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Hey, Rube: Phillies pay dearly for Amaro’s misguided loyalty

Jul 30, 2014, 11:07 AM EDT

Some years ago, I named particularly terrible baseball contracts “Ricciardis” after former Blue Jays GM J.P. Ricciardi, who seemed particularly skilled at giving them out. However, in retrospect, I may have been unduly harsh toward Ricciardi. What Ruben Amaro has done in Philadelphia deserves its own place in the Bad Contract Hall of Fame.

Now, let’s make one thing clear: EVERY long, break-the-bank contract is terrible. Every single one.  Well, the 10-year Derek Jeter contract signed back in 2001 worked out well. So every generation or so there will be an exception.

But of the 10 richest contract going in baseball today, the only ones that don’t already look like a complete disasters are the ones that have not had the TIME to become complete disasters. They have either just started or, improbably, will not start for a couple more years.

Don’t believe me: Look.

1. Alex Rodriguez — $275 million from 2008-17

— Disaster doesn’t begin to cover it.

2. Miguel Cabrera — $248 million from 2016-23

— This time bomb is the one that doesn’t start for two years.

3. Albert Pujols — $240 million from 2012-21

— Ugh, there are still SEVEN YEARS on this after this season?

4. Robinson Cano — $240 million from 2014-23

— Fine player. Power already down. Nine more years to go.

[MORE: Phillies set high trade price for Hamels  |  Byrd nurses foot injury]

5. Joey Votto — $225 million from 2014-23

— There are not many bigger Votto fans out there than me but, um, yeah 44 homers the last three years, fall-off-the-cliff decline this year, injuries, and nine more years. The panic button isn’t far away.

6. Clayton Kershaw, $215 million, 2014-20

— Just beginning. He’s the modern day Koufax, and he’s much younger (26) than most beginning these huge contracts. Then, it might be worth remembering that Koufax retired at 30. Always scary with pitchers (see Verlander, Justin).

7. Prince Fielder, $214 million, 2012-20

— Um … help?

8. Joe Mauer, $184 million, 2011-18

— Began the contract as a Gold Glove catcher who won three batting titles and began showing signs of power. Now, he’s an oft-injured first baseman with two home runs. This game does not respect its elders.

9. Mark Teixeira, $180 million (2009-16)

— Well, there are only two years left.

10. Justin Verlander, $180 million (2013-19)

— This one looked like one of the safer bets; Verlander was widely viewed as the best right-handed pitcher in baseball. But then, almost overnight, he lost a bunch off his fastball and lost the feel for his change-up and suddenly this looks like a very, very long deal.

The only deals on that list you would even CONSIDER taking on now are the Kershaw deal, which just started, maybe the Cano deal, which just started, and the Miggy deal, which doesn’t begin for two years. Those haven’t gone kaboom yet. I’m pretty sure in two years or three years, all of these deals (with the possible exception of Kershaw) will already have revealed themselves are fiascos.

You will note that none of these deals are Phillies deals … Amaro’s fiascos are more subtle.

In 2007 and ’08, the Phillies reached the playoffs in large part because the New York Mets collapsed down the stretch. The ’07 collapse is more famous — the Mets blew a seven game lead with 17 games to play — but 2008 wasn’t far off. The Mets had a 3 1/2-game lead with 17 games to play, won just seven of those last 17, and a hot Phillies team breezed by. That Phillies team was so hot, it went on to win the World Series.

The 2009 Phillies led the league in runs and went back to the World Series, where they lost to the Yankees. The 2010 Phillies added Roy Halladay and won 97 games. The 2011 Phillies were the probably the best of the bunch, a 102-game winner with an awe-inspiring rotation of Halladay, Cliff Lee, Cole Hamels and Roy Oswalt. They got knocked out in the playoffs, largely because their once-potent lineup couldn’t score in the end.

Still, that’s a five-year span of goodness — a little luck, some big hitting, some great pitching. That was a superb baseball team. And it was a fun baseball renaissance in Philadelphia. A huge amount of credit for this must to go Amaro. He was involved as an assistant GM to Ed Wade and Pat Gillick when the team was being built. Then he became GM and he wheeled, he dealed, he signed, he gambled, he borrowed from the future to live in the moment. And, as happens so often, he was utterly unprepared for when the check came due.

The best comparison for this I can give involves the Kansas City Chiefs of the late 1960s and early 1970s. That really was a great team. Between 1966 and ’71, the Chiefs played in two Super Bowls and won one of them. They were probably the best team in 1971, too, but they were knocked out of the playoffs on Christmas Day by Don Shula’s Dolphins in one of the greatest games ever played. That was a team loaded with Hall of Famers and various other greats — Len Dawson, Buck Buchanan, Wilie Lanier, Bobby Bell, Emmitt Thomas, Otis Taylor, Jan Stenerud and so on — and coached by a Hall of Famer, Hank Stram.

And Stram wanted to, in those defining words of John Keats or John Cougar Mellencamp (can’t remember which): Hold on to 16 as long as he could. He was deeply loyal to that core group of players. Loyalty can be a wonderful trait. Unfortunately, in sports and in “Game of Thrones,” loyalty can be crushing. In the end, the Chiefs seemed to instantly age like the guy who drank from the wrong goblet in “Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade,” Hank Stram got booted, the Chiefs went into a death spin that was so bad there was even some talk of moving the Chiefs out of Kansas City.

Nobody’s moving the Phillies — they have to be the most depressing team in baseball right now, but they’re still on pace to draw 2 or 2.5 million people. Philadelphia is a good baseball town. Still, this isn’t good. The Phillies are awful. And the Phillies are so overloaded with bad contracts that it’s hard to see how exactly they will stop being awful anytime soon.

[CSN Philly: Hamels thrives despite rampant trade rumors  |  Sandberg praises lefty ace]

Here, according to the invaluable Cot’s Baseball Contracts page, are the players ALREADY on the Phillies 2015 payroll. We’ll deal with them individually in a moment.

