A team with nothing happening

My feelings about the Milwaukee Brewers currently, following general manager Doug Melvin’s latest comments (Note: I posted this on a forum elsewhere, but it felt appropriate to copy it here as well).

I guess I’m just really disappointed in how things have
developed in the past year or so. Some of it is bad luck, as can happen
to any sports franchise. Corey Hart got injured at the absolute worst
possible time, and I guess there isn’t much of a market for big slugging
1Bs such as Prince Fielder right now. No one could have seen Hoffman
completely dropping off a cliff since last season and basically killing
any trade value he would have had, either. However, I also think Melvin
has demonstrated a lack of foresight, and a lack of aggressiveness in
addressing the club’s core issues. I’m just not seeing any sort of long
term planning going on right now to make sure this team makes a serious
run at a championship while Ryan Braun and Yovani Gallardo are still here; and it
really concerns me. Maybe Melvin does have a strategy in hand for the
off-season, but his latest comments don’t really foreshadow anything
promising.

I can just foresee now that we go into next season again with Hart and
Fielder, after Melvin states he wasn’t getting good trade offers during
the Hot Stove season. We’ll sign a veteran reliever to replace Hoffman,
and another Doug Davis/Braden Looper type to fill out he rotation. The club will
make a play for Cliff Lee (the only truly good free agent starter on the
market this winter), but get blown out of the water by the New York
Yankees. Melvin will sign a veteran Russel Branyan type bench player that will
play pretty well. Finally, the team will play well at the start of the
season, but fade in June and July because the rotation isn’t good
enough. Fielder finally gets dealt for an OK-ish middle of the rotation
starter with 2-3 years of service time left, and maybe a decent relief
pitcher and other spare parts. Hart plays decently, but not as well as
in 2010, and ends up departing in free agency after the 2011 season.

Perhaps I am being overly pessimistic. I certainly hope I am. However,
the overall makeup of this team just has not gotten it done since
October ’08. As Albert Einstein famously said, “Insanity: doing the same
thing over and over again and expecting different results.” It’s time
for this team to start doing things differently and thinking outside the
box a bit more. We heard enough about this current core of players to
expect bigger and better things than a single “one and done” playoff
run.

Don’t blame Ken Macha.

Ken Macha is not a great manager, but he is not even close to being the
biggest problem on the Milwaukee Brewers team. I guess now that Jeff Suppan is gone, the fans
needed a new scapegoat, so that naturally falls on the manager due to
the knee jerk nature of most sports fans.

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Look at last night’s
game. A very solid pitching performance by a middle rotation type
pitcher was completely wasted due to lack of consistent offense and bad
defense. When the offense is clicking, we don’t have enough pitching to
win. I don’t care who the manager is; Bobby Cox, Joe Torre, Bobby
Valentine or whomever wouldn’t be able to win with the team as
assembled. Maybe a genius manager would equal to two or three extra wins
over the course of this season, but that still makes for a losing team
that is not even close to a playoff picture.

I realize Brewers principle owner Mark
Attanasio wants to win; but for the good of the franchise, I hope he
gives Melvin free reign to explore any reasonable trade possibilities
very soon. Other than a small handful of players (Ryan Braun, Yovani Gallardo, etc),
everyone should be considered available. With the right moves, this
team could be in the hunt again next season. However, that will require
letting go of this season. I know that can be painful for the owner and
for fans, but it’s part of being in the smallest market in baseball.

Wolf on the Way?

Multiple reports from mlbtraderumors.com and Tom Haudricourt of JSOnline.com say that the Brewers “are on the verge” of signing free agent pitcher Randy Wolf. Most sources agree that it will be a three year contract, though no one seems sure on the exact dollar figure at this time. $25-30 million total seems likely.

Wolf would represent a significant upgrade to the Brewers’ pitching staff.

randywolf[1].jpgThe 6’0″ lefty performed well for the Dodgers last season, sporting a 3.23 ERA and a 1.10 WHIP, perhaps partly due to pitcher friendly Dodgers Stadium. This will be his age 33 season in 2010, so I would be very leery of going more than $10 million per year with him. The Brewers cannot afford to make another costly mistake like they made with the disappointing Jeff Suppan. You have to figure that even if Wolf regresses somewhat from his performance last year, he would still be an improvement over four-fifths of last year’s Brewers rotation. Only Yovani Gallardo finished the season with an ERA under 5.00. Two of their starters finished with ERAs over 6.00. Clearly significant impovement is needed if the Brewers hope to compete with the Cardinals, Cubs, and the rest of the NL Central.

