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A revolving door of backups [2019 Season Review]

(David B. King – CC BY-S.A. 2.0)

As a result of the never-ending injuries at the big league level, the Yankees had to cycle through a number of players from Triple-A and the waiver wire in order to plug holes. Below is a group of players who received sporadic playing time with the Bombers in 2019, though some of them could emerge for a larger role in 2020.

Tyler Wade

The numbers don’t depict a strong season for Wade. He was strong in Triple-A (.296/.352/.425, 99 wRC+), but we already knew he had a handle on that level. In the majors, Wade hit just .245/.330/.362 (88 wRC+) in 108 plate appearances. It certainly was a significant improvement compared to his 24 wRC+ in 133 plate appearances at the big league level entering this season. That said, the start of 2019 looked like more of the same for Tyler, who was recalled on three separate occasions this year:

  1. April 1 – May 3: .204/.316/.204, 0 HR, 5/5 SB, 51 wRC+ in 51 plate appearances
  2. July 30: 1-for-2, home run
  3. August 21 – September 29: .279/.340/.465, 1 HR, 2/2 SB, 112 wRC+ in 47 plate appearances

Clearly, it was a tale of two seasons. First, more of the same in April when he took the injured Miguel Andújar’s roster spot. Then, mired in Triple-A until making the most of one more opportunity late in the campaign.

The Yankees have given Wade numerous opportunities to grab a utility role at the big league level, but it wasn’t until the very end of this season that he looked like it was deserved. Next year, Wade could take on a bigger role from the get go depending on Didi Gregorius’s fate. If Gregorius departs, the Yankees will need another shortstop on the big league roster. Wade could be an option.

Thairo Estrada

Estrada made a nice impression debuting at the major league level this year. He was first up for a couple of days in early April before the Yankees turned to Gio Urshela, but was recalled once more before the end of the month. He hung around until early June by outplaying the just discussed Wade.

From the 21st through June 6th, Estrada received 54 trips to the plate and recorded a strong 118 wRC+. He offered some power, hitting three homers and three doubles during that period. Estrada notched his first hit while on the west coast against the Angels and his first career home run about two weeks later at Yankee Stadium. It was a special one, as it was against his fellow countryman King Felix:

Estrada played less and less as May went on because or Urshela’s emergence. Then, once Gregorius returned, Estrada was shipped back to Scranton.

The Yankees recalled the infielder for a few days around the trade deadline, but he didn’t get into game action before going back down. Later in August, Estrada was recalled for a third time and went hitless in three games before the Bombers put him on the injured list with a hamstring strain. He too wasn’t immune to the injury bug. Thairo made it back for a few chances in September, but nothing to write home about. Overall, he finished with a 91 wRC+ in 69 plate appearances for the Yankees. He had the same mark for Scranton in 60 games.

So, there was a time earlier this season that Estrada leapfrogged Wade on the deth chart. Like Wade, Estrada is capable of filling a utility role as he can cover every position on the diamond. The difference is that Estrada is 23, two years younger than Wade, and has more options remaining. What that may mean is that Wade will get priority next season as a last chance for a reserve role in the Bronx. Plus, Wade did come on strong by the end of the season.

Breyvic Valera

The Yankees grabbed Valera off waivers from the Giants in May and immediately stashed him in Scranton for most of the year. He raked for the Railriders to the tune of a .315/.388/.515 (130 wRC+) in 83 games filling in for Wade and Estrada while they were with the Yankees.

Valera did get a few brief looks in New York, though. He scattered 37 plate appearances across three call-ups, but didn’t hit much (76 wRC+). Eventually, the Yankees designated him for assignment in September and lost him on waivers to Toronto. He could see some time off the bench for the Blue Jays next year.

Kyle Higashioka

For the third straight season, Higashioka served as the Yankees’ third catcher stashed away in Triple-A. He was summoned to the Bronx for a couple of Gary Sánchez’s pre-September injuries and once more for expanded rosters. In his cameos, Higashioka hit three homers in 57 trips to the dish and recorded a .214/.211/.464 (57 wRC+) batting line. Yes, his OBP was lower than his batting average.

Though Higashioka didn’t offer much bat other than occasional power, he raked while in Scranton. The 29 year-old backstop hit 20 dingers in only 270 plate appearances in Triple-A. That ridiculous power output resulted in a 129 wRC+ at the level. This isn’t the first time he’s shown hitting chops in the minors, but he’s yet to capitalize in his limited big league chances.

Next year should be a different story, at least in terms of opportunity. Higgy could take the backup catcher gig from incumbent Austin Romine, who’s a free agent. It’s convenient timing for Higashioka, who has no more minor league options. That means he’d have to clear waivers in order for the Yankees to send him down in 2020. So if Romine returns, there’s a decent chance Higashioka could call a new organization home next season.

Kendrys Morales

This is an experiment that went on too long. The Yankees acquired Morales from Oakland. The A’s had DFA’d the 1B/DH in May after he didn’t hit whatsoever. The Yankees ostensibly bet on Morales catching up to his xwOBA. That never happened.

Morales finished the season with a wOBA underperforming his xwOBA by .100. The Yankees saw his high exit velocity (91.3 MPH average) and 53.1 percent ground ball rate hoping that he could just start lifting the ball. But 19 games and 75 plate appearances in, enough was enough. He hit .177/.320/.242 (63 wRC+) in pinstripes before the Bombers cut him loose.

No team signed the 36 year-old after the Yankees released him, so he’s still in free agency. At this point of his career, it’s hard to envision Morales getting anything more than a minor league deal to start 2020.