  • Ryan Howard: $25 million (again in 2016, $10 million buyout in 2017)
  • Cliff Lee: $25 million (and 27.5 million or $12.5 million buyout in 2016)
  • Cole Hamels: $22.5 million (and three more years, plus $20 million club option or $6 million buyout in 2019)
  • Jonathan Papelbon: $13 million (and $13 million vesting option)
  • A.J. Burnett: $15 million mutual option or $7.5 million player option
  • Chase Utley: $10 million (plus $15 million vesting options in 2016-18)
  • Carlos Ruiz: $8.5 million (again in 2016, plus club option in 2017)
  • Marlon Byrd: $8 million
  • Miguel Gonzalez: $3.7 million
  • That is about $128 million, if you are scoring at home, and it is for nine players. Six of the nine will be older than 35. Two are in their early 30s. The only one younger than 30 is Gonzalez, and he’s a reliever in Class AA.

The Howard contract was the one that should have snapped Amaro out of whatever loyalty spell he was under. The second he offered that catastrophe of a deal, baseball writers all over the country wrote in all capital letters: “ARE THE PHILLIES OUT OF THEIR MINDS?” There was no other question.

This was way back in 2010, and it was utterly inexplicable — a $125 million deal that would not even begin for two years for a declining slugger? I believe it is the most inexplicable bad contract ever handed out. Sure, you could argue for other terrible that were more expensive and harmful — this Pujols deal could end up setting the standard — and there have been many smaller deals that are hard to explain, like the Twins giving Ricky Nolasco a four-year, $50 million deal.

But combine the situation (Howard still had TWO YEARS left on his deal), the age (he turned 32 before the contract even began) and an honest assessment of the player (a power hitter who couldn’t run, was a liability at first base, couldn’t hit lefties and was unlikely to age well) and I think you are talking about the most inexcusably bad contract in baseball history.

Then again … it was a loyalty contract. Howard was such an integral part of the Phillies rise, such an unexpected joy when, in his first full year, he hit 58 homers and led the league with 383 total bases. The Phillies wanted to keep him as a Philadelphia sports hero. Noble cause. It blinded them to the obvious: Howard’s best days were behind him.

Lee and Hamels are the leftovers from Amaro’s chase for a legendary pitching staff … that dream lasted just one year. That really was magical in 2011 when Halladay (2nd), Lee (3rd) and Hamels (5th) all finished Top 5 in the Cy Young voting.

In 2012, Halladay got hurt and lost his groove. Lee and Hamels pitched well enough to make the Phillies a .500 team but that was all they could really do. Last year, Lee again pitched well, Hamels struggled early and then pitched very well his last 16 starts of the season. Anyway, the remnants of that dream pitching staff finished 14th in the National League in runs allowed and the team was lousy.

This year, the Phillies are desperately trying to dump Lee, who is 35 and has made only 12 starts. And they even talk about trading Hamels, though, according to Jon Heyman’s sources, they “want the world.” I’m not sure who is giving “the world” for a soon-to-be 31-year-old pitcher with $100 million left on his contract even if he is pitching very well this year.

Papelbon? That never made sense. He has pitched well as far as that goes, but there’s little more depressing or superfluous than an expensive closer on a bad team. The Burnett signing was pure desperation and it was destined for regret as soon as the ink dried.

And so on. Ruiz is a solid catcher who has had trouble staying healthy, Utley is a once-great player who is still at it after horrible injuries, Byrd is a traveling bat who can fill a spot in the lineup. All three have some value. To have $27 million invested in them is a lesson in money mismanagement. Then again, take all nine of these player together and they make almost $50 million more dollars than the entire Oakland Athletics roster — this without a shortstop, center fielder, third baseman, lead-off hitter or much of anything else.

Amaro wanted to hold on. It’s a natural instinct. And it’s a destructive one. It never fails to amaze how obtuse Major League general managers can be about things seemingly as obvious as aging.  Now, the Phillies are terrible, they are old, they have not developed a useful young player for themselves in about a decade, and Baseball America has ranked their minor league system 22nd, 23rd and 27th the last three years.

Rumors linger that they are prepared to do drastic things, like release Ryan Howard with $60 million left on the bill if they can’t trade him (which, I suspect, they can’t). Well, desperate measures might be the only hope. I could be wrong, but I can’t see anyone giving up real prospects for Hamels unless the Phillies eat a huge part of that salary. Beyond that, there really aren’t many moves left on the board. This is one of the harsh truth of baseball. It’s very hard to build a winner. It’s even harder to build a second winner after your first one grows old.



  1. icanspeel - Jul 30, 2014 at 11:20 AM

    I know large contracts are bad, but one has to wonder if a GM would get fired for not signing a star to a long term deal and letting them walk vs signing them and as time goes on the deal looks worse and worse.

    • cohnjusack - Jul 30, 2014 at 11:34 AM

      Kind of like how John Mozaliak got fired when he didn’t sign iconic first baseman Albert Pujols?

      • scoutsaysweitersisabust - Jul 30, 2014 at 12:54 PM

        Or Robinson Cano, or Josh Hamilton, BJ Upton, Greinke, Prince Fielder, Jose Reyes, or Mark Buhrle, or Cliff Lee, Carl Crawford, Jayson Werth.

        Actually come to think of it, I think you should be fired if you sign one of the top free agents on the market. The past 5 years, not a single one has really worked out. (OK, Matt Holliday has worked out, but really that’s the lone exception.)

      • timmmah10 - Jul 30, 2014 at 2:34 PM

        That free agent list is amazing. A who’s who of slumpers this season… aside from a few names of course.

    • dan1111 - Jul 30, 2014 at 11:35 AM

      Of course, a GM could get fired for anything. He serves at the whim of the owner.

      But in reality, job security is almost always tied to success on the field. The Phillies were a great team at the time most of these terrible deals were made, so one would expect Amaro to have some leeway. His job is surely less secure now because he made those deals back then.

    • SocraticGadfly - Jul 30, 2014 at 12:27 PM

      Kind of related thought. For pitchers, especially, a long-term contract with an opt-out after 2 or 3 years seems to be becoming the rage. If I were a smart GM, I’d insist that that opt-out is a mutual option, not player-only.

    • phouraces - Jul 30, 2014 at 1:50 PM

      The worst part about this is the Phillies brass did this to themselves. I have been a Phillies fan since I can remember say 1970. Bill Giles and his bunch of cronies have been raking in money for all these years without spending a lot on Free Agents over the years. Until the Jim Thome contract the only big named Free Agent they had signed was Rose and Joe Morgan. They used Thome along with their upcoming stars from the minors Howard, Rollins, Utley, Howard, Burell and Hamels as well as a few others to ride through 5 years of dominance. They are trying to say they need to cut payroll but they will be entering a new contract with Comcast in the near future that guarantees 20 Billion over the next 20 years. Phillies brass should either sell the team or fire Amaro, Montgomery and some of the other old school Millionaires and bring in some that can help the team actually draft well. Those Season ticket holders that have paid to see a quality product need to get some type of refund from the team as well.