The Hot Stove Heats Up

It’s been a while since I’ve made a post on this blog.

Part of the reason was that I lost enthusiasm as the season waned for the Brewers. Their shoestring pitching staff simply did not hold up, as many experts predicted it would not before the season began. When your team is throwing the likes of Carlos Villanueva and Mike Burns into the rotation during the stretch run, you know things are bleak. While pitchers like that have their uses, pitching as starters for a team trying to make the playoffs is not one.

Thus far, it has been an interesting off-season for Brewers GM Doug Melvin. He moved quickly to re-sign veteran closer Trevor Hoffman to a fair contract that keeps the back end of the bullpen solidified. He also traded fan favorite shortstop J.J. Hardy to the Minnesota Twins for center fielder Carlos Gomez. While trading Hardy was not unexpected, due to the presence of blue chip shorstop Alcides Escobar, trading him so early in the off-season came as a surprise. While some fans have voiced disappointment in the move, Hardy was coming off a brutally bad 2009 campaign which included him serving a stint in AAA, and comments from Melvin made it obvious he was not going to get much more in value than what the Twins were offering.

The acquisition of Gomez signals that Mike Cameron will not be a Milwaukee Brewer in 2010 either. The veteran center fielder figures to get a bigger contract than the Brewers were willing to offer elsewhere. Perhaps he will land back in his former grounds at Petco Field in San Diego.

Doug Melvin seems to be following a strategy of clearing as much salary as possible in order to repair the disappointing pitching staff. He did not offer salary arbitration to any of the team’s departing free agents, including Cameron, catcher Jason Kendall, or shortstop Felipe Lopez. It seems clear that due to the still struggling economy, the Brewers’ budget for 2010 figures to be similar to this past season’s. Melvin reportedly flew out to Los Angeles earlier this week to solidify the team’s budget with principle owner Mark Attanasio, in order to determine how much flexibility is available to make offers to free agent starting pitchers.

This brings up the biggest question of the off-season, not just for the Brewers but for many MLB clubs. The free agent pitching class this off-season is not very strong. John Lackey is widely regarded as the biggest prize of the off-season, but even he is not a true top flight ace akin to C.C. Sabathia, Cliff Lee, or Roy Halladay, etc. The pitcher ranked slightly below him may be a more realistic target, as Lackey figures to get a contract similar to New York Yankees pitcher A.J. Burnett (5 years, $82.5 million).

That player would be Randy Wolf, who was not offered arbitration by the financially struggling Los Angeles Dodgers. (Their ownership is involved in a messy divorce). Rumors have started to swirl that the Brewers either have offered or will offer him a three year contract, possibly in the $25-30 million range. This may be early speculation at best.

randy_wolf[1].jpgWolf is an intriguing answer to the Brewers’ starting pitching woes. He carried an ERA this past season around 3.10 and a WHIP just north of 1.10. This would represent a tremendous upgrade to the likes of Jeff Suppan and Braden Looper, and would give Yovani Gallardo someone to help carry the rotation’s work load.

It’s not as if the Brewers will be the only club looking for starting pitching help, though. Wolf is likely a hot commodity right now. The Brewers may have to set their sights lower to the likes of Jarrod Washburn or Doug Davis, both rumored as favorites of Doug Melvin. I hope that if he goes that route, he does not commit long term dollars to either. The Jeff Suppan contract should be lesson enough that committing a big contract to average starting pitching is usually not a formula for success, especially for a small market team like the Brewers.

Doug Melvin has his work cut out for him. It is no secret he intends to add at least two starting pitchers to the rotation. He has stated as much. Now he has to do it. The club’s fans deserve to see some action soon, as they again filled Miller Park with over 3 million attendees. Failure again to add quality starting pitching could result in plummeting attendance and revenues, and signal that the franchise’s current “window of opportunity” to return to the playoffs would officially be shut.

