assumed, probably correctly, that the durability of their starting five would enable them to pick up six or seven innings a night right off the bat. Manager John McLaren is big on letting his starters finish what they start and is willing to ride out a bad inning or two to see them get those seven frames.

So, I could understand the rationale back on Feb. 15. But this is now March 30 and things have changed. The bullpen is probably not as solid as it would have been with Brandon Morrow. Nobody knows how durable Lowe will be until he shows he's back under regular season conditions. The team has still only seen Batista go a week without back pain.

workout 019.jpg

This move of staying with 11 pitchers smacks of a team starting off with an intriguing idea and then not being willing to adapt when conditions change.

That's how I see it. I could be wrong. We'll see if this gamble the team is taking -- and carrying three strictly speed guys is a luxury few clubs will attempt -- pays off. I'm still picking the M's to win the AL West. So are a whole lot of other pundits making their predictions this weekend.

The M's are no longer underdogs in a lot of books. And when you're a division favorite, winning becomes a little bit tougher. Other teams can see you coming. And handcuffing yourself right off the bat with intriguing roster construction, or a bullpen that could be caught short if a starter or two gets knocked out early, is not what favorites do.

Seattle needs to jump all over the injury-depleted Angels this month. The schedule gets a lot tougher for the M's come May. If the Mariners can get through April in first place, without a bullpen setback costing them games, then this entire post will be rendered a moot point. The team will have dodged a bullet and kept all of its players in the process.

Thing is, I'm not sure it's a bullet that needed to be dodged. But that is why, as we've said, they play the games. We'll see what happens.



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Posted by -j.

3:15 PM, Mar 30, 2008

Geoff,
The big redundant aspect of the bench is not that Jimerson, Bloomquist and Cairo are pinch runners. Jimerson is only true defensive OFer so that sets him apart from the other two. Willie can hold his own but his value isn't as an OFer. He needs to be saved for infield duties.

No. The big screwup with this roster is Cairo. He and Willie Bloomquist serve the same exact role. Utility guy that runs well and can't hit. We don't need two Willies on th bench. Norton should have taken Cairo's spot on the bench hands down. The fact that Cairo had a guaranteed deal is the only reason I think he got the nod over a guy like Norton. Just shows offering him [Cairo] a big league contract was a mistake.

Outside of Cairo, I like the bench as a whole. As long as Ibanez is out in LF, a guy like Jimerson or Reed is a MUST have on the bench to spell him in the later innings. Bloomquist was lock and Morse played himself onto the club. I have no problem with that. That last spot should have been reserved for a lefty off the bench. Instead we get Willies twin.

Posted by -j.

3:20 PM, Mar 30, 2008

On the Morse/Wilkerson platoon..

Anyone else notice that Wilkerson has hit lefties MUCH better than righties over his career? So we are taking that away from him and expecting him to thrive?

I know the Mariners must have missed that little bit of info.

Posted by Mr. X

3:24 PM, Mar 30, 2008

The fact that Bavasi traded a player away to keep Dickey instead of inventing an injury for him (see Sean White) indicates that the 11-man bullpen may be a temporary thing. Either that, or Bavasi may be waiting until all MLB rosters are set so he can wait a few days to try to pass Baek through waivers again, and then bring Dickey up. I wouldn't be surprised if we saw a few changes after the first week of the season, where it's mostly M's versus cupcakes.

Posted by jujay

3:51 PM, Mar 30, 2008

The only reason I like the bench is because i dont think it is the long term solution. I definately think it is set up to make roster moves later on. If we can get some prospects for some of the guys on the roster, then bring up dickey, morrow, rhodes, and norton I think it will work out great.

Posted by BraveLittleTailor

3:52 PM, Mar 30, 2008

also I think we should keep in mind that an 11 man pitching staff is likely not going to be the status quo the entire season. There are more off days and rain outs in the begining so I think an 11 man staff at the beginning and switching to 12 later on makes some sense.

Posted by drlo

3:58 PM, Mar 30, 2008

j, Wilkerson as you note has a better career BA against lefties, as I recall by about 20 ppts, but his slugging percentage and OPS are only very slightly better against lefties than righties. So his L/R splits aren't materially very much different when you consider OB and power. Morse's, however, are, so the overall picture of the platoon makes sense, especially if the idea in the first instance is to keep Morse's hot bat in play.