  2. 18thstreet - Jul 30, 2014 at 11:21 AM

    What does this have to do with Jon Lester?

    • sportsfan18 - Jul 30, 2014 at 11:38 AM

      Uh, Lester is soon to receive a stupid contract for too many years and too many dollars.

      In about 3 yrs, you’ll be able to insert Lester’s name above for one of the pitchers Mr. Posnanski mentioned above.

    • SocraticGadfly - Jul 30, 2014 at 11:39 AM

      His bad contract is around the corner.

      • 18thstreet - Jul 30, 2014 at 11:41 AM

        That’s pretty much the point I’m making. I mean, I’m going to miss him. But the odds are pretty good that whatever team signs him is going to regret it. I wish the angriest corners of Red Sox Nation (which, as far as I can tell, is 99 percent of it) would at least acknowledge it’s a risk to keep Lester.

      • SocraticGadfly - Jul 30, 2014 at 12:25 PM

        If you’re lucky, maybe it will be the Yankees, especially if they overpay on years as well as dollars. Yeah, he’d help for a year or two, but then …

      • SocraticGadfly - Jul 30, 2014 at 12:29 PM

        Breaking down Lester, it seems very likely this is a career year. He’s never before had an ERA+ of above 150 or an FIP of below 3.0. WHIP and BB/9 are also career bests. He turned down what, 4/$70? I’ll gander he’s expecting what, 6/$150? Maybe even more? That would be for years 31-36. Yeah, overpay is awaiting.

  3. bonerchamp - Jul 30, 2014 at 11:23 AM

    Surprised that teams haven’t caught onto the fact that without steroids, players die quickly after 30. Solution? Bring back the cream and the clear!

    • sportsfan18 - Jul 30, 2014 at 11:43 AM

      if I was an owner, i’d make my clear come in the eye black that players put on and i’d make it mandatory they wear it daily, multiple applications each day.

      many were the eye black, now not even a cream but a patch like thing at night for glare from the lights.

      i’d have the icy hot that my players use filled with cream and clear too.

      any of my pitchers like and want to use a sticky substance? that’s fine, it’ll contain the cream and clear in it as well

      any of ya’ll make suntan lotion? i wanna talk to you about a special blend for my ballplayers you see. i’ve got a secret family recipe for you to include

      are you a former 42 yr old slugger? come here son, i’ve got a plan and a contract for you.

  4. DelawarePhilliesFan - Jul 30, 2014 at 11:24 AM

    “The ’07 collapse is more famous — the Mets blew a seven game lead with 17 games to play — but 2008 wasn’t far off. The Mets had a 3 1/2-game lead with 17 games to play, won just seven of those last 17, and a hot Phillies team breezed by. ”

    Two points – the Phillies swept the Mets in New York in ’07, so they had a strong part in that “Mets collapse”. And don’t get carried away with ’08. Sure the Mets went 7-10, but the Phillies went 13-3. Had the Phillies been 10-6, it would have been a tie. You know how many teams in 2008 went better then 10-6 down the stretch? One. The Phillies.

    • El Bravo - Jul 30, 2014 at 11:29 AM

      The past called and wants you to stop living in it. 😉

      • DelawarePhilliesFan - Jul 30, 2014 at 12:17 PM

        Yea, yea….

    • SocraticGadfly - Jul 30, 2014 at 12:43 PM

      I got it … the Wilpons were using some of their Madoff “investment” money to bet against the Mets! Call Pete Rose!

  5. justinreds - Jul 30, 2014 at 11:26 AM

    He made a series of really bad signings, and won 1 World Series and made it to another. Do you know how many teams would take a World Series win if it meant their team was going to be financially unable to compete for the foreseeable future? I’d take that deal in a heartbeat, and I bet people in most other cities would do the same.

    • SocraticGadfly - Jul 30, 2014 at 11:30 AM

      Uhh, NO.

      Example A of how you’re wrong is on this list.

      The Cards let Pujols walk.

      • tmc602014 - Jul 30, 2014 at 6:04 PM

        Yes, but nobody expects the Cards to be poor for the next 10 years whether they sign Albert or not. It’s about the sacrificing of the future for the sake of the past. The Cards have and will make mistakes like everybody else, but they don’t let those mistakes linger forever and strangle their financial flexibility. The Cards realized that if they paid Albert, they would be paying for what he had done, rather than what he would do, and they were right. So was Albert – he knew SOMEBODY would pay him, and so sis everybody at the meeting that year. The Angels “won”.

      • The Cutter - Jul 30, 2014 at 9:16 PM

        It shouldn’t be forgotten that the Cardinals offered Pujols a massive contract that just happened to be topped by an insane one from the Angels.

        So while they should get some credit for finally letting him go, they were ready to offer him a pretty lousy deal of their own.

    • prostock75 - Jul 30, 2014 at 11:54 AM

      Ruben Amaro was not the GM when the won the WS,

    • raysfan1 - Jul 30, 2014 at 1:54 PM

      …and the bad signings began after they were in those 2 Series, so there was no sign-these-guys-now to win a World Series with paying the piper later. They won the World Series, went to another, and then unnecessarily signed multiple players to large/long contracts. There was no trade off choice.

  6. El Bravo - Jul 30, 2014 at 11:28 AM

    This the best thing I’ve ever read ever.

    • Bob Loblaw - Jul 30, 2014 at 1:36 PM

      Admit it, somebody actually read it to you Pedro. You can’t read.

      • El Bravo - Jul 30, 2014 at 2:05 PM

        Can someone tell me what Bob said? I can’t read it… except the word “Pedro” of course.

      • Bob Loblaw - Jul 30, 2014 at 2:12 PM

        Hey Cerrano, what it said was Pie rules and cake-eaters drool.

      • ltzep75 - Jul 30, 2014 at 4:41 PM

        Pie is tasty. I bet Amaro loves him some cake.

  7. yahmule - Jul 30, 2014 at 11:28 AM

    Any list of horrible contracts should include Mike Hampton’s eight-year $121 million fiasco with the Rockies, signed back in 2001. Hampton returned ERA’s of 5.41 and 6.15, 55 homers allowed and the surliest personality of any player to ever wear the uniform.