Been a while.

So it’s been almost a month since I’ve written an entry on this relatively new blog, and for that I apologize. For me, summer is not only a time to enjoy baseball, it’s a time to enjoy the 3-4 months of actual nice weather we get here in the state of Wisconsin. So I’ve been doing some camping and other various outdoor activities.

Just to comment on the latest trade rumors: The Brewers need to get a top tier pitcher if they want to stay in contention this season. They are currently ranked 4th in the NL in runs scored, but only 13th in pitching overall. That is a big differential, and it’s no secret that teams don’t usually get into the playoffs with a mediocre rotation like the Brewers currently have.

Yovani Gallardo has been doing an admirable job in the top spot, but he’s only 23 years young, and has never pitched a full season in the majors. Manny Parra also seems to be doing better since his stint at AAA Nashville just a couple weeks back, but himself has never pitched a full season as an MLB starter.

Rounding out the rotation you have Braden Looper and Jeff Suppan…both solid, if unspectacular. Suppan’s most recent outing was pretty pathetic, giving up 6 runs in the first two innings of an outing against the Pittsburgh Pirates (right after their starting first baseman Adam LaRoche had been traded to the BoSox, no less).

Oh wait…I only mentioned four guys. Mike Burns, recent call up from the Nashville Sounds, was pretty awful in his last start. He was never expected to be a permanent solution for the rotation, either. He has been serving as a fill-in for Dave Bush, who is currently injured and won’t be back for at least two to three more weeks, according to reports.

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Tom Haudricourt of the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel has been saying that it looks like Burns will be skipped on his next start. They may look to call up AAA pitcher Tim Dillard as a fill-in. Dillard’s numbers are solid, but he doesn’t project to be a long term solution.

It’s time for Doug Melvin to get something going. Time is getting tight, but the Brewers are still only two games out of first place in a tightly contested NL Central Division. Roy Halladay and Cliff Lee are both rumored as possibilities. Either would probably cost high level prospects, but prospects are never a sure fire course of success. A pitcher like Halladay or Lee could anchor the Brewers’ rotation for the next year and a half, and give the Brewers time to develop more long term solutions to help Gallardo carry the load. Most of the Brewers current young pitching prospects are in A ball…so you can’t just point to next season and say the can call up more younsters like Gallardo or Parra. Sure, an offseason trade or free agent signing could be possible, but it’s not like the Brewers will be the only team looking for top of the rotation help.

With the Brewers having drawn over 3 million fans last season, and on pace to draw similar record shattering numbers, the Brewers fan base deserves to be rewarded for their loyalty. It’s time to make a move and ensure that the team continues to do well down the stretch. Get ‘er done, Doug.

The Bill Hall issue.

In the midst of the fourth loss in a row that the Brewers suffered last night at the hands of the Minnesota Twins, back home at Miller Park, we saw more of the same from third baseman and continual target of fan annoyance, Bill Hall.

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Let me preface all of this by saying that Bill Hall is probably my second favorite current Milwaukee Brewer, right behind probable NL All-Star outfielder Ryan Braun. I attended the semi-legendary game in April ’04 where Billy hit a game winning home run in the 9th inning against the Cincinnati Reds. Former Brewers catcher Chad Moeller hit for the cycle in that same game. From that point, Bill Hall was my favorite Milwaukee Brewer for quite a while, until the rise of the mighty #8.
I want the man to succeed, but he continues to fail. In 2006, Hall hit 35 home runs and was the team MVP. Since then, he has put up this line at the plate: .233/.297/.398, in over 1100 plate appearances.

Just awful. Brutally bad for any supposed Major League starter. Yet Ken Macha continually trots him out when a viable alternative is present in the form of young (and reportedly “not on the table” for trades) prospect Mat Gamel.