Posted by Ned

4:12 PM, Mar 30, 2008

I don't think our bullpen is much of a concern. Clearly, Baek and Dickey are the 6th starters in case of injury. If the regular starters can go deep (6-7 innings a night), the bullpen can perfectly handle the workload. Additionally, Batista's start can be skipped initially and he's capable of pitching out of the bullpen. Morrow and Dickey are sitting in the wings.

Yes, the bench makes very little sense, especially Cairo. That said, he comes cheap and Johnny Mac isn't exactly the manager that uses his bench often. I care more how the regulars perform. If they do what's expected of them, the M's are playoff bound.

Posted by oregongal

4:12 PM, Mar 30, 2008

Morrow says he hopes he'll be up in a couple of weeks. Who does he replace? Jimerson?

Posted by helpFelix

4:20 PM, Mar 30, 2008

Mr X, the only thing wrong with that analogy? If the M's send Baek back down, he can actually clear waivers...AND THEN opt out for free agency!

This is SCREAMING trade over the next 1-3 weeks. I see Reed, Baek, and possible one more of our bench guys (Morse or Jimerson or Norton) being packaged in a deal too.

Yesterday it was reported that several GMs have been VERY interested in Norton, and were HOPING the M's would release him so they can grab him. It was also my impression that they would be interested in trading for Norton too. I know the Philly's have expressed interest in Baek, and the Pads & TB interested in Reed.

So it's gonna be interesting to see how this all works out.

I for one would "prefer" to platoon Morse in LF with Ibanez, and having Ibanez move to DH when he's not in LF...thus taking ABs away from Vidro.

I have a hunch that it will get to that after the 1st 1-2 months, because I think the rationale for platooning Morse with Wilkerson is to initially take some ABs away from Wilkerson EARLY in the season. Why? Because just like Vidro, Wilkerson has AB incentives. They only thing with Vidro's incentives is that his ABs have an impact on his 2009 vested option. Whereas Wilkerson's 2008 ABs reflect on his "additional" $3M in 2008.

I'd put money on it that the M's will position themselves to save that 2008 $3M to Wilkerson AND position themselves to be able to opt out of the Vidro 2009 option by eventually limiting Vidro's ABs at DH too!

Right now with Morse hot bat, they can easily justify platooning Wilkerson/Morse in RF. Then when the shift is made to platoon Morse in LF w/Ibanez DHing, it will be easy to justify the move because of Vidro's inability to provide power in our DH spot!

This is a business, and the M's will do EVERYTHING to prevent Vidro's 2009 $9M option from vesting, AND giving the extra $3M incentives to Wilkerson.

As long as we are winning games, while doing these adjustments to prevent these incentives/options they will continue. Baseball is a business, and when you're talking approximately $12M in savings between now and in 2009...that ain't chump change! Heck, that's a decent chunk that can be a "start" to paying for a "portion" of Teixeira in 2009 & Beyond! Or Dunn! Or Sabathia! Or Whatever!

Posted by Ned

4:40 PM, Mar 30, 2008

How about we pick up Snelling off waiver as our LH bat off the bench and release Cairo or Jimerson? Snelling plays all OF positions.

Posted by Chuck

4:42 PM, Mar 30, 2008

Before asking my question, understand that I like Morse and figure he is a clone of Ibanez back when Lou would not play him everyday. Why does McLean say on the one hand that pitcher ST ERA's don't mean anything, as they are just getting into shape? But on the other side of his mouth he says that he wants to keep Morse "Hot bat in the lineup.? Didn't Morse bat against guys who didn't care about their ERAs, as it was only ST?
Also the rationale for keeping a guy named Cairo "so that Willie can be used as a pinch runner earlier in the game." Sorry, some of his rationale in personnel really confuses me.

Posted by Poe

4:53 PM, Mar 30, 2008

an inside source revealed to me that the Mariners will be dealing Baek and Reed before May 1st...
they are working hard on finding another bat, these "surprising" moves predicate that

Posted by Mr. X

5:00 PM, Mar 30, 2008

Snelling? LOL

You have to be able to stay off the "Doyle List" in order to play any outfield position. That ship has sailed. I doubt if he could stay healthy even if he a was DH all year.

Posted by scrapiron

5:26 PM, Mar 30, 2008

When I first heard the roster moves, I immediately thought they were setting themselves up for a trade.