    • rollinghighwayblues - Jul 30, 2014 at 11:32 AM

      Growing up watching Mike Hampton pitch for the Astros, will you explain the surly behavior? He always seemed like a nice enough guy to me.

      • Bryz - Jul 30, 2014 at 11:53 AM

        I’d be surly too if I had an ERA over 5 for multiple seasons.

      • yahmule - Jul 30, 2014 at 12:46 PM

        I’m sure he had his good and bad days like anybody, but he quickly developed a reputation for cussing people out when he was in Colorado. Maybe it was the pressure of the contract, but he responded very poorly to adversity. It should noted that most of the excuses for his tank job in Denver swirled around a supposed ineffectiveness of his trademark curveball at altitude, but his splits were horrible home and away and he was actually markedly worse in 2002 when he seemed to be actively trying to tank his way out of town.

    • jrob23 - Jul 30, 2014 at 1:46 PM

      in hindsight yes. But, at the time…it was near impossible to get top pitchers to come to Colorado and they were desperate to get any semblance of pitching. Hampton was an above average SP and a leftie. He had won 20 games and generally had good seasons. As soon as he left COL he reverted back to that good pitcher. It was the ballpark that got him, and 90% of the pitchers during that era. So, while it appears that that contract was awful, it really is more understandable than many we’ve seen since.

    • DJ MC - Jul 30, 2014 at 8:58 PM

      This is an active list, but yes. That and the Howard contract might be the two worst contracts ever.

    • bellweather22 - Jul 31, 2014 at 12:40 AM

      Then the Braves got him. Several hang nails and scrotum injuries later, I think he actually pitched a game. What a loser.

  8. SocraticGadfly - Jul 30, 2014 at 11:29 AM

    Actually, I wouldn’t even “consider” the new, yet-to-officially-start, Miggy contract, either, Joe. He’s had a definite slip this year from previous years, and says that, despite the groin surgery and the whole offseason to heal, he still doesn’t feel 100 percent.

    I think Chooch’s new contract with the Phils is an example of Amaro at his best, or worst. He first says, in public, he’s not doing a 3-year deal, and then …

    Well, that makes you look like a pushover, or a “mark,” to agents. Geez.

    Burnett? But most of the geniuses at ESPN touted that.

    And, looking ahead, non-Phillies division? Lester will get a huge contract and Scherzer a massive one.

    • sportsfan18 - Jul 30, 2014 at 12:00 PM

      miggy’s deal is terrible

      yes, he IS the best hitter in baseball, or was the last few years as others are right there with him this season

      way TOO long.

      in the entire history of mlb, only 18 men have reached 12,000 or more plate appearances (not at bats, but plate appearances).

      only 35 players have ever made it to 11,000 plate appearances.

      there IS a reason for this. it’s very difficult to play that long and produce well enough to justify a spot in the lineup.

      Miggy already has a LOT of plate appearances in his career. he should end with around 7,800 at the end of this season give or take.

      could miggy be the 19th player to amass 12,000 or more plate appearances? he could and if he plays for all of the seasons on his new deal, he’ll fly way up on this list.

      even falling way off his current pace of plate appearances each season, he’d still end up passing Ty Cobb for 5th place all time with over 13,000 plate appearances.

      Since so many men play the game and so few have ever made it to this amount, a deal that last so long that the player HAS to have the 5th or so most plate appearances in a career is dangerous.

      That’s rare air up there and they gave a deal where he HAS to do that, or they’ll end up paying him to stay away when he’s 40 yrs old and can’t produce close to what they’re paying him.

      • SocraticGadfly - Jul 30, 2014 at 12:31 PM

        Good additional analysis. I expect him to pretty closely follow the Pujols aging curve; let’s check back in on him in 2 years or so.

  9. thetxhammer - Jul 30, 2014 at 11:29 AM

    How do you assemble a team for a 2-4 year run without handing out bad contracts? If you had MILLIONS at your fingertips, none of these owners and GM’s are going hungry after these bad contracts mind you, you would do the same for instant gratification and a few winning years.

    Then there’s your oddballs like the Rays, but that’s rare. More common to see bad contracts after a few years of winning baseball.

    • El Bravo - Jul 30, 2014 at 11:31 AM

      The A’s

    • SocraticGadfly - Jul 30, 2014 at 11:40 AM

      The Cards. Again, they let Pujols walk. And, were one of the earlier teams to do pre-free agency multi-year contracts.

      • The Cutter - Jul 30, 2014 at 1:35 PM

        The Cards have an amazing pipeline of talent. Which is the Phillies REAL problem, not giving contracts to expensive veterans. They don’t have the same supply of talent.

      • SocraticGadfly - Jul 30, 2014 at 2:09 PM

        Cutter, true. I don’t know if all of that is on Amaro’s head, but at least some of it has to be, the lack of pipeline talent.

      • fifthstarter - Jul 30, 2014 at 7:47 PM

        The Phillies had at least some talent but managed it very poorly. Their acquisition and subsequent trade of Hunter Pence was shockingly stupid, even if they didn’t accidentally send the wrong PTBNL to Houston, as was reported a couple months ago.

    • paperlions - Jul 30, 2014 at 1:52 PM

      It isn’t that hard, you just have to be pro-active and realize that it is better to let a player go or to trade him a year too early than a year too late.

      In baseball, if you have decent resources, you should never build for a short window because after making the playoffs, it is pretty much a crap shoot. No team that makes the playoffs has better than a 20% chance of winning it all that year. You should always strive for long-term success rather than maximizing team quality for a few years.

    • raysfan1 - Jul 30, 2014 at 2:29 PM

      Thing is that the Phils’ bad contracts came after the two World Series seasons. They didn’t have to hand out any of them. That was part of the point. The worst of them was for Howard, who was still under team control for two more years at the time and clearly showed the team was not taking age and declining production into account. Others they have signed–like Carlos Ruiz’ extension–were obvious examples of the Phils bidding against themselves.