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It’s time for Bill Hall to go. It pains me to say it, but I can’t see how he will possibly turn things around, no matter how many ABs he gets. It’s time to see what the Brewers really have in Mat Gamel, and make him the everyday starter at third base. Bill Hall is really serving no purpose on the Brewers MLB roster right now, and I don’t see how Macha can even have confidence in him as a pinch hitter at this point. Yes, he’s still a superior defensive player, but it’s to the point where the negatives he brings with his bat outweigh any positives with his glove. Which really means he should either be busted down to AAA, or traded (yeah, with his contract, we know that won’t be happening).

It’s time for Doug Melvin to make a definitive move with this player. In the midst of a four game losing skid (the Brewers are no longer in first place), it’s time to show the team that continued failure won’t be tolerated. Bill Hall needs to go, somehow.

Comeback slugfest in Cleveland.

I haven’t been able to post anything here in the past couple weeks. It’s been pretty busy with work and other family stuff going on. Such is life.

The Brewers had a tremendous come from behind win last night. They won a 14-12 slug fest against the Cleveland Indians, the first meeting between the two teams in a three game series. The win was highlighted by Prince Fielder’s first career grand slam.

prince-fielder-3[1].jpgPrince is having a tremendous year so far at the plate, hitting .295 with 16 homers and an OPS over over 1.000. It’s hard to believe that he had not hit a grand salami so far in his nearly four years in the bigs. However, last night was the night it finally happened, when he went yard on Rafael Perez. It probably helps that he doesn’t have to worry about money anytime soon…he signed a two year $18 million contract with the Brewers during this past off-season. The Brewers actually control him for one more year after next season, which makes talk of trading him a bit premature. Let’s discuss that for a moment, though.

That may leave the team in a bit of a conundrum. After this season, they have him for two years, and his value is quite high. I would expect they’ll likely end up trading him after next season, but no sooner than that. He’s too important to the Brewers lineup right now to let go, even for high level prospects. Most great teams have at least two impact hitters in their lineup protecting each other, and right now Prince and Ryan Braun make a potent combination. This is especially important with the likes of JJ Hardy and Mike Cameron slumping recently.

Speaking of possible trades, the Brewers are faced with a problem that will have to resolved sooner than later. Manny Parra, who I have written about previously, had another terrible outing on Friday, and was sent down to the AAA Nashville Sounds immediately after the game. The Brewers will use a four man rotation for the next couple weeks, due to off days allowing for this. However, it’s doubtful Parra will be back even after those two weeks. The Brewers want to make sure he has everything working correctly before bringing him back.

They have a couple solid enough arms at AAA in Mike Burns and Tim Dillard. However, neither of these project to be upper rotation types, which is what the Brewers are believed to want in order to continue their playoff push (they’re in first place in the NL Central, by the way). With a rash of injuries to the likes of Jake Peavy and Roy Halladay, the price of a trade for a premium pitcher who’s still healthy like a Cliff Lee or John Lackey has likely gone up quite a bit.

I would expect something to happen around early July, much like the heralded trade for CC Sabathia last season. By then, more teams will realistically be looking to become sellers, and that may open up some more options than trading for a low level starter like a Brad Penny (sorry BoSox fans, we don’t want him either).

Manny being Manny.

Nope, not that Manny…not the one currently in the middle of a 50 game suspension. This one is about another Manny.

Manny Parra of the Milwaukee Brewers has turned himself into a lightning rod of criticism after an abysmal start last night in Florida. Florida has not been kind to the Brewers, as they haven’t won a game in Miami since ’07. The Crew just doesn’t seem to have much luck playing in the cavernous football stadium now redubbed “Land Shark Stadium.”

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There you see a typical shot of what constitutes a packed house in Miami. It’s pretty comical. Hopefully their new stadium, featuring a retractable roof coming in 2011, will help boost the woeful crowds the Marlins play to. At least then the almost daily rain won’t be an issue. On the upside, at least it gave Brewers Hall of Fame announcer Bob Uecker some material to work with last night on the radio, as he remarked “someone needs their mouth washed out with soap” when the attendance was announced at over 10,000. Most people actually there remarked there were likely less than 500 in the seats. “Paid, not seated”, as usual with these things.

Anyway, the Brewers have something of a tough situation right now with their pitching. They’ve had to rely on their bullpen a lot, and after releasing awful reliever Jorge Julio yesterday, called up Mike Burns from AAA Nashville. So, going into the game, manager Ken Macha was looking to get a decent number of innings from his 26 year old starter.