There are many teams out there desperate for pitching, and would claim Baek in a heartbeat, but Bavasi couldn't get any trade talks going since they were all waiting for him to be put on waivers. Now that the Mariners are dealing from a position of strength and don't have to trade Baek at all, they should get fair market value in return. If they do get a good trade for Baek, you have to tip your hat to Bavasi for a change, this was a shrewd move.

Finding a way to keep Dickey on the team while he bides his time in Tacoma until Baek is dealt is another good move. Kudos to Bavasi for a change, this was a good set of moves.

The only downfall to this is that the roster is a little weak for the first month of the season. The lack of a left handed bat off the bench could be huge.

I do hope that McLaren uses the tools he has effectively. That would mean platooning WIlkerson/Morse, and using Jimerson as a defensive replacement late in games for Ibanez/Morse. Pinch run platoon Cairo/Bloomquist for any slow runner that gets on in the eighth or ninth inning, and leave the other player on the bench as an extra inning/injury insurance player.

Posted by Idaho Invader

5:34 PM, Mar 30, 2008

Cairo has no business being on an AL roster...especially one who has a younger version in Bloomy. Morse should be platooning for the outfielder who DOES struggle mightily vs lefties (Raul) not for the one who DOESN'T (Wilkerson).

But then again...this is McLaren we're talking about, not someone accused of leading a double life as a rocket scientist. Fwiw, not having a lefty on the bench (Norton) who's experienced at that role isn't too swift either.

Posted by scrapiron

5:45 PM, Mar 30, 2008

The Reds are shopping for pitching, and are dangling Ryan Freel as trade bait. I'm thinking that would be a good fit for a Baek-for-Freel swap. Freel can run and field as good as Jimerson, and he can hit too. Freel can also play second and third, so I would take him as an upgrade over Cairo as well.

Posted by B_A_

6:04 PM, Mar 30, 2008

Geoff you did a great job all spring...thank you! Your information was consistently more interesting than articles written about the team.
As far as the roster goes...I really think this is a short term set up, a trade will be done soon to help all of this make sense. helpFelix, great additions to the blog. I think the M's are banking on the fact that they have a relatively easy April schedule so they have time to make a move and give time for Dickey in colder weather to make sure he is effective, not to mention Rhodes and hopefully Reistma...does anybody else think the reason Cairo is still on the roster is due to the fact the M's aren't 100% confident in Lopez yet?

Posted by Bucs59

6:27 PM, Mar 30, 2008

We should look at the good side of the whole roster situation. The M's have a ton of flexibility in terms of their roster. Many of these posts have mentioned how some teams around the league are "looking for pitching help". The M's are having to send guys down the minors because we have TOO much pitching. The M's also have many different options for platooning, bench, etc. We could see Morse, Cairo, Willie, Burke, Clement, Jimerson, Norton, Reed, Balintien,Tug, etc. before the year is out.

It's always better to have too much depth than not enough depth. Plus, it helps in trade talks. The M's have given themselves numerous options this years. It reminds me of 2001 and the glory days when they had this same problem.

Posted by Resin isn't Cheating

6:28 PM, Mar 30, 2008

Geoff-if you are puzzled it's called the baseball mind of John McLaren.

I hate the platoon idea because Morse has little power. By platooning right field you are going to weaken the power outage out of right field. Really a mickey mouse solution. If the platoon partner had power vs righties it would make more sense.

Also the part of keeping Morse hot bat in the line-up is a joke. Morse is going to face a lot better quality pitching now, his .500+ batting average will likely be .270 at seasons end with a slugging percentage that matches Vidro's. Let's not forget how many runs Morse will cost us with his disgusting defense.

Posted by Phil

6:29 PM, Mar 30, 2008

Wow, baseball fans booed the President of the United States! I hope Richie and he can continue to do their jobs despite the dearth of fan love.

Posted by Lenny Randle's Breath

6:34 PM, Mar 30, 2008

IMHO I would have kept Jeremy Reed and Dickey in place of Jimerson and Cairo. I guess had they kept 12 pitchers you could argue they didn't have faith in their new inning eaters.

The M's have a strong rotation. I hope it's enough to overcome their lack of extra base hits.

GO MARINERS!!!!!

Posted by oregongal

7:03 PM, Mar 30, 2008

Geoff, thanks to you and the rest of the staff for doing the get ready for prime time baseball series. Some interesting takes on the AL East--Toronto sneaking in there. Can't wait for the NL West race.