    • tmc602014 - Jul 30, 2014 at 6:25 PM

      Everyone here is making good points. It’s a strategic thing, overall: draft well and you will have a pipeline, and won’t be forced to overpay a vet who’s helped you in the past. Don’t doubt the motivational power affecting that vet when you have a prospect at his position tearing up AA or AAA. If you have the prospects, you can make a good decision on when sacrificing one or two for immediate benefit is the right move. Lastly, you can take a free agent to fill a need, NOT to build a team around. If you take a free agent who is already acknowledged as one of the best players available, in todays market where free agency is attained at 28, 29, 30 years of age, that “best” is already on his way to “used to be” status. The best free agents were never the best in the league or the best at their position, they’re good players with a proven record. And if you can get one coming of a suspension or other problem and rent them for a year or two, much the better (see: Cruz, Nelson).

  10. proudlycanadian - Jul 30, 2014 at 11:37 AM

    You brought back memories of the unlamented former Jays GM. Somehow his successor pulled a Houdini act and got out from under the Wells contract and made nice with Wells at the same time.

  11. ematusko - Jul 30, 2014 at 11:38 AM

    The old Phillies refused to pay their stars, add FA’s, or invest in their farm system. The new Phillies now overpay for their stars and FA’s, and have sold off the majority of young assets (Singleton, Cozart, Villar, Gose, Santana, D’Arnaud, Zeid) for the here and now.

    When they have traded players like Lee (to Seattle), Pence and Victorino they’ve gotten absolutely nothing in return. Very depressing.

    • The Cutter - Jul 30, 2014 at 1:33 PM

      They got young assets in return for Lee, same as they sent away for Halladay, Oswalt, Lee. They haven’t panned out, but that’s what often happens when you deal for prospects.

      The same may happen to Houston.

      Let’s wait until Singleton, Cosart, etc. actually become stars. In a few years, Houston fans might regard these guys the same way Phillies fans regard Aumont and Gillies.

  12. phillysports1 - Jul 30, 2014 at 11:45 AM



  13. [citation needed] fka COPO - Jul 30, 2014 at 12:08 PM

    But combine the situation (Howard still had TWO YEARS left on his deal), the age (he turned 32 before the contract even began) and an honest assessment of the player (a power hitter who couldn’t run, was a liability at first base, couldn’t hit lefties and was unlikely to age well) and I think you are talking about the most inexcusably bad contract in baseball history.

    Don’t forget that Ruben said he had to get the contract done two years prior to Howard’s FA because “Pujols would be a FA that same year too.” Essentially Ruben failed econ 101 thinking that with two “sluggers” on the market, that the price would go up.

    • Francisco (FC) - Jul 30, 2014 at 1:35 PM

      He was probably thinking that Howard would demand whatever contract Pujols got. It never occurred to him Howard would not be worth whatever contract Pujols got (Pujols wasn’t worth the contract he got, but that’s ancillary).

      • The Cutter - Jul 30, 2014 at 1:38 PM

        Assuming he didn’t injure his Achilles, some team would have given Howard a similar deal. If you think Ruben’s the only GM enticed by home runs and name value, you’re sadly mistaken.

      • stupidusername - Jul 30, 2014 at 2:33 PM

        The Achilles injury is too convenient of an excuse. His HR and OPS totals went down to 31 and .859 in 2010 and 33 and .835 in 2011 before the injury. Those are signs of decline. He made $40M in 2010 and 2011 as it was, to put another 5 years for $25M a year on top of that was unnecessary. Had they waited just 1 year they would have seen his 31 HR performance in 2010. And the difference with another GM giving him that money is that would have been on the free market, not Amaro bidding against no one yet still paying full free market price.

      • The Cutter - Jul 30, 2014 at 4:32 PM

        I’m not saying he wouldn’t have declined without the injury. He would have, although not to this extent.

        But a (presumably) healthy Howard would have received a similar deal to the extension that he was given.

        Teams can’t resist power hitters. Some teams like signing “names” to get them over the top or the fans interest (Think Werth to the Nats)

  14. paint771 - Jul 30, 2014 at 12:49 PM

    You know, I think in truth, if you went to any Philly fan in 2006 said and said “Alright, here’s what I’m offering. We’re gonna build us one of the best teams the city’s ever seen. We’re gonna win some MVPs, some Cy Youngs, we’re going to rule the division, we’re going to be fixtures in the post season, we’re going to play in a couple of World Series and even bring one home. We’re going to do all that over the net 6 years or so, and then we’re going to suck balls for awhile – I mean really suck balls – because to accomplish it, we’re going to dump our farm system and take on a ton of contracts that will wind up saddling us down the road.” I think most Philly fans would have taken that deal, even in hindsight. Hell, ask a sports radio host in this town that exact question, they’ll admit it. Ruben had a pretty good hand to start, and he doubled down on it. He wasn’t limping in the hopes of hanging in the game for a long time; he took a look at the table and pushed. And, it worked.

    And, like I said, I think it was probably a good move. It’s easy to say “build a sustained contender”, but you try it. Very few clubs are able to actually accomplish that for five years much less ten or twenty. There’s an ebb and a flow. Far more clubs wind up noodling around the edges, and in a ten year period get a few good years, a few bad ones, and mostly mediocrity. Ruben’s play was different. It was “I’d rather be great – really great – for six years and then suck for the next six than dick around for 12”. And, again, that’s a rational and in some ways even inspired decision. Around the time he dealt for Halladay and started putting up those contracts, he had made the decision to go all in. And he won a huge pot.

    Here is the real problem: he kept playing. He didn’t have enough good sense, as his stack started getting chipped more and more away in subsequent hands, to push off from the table and recollect himself for another game later. He had no parachute plan for when the inevitable – INEVITABLE – began. He didn’t have the balls or the sense of security to, once the run came to a halt, survey what he had left and tear it all down. Again, I think everyone in Philly, if they’re being honest, would have taken that first deal, but the hope would have been “okay, but when we start sucking again hopefully you’ll have some ideas and can start building to something down the road again”. Nope. Not Ruben. And every year that he tried to stave off the inevitable, he’s made it harder and harder. Even with those monster contracts, most of those guys have been moveable to one extent or another. You eat some salary, get some prospects back, move on. But while that might have worked in say 2012 it works progressively less with each additional deal. You eat more salary, you get less prospects back, and eventually the chances of even getting anything begin to approach zero (the point we’re at now). The trick is, you have to make that decision, and then execute. Because of the way the Phillies dynasty was built, it was an all or nothing proposition – the deal wasn’t “sustained greatness and THEN ten years of a few good years, a few bad ones, and mostly mediocrity”. No, you ceded those ten years of mediocrity – that was part of the deal. That your level was all going to be spilt into the front end, and after that ran out you’d be bone dry. The only way to play that is to own it, and Ruben never has.