What he got was just four innings pitched, 100 pitches thrown, and 10 runs surrendered. The horrific performance inflated Parra’s ERA to 6.75. His WHIP is an unispiring 1.83. That’s over 11 starts.

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Above, you see Macha having a mid-game “conference” with Parra. A one sided conversation, no doubt. It didn’t do much good, and Parra left his team out to dry once again. Fortunately, Mike Burns, on his first day with the team, was able to pitch four scoreless innings for the Brewers.

Parra is pathetic right now. His “mental makeup” has been discussed quite a bit in the Milwaukee media and the various blogs. He showed flashes of greatness last night in the first inning, striking out the side, then seemed as if he was a completely different hurler afterwards. The pitcher himself has called himself his own worst enemy on occasion. He’s just not cutting it at this point.

This is a team looking to repeat their playoff appearance from last season. Parra’s continued inconsistency and lack of control (of anything other than a fastball down the middle) can’t be tolerated any longer. It’s time to either trade him before his value is nonexistent, or send him down to the Nashville Sounds so he can regain some form of poise and control. Tim Dillard has been pitching well in Nashville and deserves a shot, if Parra isn’t going to make good on his opportunities. The Brewers have no room for continued failure at this juncture.

They brought the brooms.

Quite
the eventful weekend in baseball all around. The NL Central continues to be
quite tumultuous, as the Brewers went from first place, to second, back to
first in the span of a handful of games. It’s a tight division right now, indeed. After getting swept at the Metrodome
last weekend, it was nice to see the Crew come back and squash the ambitions of
the Cincinnati Reds for the time being.

 

Brandon
Phillips was quoted after Sunday’s game as saying, 
“I feel we’re a better team
than the Brewers…we lost because they did the little things and we didn’t do
the little things. They’re a good team but this should never have happened.”


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Well, Mr. Phillips was not the only one to sell Milwaukee short so far this year. It seems like every pundit out there glanced at the Brewers roster during spring training and said “Whoa! No C.C. Sabathia or Ben Sheets! They’re going to stink this year! They won’t be better than fourth place.” Well, they didn’t start last season with Sabathia either, and Gallardo was gone most of last year. One could argue that Gallardo has been a more than adequate replacement for the injury prone Sheets. So, this year’s team may have a pitching rotation more similar to last season’s than some were willing to admit.

 

Now
if they could only shake the Cardinals, who look to do their usual “hang
around near the top of the division all season” routine. I just don’t see
them having the depth to make the post-season this year, despite all their fans’ talk about how “classy” and historic their franchise is compared
to the Milwaukee Brewers (I may expound on that very topic sooner than later). While they did take the series against the Crew  this past week, overall the Brewers have been dominant against them in recent history. I think the Brewers will continue untucking more often than not
against their division rivals this season.

 

Speaking
of rivals…how ’bout those Astros? Cecil Cooper looks like he may be in line
to be the third manager axed so far this season. When you’re playing in a six
team division and you’re beneath the Pirates, you know you’re having problems.
Maybe it’s just age catching up with the ‘Stros, but a fire sale may soon be in
order. Roy Oswalt could be a key trading chip, as rumors mount that he may not
mind a change of scenery, though he supposedly has said he would not accept a
trade to the White Sox. There seems to be a pattern lately of NL aces not wanting to
play for Ozzie Guillen’s team.


That’s enough for today. I’ll be back with more thoughts later this week, and may even post some pictures from our family’s trip to Miller Park this past Friday.


So…Jake Peavy

In my blog entry from yesterday, I mentioned the Jake Peavy rumors in connection with the Milwaukee Brewers. Let me expound on that a little bit more in the second entry of my humble MLBlog.