For the Mariners, it's simple--this year or bust. The trainers will be earning their keep this year!

Posted by Casey

7:47 PM, Mar 30, 2008

What about Dimitri Young? He isn't starting for the Nationals. I think that he could be a great fit at DH. Possible trade option.

Posted by nyc m's fan

8:12 PM, Mar 30, 2008

Hi, Geoff. Thanks for your hard work.

I liked the creativity Bavasi showed yesterday in keeping so many of the team's players in the organization, even though some of them don't seem to have a place on this year's squad. These players are assets that can be used to bring back value in return (via trade) to shore up other areas of weakness.

A key move to create this flexibility was safely landing RA Dickey in AAA. The M's bought the Twins' assurance not to reclaim the pitcher. But I understand that Dickey also had to clear waivers before he could be optioned to Tacoma.

How much risk was there that Dickey would have been snatched up by another team? Everyone seemed to be impressed with his performance in Spring Training and excited about the value he adds to the pitching staff. I know I would have been upset if the M's had lost him.

They didn't lose him, so that's fantastic. But, in your opinion, was this a reckless gamble by Bavasi?

Posted by bseblfevr

8:22 PM, Mar 30, 2008

Here's a job opening for Cairo:

The Dodgers are down to 24 players now, but they'll get back up to 25 on Monday. Unless they bring in an infielder from outside the organization, Angel Chavez will likely have his contract purchased to serve as a second utilityman behind Chin-Lung Hu.

Posted by helpFelix

9:03 PM, Mar 30, 2008

I'm totally SHOCKED the Angels didn't put a waiver claim in on Dickey, at least until Lackey got back!

Risky move by Bavasi, but he looks like a genious on how things actually turned out over the past couple of days.

AND, I have NEVER seen a team able to send Rule V guy down to AAA without losing them back to their original team. Working out a trade with the Twins at the last second for a low-level catcher that will never make in Seattle to the Bigs, was brilliant of Bavasi in order to get around the Rule V rules and regs! AND THEN to literally sneak Dickey into AAA without a waiver claim. I had NO CLUE he was on waivers until AFTER he was off waivers. I honestly don't think that he was on waivers until late Friday at the earliest. So don't know how that all worked out, and how Bavasi actually pulled that off.

Geoff do you have any facts on how long Dickey was on waivers AND how the heck they snuck him through this late in ST?

I've been hearing the Pads & TB want Reed, and that a Edwin Jackson for Reed straight up is very possible. The only problem with that is that Jackson is out of options too, so that doesn't solve the problem with getting Dickey up any sooner, UNLESS we go back to a 12-man pitching staff by mid-late April.

But that means that we still have to dish off Baek, and I've been hearing Philly's and Reds are interested?!

Could this be the Griffey trade that fans have been talking about all offseason? That would mean Morse would also have to go in a package. I've been hearing several GMs have been very interested in Norton as a PH, and was hoping Seattle would cut him at the end of ST.

Sounds like to me that there is quite a few MLB teams interested in some of these M's guys.

I just have this gut feeling that we will see at least 1 trade in the next 1-3 weeks, and probably 2!

AND I think since Morse is a defensive liability, I really think Bavasi should sell on a high here!

The month of April will be interesting NO DOUBT!

Go Mariners!

Posted by shane/olympia

9:51 PM, Mar 30, 2008

Geoff

if jose lopez is struggling and under performing come the trading deadline and brian roberts is still a second baseman for the O's do you think the M's will try and make a move. also on that note money wise will the M's have money to make a signing or trade during the season since there is not a lot of power on the bench?

also when marrow comes up does he send a bench player down or a bullpen player down?

Charlton was out of options so he had to make the team. if dickey or marrow come up and he is the odd man out will he be a free agent or a rainier?

so pretty much i am asking come the playoffs how different could this team look?

Posted by cwel87

10:28 PM, Mar 30, 2008

I'd feel a whole lot better if Cairo weren't on this team, blowing chunks.

I'd also feel a lot better if M's brass took a look at splits and realized WIlkerson needs about as much L/R platooning as Mark Teixeira. His splits are equal, and they actually favor LHP. Ibanez is the one who needs to be platooned, but we can't platoon Raul! That's blasphemy!

Posted by Ben

11:18 PM, Mar 30, 2008

"Their two hard-throwing righties, outside of J.J. Putz, are Sean Green -- dominated by lefty hitters last season -- and Mark Lowe (pictured below walking behind Eric O'Flaherty), a guy who hasn't pitched in the majors since August 2006."