    He still can, but I just don’t think he has the balls or the common sense, at this point. If he went on a selling spree there’d still be buyers – less than there would have been last year, less than the year before, but there’s still value there. But for each year that you drag your feet, you buy at least one more year of terrible, terrible baseball.

    Ruben says “Philly fans won’t stand for a rebuild; I have to put a competitive team on the field every year.” But, A. you’re not, and B. Hell, we’ve been pretty patient with the Eagles, 76s, and Flyers. It’s not that we won’t stand for a rebuild. It’s that we won’t stand for watching a team with a terrible product on the field, its thumb up its ass and NO PLAN.

    Anyway, I hope they tear the whole thing down. And I hope the first contract they get off the books is his.

    • The Cutter - Jul 30, 2014 at 1:31 PM

      There is a plan though. He hasn’t handed out a hazardous long-term contract or sent away a prospect of any note since the 2012 trade deadline.

      I suppose they could have tried to do a complete teardown after 2012, but there were two major problems:

      1. It wasn’t obvious if the bad things that happened in 2012 (injuries to Halladay, Howard, Utley) would continue into 2013 or if it was a one year fluke of bad luck.

      2. With the long-term contracts handed out when in win-now mode, there wasn’t a lot that could have been done at that point.

      So Amaro has gone for short-term fixes which in a perfect world might have helped (obviously, they didn’t), but didn’t hurt the team long-term.

      • SocraticGadfly - Jul 30, 2014 at 2:19 PM

        I’d agree up through 2012, or even last year.

        But, the writing’s on the wall now, and Amaro still refuses to read it.

      • The Cutter - Jul 30, 2014 at 2:27 PM

        Why do you say that? As mentioned, he’s not giving out long-term contracts to free agents or trading away prospects.

      • SocraticGadfly - Jul 30, 2014 at 2:47 PM

        Oh, hey, like the blog, too.

      • SocraticGadfly - Jul 30, 2014 at 2:49 PM

        Cutter, I say that because he still doesn’t want to do an actual rebuild, or so it seems. When he actually trades Howard while eating 90 percent of his contract, or even makes the DFA decision, call me. Ditto on trading Lee while eating 1/3 of his contract.

      • The Cutter - Jul 30, 2014 at 3:05 PM

        I am also in favor of eating money in trades IF you can get decent prospects in return. And reports are that he’s tried. But it takes two to tango.

        Also, not necessarily his call to eat all that money.

      • stupidusername - Jul 30, 2014 at 2:59 PM

        Because they don’t have any prospects to sell now. If they traded any of their top prospects, not only would they not be enough to land a star player, but then they’d really have no future prospects. They had to draft all college players this year just to say ‘hey, we have some young guys not too far away.’

      • The Cutter - Jul 30, 2014 at 3:07 PM

        There’s always prospects to trade. A truly delusional GM would have traded Biddle and co. before the 2013 season to go “all in.”

      • paint771 - Jul 30, 2014 at 10:19 PM

        You don’t have to send away prospects or sign bad contracts to lose value – in fact, this Phillies team is a case in point. Instead, another easy way to corrode your organization is to refuse to sell high and let your EXISTING bad contracts and prospects continue to atrophy and continue to degrade in terms of possible return. Your no-good prospects continue to not pan out and don’t even promise “upside” like they used to, and your bad contracts just look worse.

        I disagree with your #2. It’s not a binary. Sure, your long-term win-now contracts won’t look great in 2012 – but they will look worse in 2013, and worse still in 2014, and so on and so forth. There was – and by the way there still is – ALWAYS something that can be done. The trap that some people – and Ruben appears to be one of them – fall into is to refuse deals that don’t get them the return based on a value they have in their heads that don’t exist anymore. It’s like driving a car off a lot – the second you do the clock starts ticking, and you will never get more than in that moment. But that doesn’t mean once you drive it off a lot it has ZERO value – it just means you ain’t getting your initial investment back. BUT, you will eat significantly more of that investment the longer you wait.

        I think the Phillies could actually still get decent value if they commit to a rebuild. One thing working in their favor in a huge way is they can actually afford to eat more salary on the bad contracts than other teams in a similar position would be able to. Yeah, you ain’t getting anybody to bite on even taking on Howard’s contract much less sending anything back, but eat 2/3s of it? Who knows? That’s even more true for Utley, Lee, Hamels, Pappelbon, etc.

        But, the longer you drag your feet, the less you’re going to get, and there does reach a point where you can expect to get nothing and have to eat the whole salary for a player you don’t even want to start.

        So I disagree with your fundamental premise: inaction and short-term fixes absolutely hurt the team long-term. And no, it was pretty obvious, both in 2012 and frankly for the year or two prior, what trajectory this club was on. This isn’t a hindsight is 20/20 sort of thing. Some of us – MOST of us – have been making this argument for the last three or four years. I think only Ruben Amaro thought that 2012 may have been a fluke. And he’s certainly the only one that appeared to think that of 2013 too.

      • The Cutter - Jul 31, 2014 at 9:25 AM


        I see what you’re saying, and don’t completely disagree.

        But you’re also operating under the theory that the Phillies were ever going to commit to a full-blown Astros-style rebuild. Based on comments by David Montgomery, it seems clear that was never going to happen.

        And yes, they could probably get rid of anyone – including Howard and Paps – if they absorbed almost all of the contract and asked for just about nothing in return. But why? What does that accomplish?

        The key is as you said: ” Your no-good prospects continue to not pan out and don’t even promise “upside” like they used to”

        If their prospects continue to disappoint, they can make all the trades they want, and the team will continue to suck.

    • stupidusername - Jul 30, 2014 at 2:44 PM

      “… would have taken that first deal, but the hope would have been “okay, but when we start sucking again hopefully you’ll have some ideas and can start building to something down the road again”

      You’re exactly right. Didn’t even have to be 5 years, just 1 World Series win was enough for us… And we’re still waiting for the rebuild. STILL! 2012 wasn’t bad enough, they’ll be better when everyone’s healthy. 2013 wasn’t bad enough, they’ll be better when everyone’s healthy. 2014 hasn’t been bad enough, despite just about everyone being healthy… It also doesn’t help they were picking all high school players in the first round with none of them panning out.

      • The Cutter - Jul 30, 2014 at 4:36 PM

        So in 2009, you would have said, “That World Series sure was nifty. Now let’s trade some of these guys while they’re at peak value so we can build for the future?”