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Jake Peavy. Great pitcher, isn’t he? Two time All-Star, and former Cy Young Aard winner. He sure would be a nice upgrade to the Milwaukee Brewers current rotation. The rumors started swirling during this off-season, when there was some speculation the Padres would be looking to clear out some salary as they were possibly going into a rebuilding phase. Some of the rumor mongering may have gotten out of hand, when a simple quote from Bill Hall got taken way out of context. Following an ownership change, a salary clearing would not be all that unexpected. Peavy is slated to make a total of around $8 million this season, with pay increases in the $15-17 million range over the next three years, and then a team option final year at around $22 million. One could argue the contract is fairly reasonable, but for a mid-level team like San Diego, it is still a hindrance as far as making additional acquisitions. 
It would possibly be a hindrance to a team like the Brewers as well (who play in the smallest media market in baseball). Another factor is that Peavy is apparently demanding that whatever team acquires him pick up his final year of the contract in order to waive his no trade clause (those are always pesky things, aren’t they?). So you’re looking at paying a pitcher a total of about $70 million over the next four seasons. Pricey, but not in the astronomical range that guys like CC Sabathia and Johan Santana have gotten.
Of course, this all begs the question: What would the Brewers actually have to give up in order to pry Peavy away from the Friars? (Putting aside whether or not Peavy would be willing to come to the team that features some of his former teammates like Mike Cameron and Trevor Hoffman.) Well, he won’t come cheap, that’s for sure. San Diego wants pitching…MLB ready starting pitching, to boot. The Brewers currently do not have any top prospects knocking on the door in AAA, or even AA, really. The guy who is considered their top pitching prospect, Jeremy Jeffress, is apparently over whatever drug issues he had a while back (he served a 50 game suspsension in 2008)…but he was recently sent back down to AA Huntsville. So you can’t expect him to be with the Brew Crew anytime soon. Tim Dillard is currently throwing well in AAA for the Nashville Sounds, but he is more of a low ceiling kind of guy, and probably isn’t a major bargaining chip.
Yovani Gallardo, the Brewers current #1 in the rotation, certainly isn’t going anywhere. Which would mean if the Brewer have to give up someone, it would probably be this guy:
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Nope, that’s not Corey Feldman turned Major League starting pitcher. That would be Manny Parra. At 26 years old, Parra is probably a bit behind the curve as far as developing into an upper tier starting pitcher. He has good stuff, but his sometimes lack of confidence and lack of control have been documented.
Parra by himself would not be enough. The Brewers would have to give up other pieces as well. Names like Alcides Escobar and even Corey Hart have been batted about on the various message boards and news blogs. Ultimately, I don’t think it’s necessarily a question of whether or not the Brewers could put together a package that would seem fair to San Diego. It’s whether they should trade for Peavy to begin with.
There’s no doubt in my mind that if you switch Peavy out for Parra, it makes the team instantly better for this season. A Jake Peavy led Brewers would have to be considered a heavy favorite to win the NL Central, and also might even be argued as a favorite to win the NL Pennant. Yeah, I know…Dodgers, Phillies, etc…plus it’s still only May. The team just fell out of first place, but could easily overcome the Cardinals yet again, soon enough. The hype and ticket sales that would surround a Jake Peavy trade are no doubt also appealing to the Brewers (though they are on pace to have success similar to their 3 million-plus attendance of last season).
My feeling on the situation is that if the Brewers can get Peavy without clearing out their farm system, it’s extremely appealing. But I can’t help but feel that contract would hamstring them from making other impact moves in the future. While Peavy is a great pitcher, he’s not going to have the same impact that CC Sabathia had last season. I would rather see them target someone like Cliff Lee from the Indians.
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The reigning American League Cy Young winner. A good pitcher, but with a much shorter time of commitment. He’s signed through next season at a rate of around $8 million, and then a free agent. The Indians are out of contention for this season, realistically, and might be looking to clear some salary in exchange for prospects. Sensing a pattern here? You are if you’ve been following things since last season.
I believe the Brewers have a special team on their hands, and they need to “go for it” again this season. Their current window of opportunity is closing fast, with shortstop J.J. Hardy a free agent after this year, and slugging first baseman Prince Fielder under control for only two more seasons. I also believe it’s asking a lot of a 23 year old pitcher to anchor your rotation for an entire season. With a solid lineup, I think the Brewers will want to bolster their rotation to make sure they have enough pitching depth for the stretch run in August and September. With Peavy, Lee, and others potentially available, something seems likely.
What do you all think?
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