I know it barely counts....but Lowe did pitch last year (2007 - 4g, 2.2 IP, 6.75 ERA)....he quickly did go back on the DL though.

Posted by Nat

11:27 PM, Mar 30, 2008

shane/olympia: I wondered about getting Roberts myself awhile back, but after the protracted gamesmanship in the Bedard-Jones-et-al trade the M's FO may be completely turned off to the idea of making a trade for Roberts. The O's FO only wants the sun and the moon and the stars in exchange for any one O's player, which is why the Cubs, who coveted Roberts, finally gave up on getting him recently, at least according to the sources I've read. Other GMs have learned the hard way about trying to make a trade for a player of any significance from the Orioles.!

Posted by Bobby Ayala

12:25 AM, Mar 31, 2008

In regards to Dickey clearing waivers, I believe that information may be incorrect. I'm not sure about it, I think I read it on one of the other M's blogs... but because he was a Rule V pick, he would have to be offered back to the original team, but would NOT have to clear waivers otherwise. Geoff - mind clearing that up? I'm not sure either way -- but I also thought the waiver period was a bit longer.

I also hope a deal is done, mostly because I want to see some knuckleball action up here -- and honestly I'd love to get some sort of a decent power option from the bench. It will be interesting to see how the first month develops.

Posted by Donovan

12:26 AM, Mar 31, 2008

I don't think there is any reasonable interpretation of the opening day roster other than trade positioning. It will be interesting to see the trade talk develop in the next few weeks. At least there will be real baseball to watch as well!

The M's now have 5 players with some appeal who can be packaged without really impacting the team's success: Baek, Dickey, Morse, Norton, and Reed. Some combination of those guys for a power bat, and the most cynical blogger would have to tip their hat to Bavasi. Of course, positioning for the trade is the easy part. Putting one together is a lot harder. Our rotation needs to hold up in April if this is pay off - of course by "this" one could mean either the current roster strategy or the whole season.

Posted by sparticus112b

12:27 AM, Mar 31, 2008

It seems like no one has talked about this yet. I think Dickey made it through waivers because knuckleballers are hard to catch and not many catchers have experience with knuckleballers.

So why does any team want their catchers to learn to catch a knuckle ball during the regular season.

Not just that, I think Kenji probably wasn't that awesome at catching the knuckle ball and how benificial is it to have Burke come in everytime we want Dickey to pitch.

I still think the organization is high on Dickey though and he will be part of our future. But who else will probably be part of our future. None other than Jeff Clement. I think they sent him down for Jeff to learn to catch the knuckle ball and so that Dickey can better master his slower knuckle ball. He only allowed one hit in the start against the Giants but but his strikes to balls ratio was about 50-50. The only reason I think it was 50-50 though was because of his fastball and his faster knuckle ball.

There were a few times though that his slower knuckle ball was amazing and I think they want him to perfect that.

Anyways I hoping for big things in 2008 but I feel like 2009 will really be the year for the M's.

Posted by moscowms

12:51 AM, Mar 31, 2008

Ok, opening day fans... Don't boo Sexson as loud as National fans boo'd our Pres. HA! Could you imagine Bavasi throwing out the first pitch today? Same reaction... Hilarious! Love this country!

Posted by Fin

2:08 AM, Mar 31, 2008

helpFelix- some very good ideas you posted there. I think it sheds some light on why the roster is set up the way it is. Hope you are right, especially about the platoons.

btw, I am hoping for that Felix no-hitter this season!

Posted by Mr. X

7:31 AM, Mar 31, 2008

Regarding Brian Roberts and Dmitri Young, I'm not sure why either of those teams would deal with Bavasi again after the way he fleeced them both. When you get fleeced by Bavasi, it's got to hurt twice as much.

And someone else mentioned Cairo being brought in to "push" Lopez. It's simply not true. The FO was very specific about Cairo's role right after he was signed. There's no ambiguity whatsoever.

Happy Opening Day, everyone. Let's get the real games started. The only ones that count.

Posted by scottM

8:12 AM, Mar 31, 2008

Nice Bedard piece, GEOFF. Pressure's off. Let the games begin! Pressure's on!!

Posted by Adam

9:43 AM, Mar 31, 2008

Bavasi did NOT fleece McPhail.

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