        The HS draft thing was indeed a problem, but that trend started long before Amaro.

      • stupidusername - Jul 31, 2014 at 9:50 PM

        Absolutely not. What the original poster said was that if we were given a deal to have a great run and then really suck we would have taken it. Which I agreed with. And that we could have just been given 1 championship at that point and it would have been enough. I was born in 83 after the Sixers won so I wasn’t even alive for a championship in any sport. But the idea is that when you do start to suck you rebuild the team. You don’t hold onto players because 6 years ago they won you a championship. The deal was to win, suck, and rebuild. Not to win, suck, and arrogantly refuse to rebuild.

      • The Cutter - Aug 2, 2014 at 12:58 PM

        They are rebuilding though. They’re holding onto prospects, spending more on the draft and international signings, and not acquiring harmful long term veterans.

        These are the true actions of a rebuilding team, but it seems that unless a team completely gets rid of everyone, most people are unable to notice

      • tmc602014 - Jul 30, 2014 at 6:33 PM

        I could have just thumbed up, but I needed to say, “I agree with stupid…”

  15. dannymac17 - Jul 30, 2014 at 12:49 PM

    That Kershaw contract will pay off like Jeter. Kersh, like Jeets, are once in a 25 years type players that exude class that show up to play every day.

    • moogro - Jul 30, 2014 at 1:40 PM

      Even if one year is missed to TJ surgery, the Kershaw contract is safely a bargain.

  16. Bob Loblaw - Jul 30, 2014 at 1:39 PM

    This article leaves out the single worst decision the Phillies have made since 2007…HIRING RUBEN AMARO OVER MIKE ARBUCKLE. I wish SOMEBODY…ANYBODY would write the article explaining how much more of a baseball man Arbuckle was. And how this team would probably have won multiple championships and would not be in the bind they are in had they chosen Mike Arbuckle.

    I thought maybe Joe with his Royals connection would have mentioned it, but he didn’t. Oh well…I guess because it was an article about contracts, but it could just as easily be about how bad Amaro sucks.

    • The Cutter - Jul 30, 2014 at 2:18 PM

      How would the team have won multiple championships with Arbuckle? Would the team be in better shape with Arbuckle today? It’s possible, but to claim the past five years would have turned out better is questionable.

    • mypoohbear2013 - Jul 31, 2014 at 1:48 PM

      dont forget about letting chuck laMar go either. LaMar wanted the organization to put more $ into minor league development and reasearch, i.e. latin players, and LaMar was allowed to walk

  17. yahmule - Jul 30, 2014 at 2:31 PM

    The tough thing about these loyalty contracts is the fans will pressure you to keep a long time favorite and then castigate you for doing it when the guy gets old overnight.

    • schmedley69 - Jul 30, 2014 at 3:28 PM

      Very true. You’re damned if you do, and damned if you don’t, so might as well pick the option where you don’t have to pay a guy $100 million during his declining years. Better to look stupid in the short-term and smart in the long-run than vice versa.

    • tmc602014 - Jul 30, 2014 at 6:39 PM

      What about here in CA. The fans pressed for the team to do SOMETHING, ANYTHING, and we got Pujols. Everyone in the state knew the Angels overpaid for the wrong player. The flags on the towers of Sleeping Beauty’s Castle were lowered to half mast!

  18. sisqsage - Jul 30, 2014 at 2:57 PM

    That list of bad contracts reminds of the special hell of watching Barry Zito not live up to that $126 mil dandy, all the while knowing we were stuck with him for like another six years. That’s the worst part of these kind of contracts – you are stuck. No flexibility in a trade unless you agree to eat a ton of money, which most owners won’t agree to let a GM do. The common theme among all of them: they never made any sense, moneywise or where the player was in his career relative to his physical ability to live up to all that cash. The only winners in this nonsense are the agents like Boros. Must be an ego thing with some of the owners too. “I can afford to pay that guy a zillion dollars, so dammit, that’s just what I am going to do!. Because I can! Think of all of the p.r. we will get off this.”

  19. chadjones27 - Jul 30, 2014 at 4:35 PM

    How is there no mention of the Rollins contract? Another $11 mil/per year for 3 years. Amaro basically bid against himself. No other team was reported to be offereing anything near that.

    • The Cutter - Jul 30, 2014 at 4:39 PM

      1. Rollins was allowed to test the market and probably could have gotten a similar deal elsewhere.

      2. They were coming off a 102 win season and were looked at as legit WS contenders when it happened. That’s when you want to replace Rollins with Freddy Galvis?

      3. Rollins has actually been worth the money.

  20. Ari Collins - Jul 30, 2014 at 7:53 PM

    These comments are surprisingly sane, especially since this site has a reputation (rightly or wrongly) for Phillies’ fans phreaking out on it.

    But the amazing thing to me is the way a few people have phramed this (sorry, I’ll stop!) as, “The Phillies had that great run, including a championship, I’d easily trade a decade of losing for that run.” And I agree, it was easily worth it.

    But the key is: they didn’t have to make that trade. Their two worst contracts, the Ryan Howard and Jonathan Papelbon deals, weren’t, “Go for it even if this contract will be an albatross down the line” type deals. They were clear overpays that to players that were clearly declining already.

    What’s more, the past couple of years, after the Phillies clearly needed a rebuild, Amaro has just piled on the contracts. While none of them have been bad contracts really (some even have surplus value, even if not as much as Amaro is reported to be asking for in return this deadling), they’re at best needless and at worst a hindrance to a team that, again, really needed a rebuild.

    So it’s not that they mortgaged the future for an amazing present. They mortgaged the future for an amazing but clearly gone past.

    • The Cutter - Jul 30, 2014 at 9:28 PM

      The money spent on those expensive deals hasn’t hindered a rebuild. Signing Howard to that extension didn’t keep them from signing Lee or Papelbon. Signing Paps didn’t keep them from extending Hamels or signing the likes of Byrd and Burnett.

      Was there an obvious move that would have greatly improved the fortunes of the 2014 Phillies that they couldn’t do because of money?

      Money is not a problem. The true problem – and I’ll keep repeating this since people don’t seem to grasp it – is that they aren’t bringing up enough good talent from the minors.

      The reasons for this are many: Poor draft position due to successful records, sacrificing 1st round picks to sign elite free agents, organizational edict to stick to baseball’s slotting system for draft pick contracts, trading away some prospects in deals (although there’s a very low success rate on those guys thus far), and missing on a lot of draft picks.

      Yes, some of that is Amaro’s responsibility, but some of it is not.

      • realist50 - Aug 2, 2014 at 1:22 AM

        What does seem to have hindered a rebuild though is that Amaro won’t trade players who he needs to trade. Understood that a couple of these contracts (Howard, Lee) aren’t tradeable right now. I’ll even grant that maybe you hold on to Hamels as part of a long-term plan to be good again before his contract expires. Utley and Rollins are 10/5 players who would have to approve any trade.

        But what about guys like Byrd, Papelbon, Ruiz, or Burnett? Working from any realistic view of the Phillies’ future, these guys should be moved for whatever the team can get in return. Basically, any return is worth it. The fact that Amaro won’t do it indicates that he’s either delusional about how good the team will be i the near future or he has no understanding of player value (including remaining money on contracts). Either way, it speaks to him being a poor GM who ought to be replaced.

      • The Cutter - Aug 2, 2014 at 12:56 PM

        What’s the point of “any return” though? What use is a player who has no value?

      • realist50 - Aug 3, 2014 at 5:30 AM

        Any return in the form of a minor league player is at least a lottery ticket that might have value down the road. My view is that the chances of that lottery ticket player turning into a contributing player are a lot better than the Phillies’ chances of making the playoffs next year.

        A 21-year old A ball player still has a wide range of possible outcomes. Even a player who doesn’t have the ceiling to be a star can deliver a lot of surplus value if they unexpectedly develop into an average starter who is under team control for a few years. Heck, even filling in the bench or bullpen with young, minimum salary talent saves some money versus paying retail to sign veteran free agents.

  21. hushbrother - Jul 30, 2014 at 9:24 PM

    Did you know the 2011 Phillies had the highest cumulative bWAR by a pitching staff of all time (37.5?)

    I don’t agree with the criticism of the Lee or Hamels deals. Those are two of the very best pitchers in baseball. If Halladay hadn’t broken down, they would have three of the best in baseball – a modern day Maddux-Glavine-Smoltz. Would it have been dumb for the Braves to give those guys long-term contracts?

    I also don’t think holding on to Utley was a bad move, either – when healthy, he can still play well, and it’s not like there are any other second basemen out there who are locks to stay healthy.

    The other contracts, yes, those were ill-advised.

  22. diego169 - Jul 30, 2014 at 10:14 PM

    Joe, so you name bad contracts “Ricciardis”? Name the bad deals JP gave out? Skip Vernon Wells because that was ownership, BJ Ryan was an injury! And I know you have all the answers, however if you can predict injuries you wouldn’t be hiding behind a computer dumping on actual decision makers unlike yourself! You’ve never had an ounce of skin in the game yet you talk as if you have all the answers. I’m a huge Blue Jay fan, and while I don’t agree with all of JP’s decisions he was and is a great baseball man! His record in Oakland speaks for itself, cleaning up the Toronto system he acquired was a tough enough job in itself, never mind competing in the AL East at that time. So again I’d like a list if JP’s “Ricciardi’s” when your not to busy trashing people who actually make baseball decisions for a living! To be candid your a joke of a sports writer! I generally take the high road in life, try to be the better person, that stupid comment and your constant trashing JP and others has me to the edge. Give yourself and your high horse a rest. And I know you’ll probably never read these comments because your so smart you don’t need the feedback! But again, draft/ develop/ trade/ sign as many players as JP Ricciardi then come tell us how smart you are!

    • The Cutter - Jul 30, 2014 at 10:18 PM

      This has got to be JP Ricciardi writing this, right? Or at least a close relative?

      • diego169 - Jul 30, 2014 at 11:43 PM

        No actually not even Italian, lifelong Jays fan. Was always a fan of Player de looked in baseball and really appreciate the way he approached that aspect if the game. Of coarse we would have liked better results when JP was here, still to call bad contracts “Ricciardi’s”? There many more GM’s out there I can think of that deserve that label.

      • bellweather22 - Jul 31, 2014 at 12:51 AM

        It’s his drunken uncle who blacked for about five years apparently.

    • realist50 - Aug 2, 2014 at 1:31 AM

      Even if B.J. Ryan had stayed healthy, it was an awful contract. It was a 5-year, $47 million contract for a closer – in 2005, so factor in baseball contract inflation since then to put it in modern terms. Overpaying for a closer, especially on a long-term deal, is a classic dumb GM move. It works out fine for some teams who can afford the luxury of a high-paid closer – like the Yankees with Rivera – but relievers are a logical area for a team to go cheap because there’s so many who are at least adequate and they tend to fluctuate year-to-year. Even if you find a great one, the value just isn’t there from a guy who pitches 60 innings per year.

  23. Black Dog - Jul 31, 2014 at 1:49 AM

    Great article.

    My only quibble is your description of Marlon Byrd as a “travelling bat” with “some value.”

    Byrd has had an outstanding offensive season. His 20 homers rank him 14th in all of baseball — as many as Jose Bautista, and more than Paul Goldschmidt.

    Power is a scarce commodity. He has it, and he’s been terrific this season. A bargain at $8 million.

  24. dankil13 - Jul 31, 2014 at 11:35 AM

    Hamels has been one of the more dominant pitchers over the past 5-6 years and while his win total isn’t where it should be (since this team can’t score any runs) I don’t see why any team would NOT take Hamels and his contract. He is only 30 and has been relatively injury free. His velo has ticked up the last month or so. His best pitch is his changeup which even if his FB loses a few mphs can still be very effective. If I am Amaro and I think I can turn this around in 2016 I don’t even consider moving Hamels unless I get a king’s ransom in return.

    • realist50 - Aug 2, 2014 at 1:53 AM

      The problem with that reasoning is that Hamels the player is more or less worth his contract, which means that he’s not worth a king’s ransom.

      Would some team take Hamels at his current contract? I think so, though you get down to a fairly short list with that many dollars and with several of the high revenue teams either are out of the race this year (Red Sox, Rangers) or lack many prospects (Yankees). The thing is, though, that Hamels’ remaining contract – 4 years / $90 million plus a $6 million buyout – is awfully close to where fair market would be if he hit free agency. A team simply is not going to get a “king’s ransom” back when trading a guy with a long-term contract that matches his likely performance.

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