Yankees Midseason Grades: Catchers and DHs

Bat flip! (MLB.tv)

With the Yankees reaching the All-Star break, we’ll evaluate the team thus far, position by position, before play resumes. Yesterday, the rotation. Today, the catchers and DHs.

The 2019 Yankees have experienced a reversal at catcher and DH. After Gary Sanchez couldn’t hit amid an injury-plagued 2018, he’s turned back into one of the premier sluggers in the game.

Meanwhile, Giancarlo Stanton powered the Yankees in 2018 while taking many DH at-bats before ceding the spot this year to batters like Kendrys Morales and Edwin Encarnacion, neither of whom have lived up to their past power.

Let’s go player-by-player:

Gary Sanchez – B+

The Kraken has returned after a one-year hiatus to the Bronx. In 75 percent of the games, he’s already eclipsed his home run total from a year ago (18) with a team-high 24. Outside of a brief IL stint in April, he’s finally had a year of health after shoulder and groin injuries sapped at his talent in 2018.

Overall, he’s batting .245/.315/.556 (122 wRC+), one of the best marks among catchers. We’ve covered it before, but El Gary has done this by keeping the ball off the ground and hitting almost all of his balls in the air.

There are a couple question marks for him at the plate. First, he’s stopped drawing as many walks while his strikeouts have gone up. That’s fine — he’s selling out for more power — but seeing him be more selection would be encouraging. Second, he’s slumped recently with a rise in strikeouts and, as you can see in the top graph, a return to balls on the ground.

His defense appears to have taken a step back contrary to the heaping of praise from fans and analysts alike. How so? Well, he’s improved his blocking, though it’s likely to the detriment of his pitch framing, which has been near the worst in the game. He’s improved since I broke down his defense last month and has been worth +0.1 framing runs in that time vs. -6.8 runs in the first portion of the season.

(If you want to read more on Sanchez’s defense, you can read what I wrote in my series on his framing in Part 1, blocking in Part 2 and throwing in Part III.)

DROG (MLB.tv)

Regardless of his defense, Sanchez’s turnaround plays a pivotal role in the Yankees’ AL East lead going into the break after facing a lengthening deficit a year ago.

Austin Romine – C-

Plenty of fans would give Romine an F for this season, and I can see why. After a career year in 2018, he’s regressed hard with a .231/.245/.315 batting line. He’s stopped walking almost entirely — he didn’t walk much before — and his power has evaporated, only hitting two so far this year.

So why a C- and not an F? Well, he’s provided defensive value. I hate saying this, but it’s the type that doesn’t show up in the stats. His arm is below-average and his framing is closer to average than Sanchez. Still, Romine manages a pitching staff well. Pitchers have been saying it for years and the Yankees wouldn’t keep around this below-average a hitter if he didn’t give that value. He seems to call a good game and the pitchers like him.

I don’t see the point in hating Romine. He’s the backup catcher. He’s going to give some mediocre — sometimes awful but sometimes clutch — at-bats once a week. With Sanchez killing the ball, Romine has seen less playing time and that figures to keep up if Gary stays healthy.

Romine is a free agent after this season and the Yankees will have an opportunity to upgrade. Still, I suspect he may be back in pinstripes considering how few players may want to enter a situation where they will play so little behind Sanchez. There’s value in Romine accepting his role.

Kyle Higashioka – N/A

Higgy has all of four games of playing time this year, hitting .200/.188/.333. The Yankees mostly stuck with Romine as the everyday catcher while Sanchez was out. Meanwhile, Higashioka has batted .257/.333/.566 with 13 dingers in Triple-A, often hitting in the middle of the order for Scranton Wilkes-Barre.

Since this is his third year on the 40-man roster while spending time in the Majors, I believe he’ll be out of options after this season. I’m don’t believe the Yankees can get a fourth option on him, but the rules with extra options evade me. Assuming he doesn’t get the extra option, the Yankees will have to decide whether they’ll keep him in the Majors as a backup catcher — made more possible with a 26-man roster — or find a new third catcher.

Kendrys grounding out on a loop may be hell. (MLB.tv)

Kendrys Morales – F

It was a sad and short stint for Morales in pinstripes. The Cuban slugger came in with some promise after posting high exit velocities in Oakland despite poor numbers.

Morales homered in his second game with the Yankees and didn’t hit another ball out afterwards. In 19 games, he batted .177/.320/.242 and drove the ball into the ground consistently, unable to take advantage of his strength. He did show a tremendous eye — 12 walks to six strikeouts — but it wasn’t enough.

The 36-year-old was placed on the IL with a sprained ankle and was designated for assignment and subsequently released once healthy. Worth the flyer at the time, but he didn’t pan out.

Edwin Encarnacion – D

On June 15, Brian Cashman shocked many by acquiring Encarnacion, a DH added to a team full of power. All he cost was a little $$$ (less than Rays are paying him), a roster spot and a pitching prospect who hasn’t hit full season ball yet. Like Morales, worth the flyer.

But he’s surprisingly had just as little offense. He’s mustered four home runs, yet just a .123/.208/.338 batting line with 23 strikeouts in 72 PAs. That hasn’t come from him losing his batting eye. Instead, Matt detailed over the weekend how he’s swinging and missing more than ever at pitches in the zone.

Even without the production, he makes an impact with a fine glove as the backup first baseman and a staggering number of pitches seen, as he’s third in the game with 4.45 pitches per plate appearance. Still, if he’s going to hold Clint Frazier’s spot at DH, he needs to produce.


If the Yankees are going to maximize these two spots, Encarnacion and Sanchez need to get out of their respective slumps while Romine needs to play competent baseball, which he mostly does. He’s the backup, so please don’t get too aggrevated about his performance.

If Encarnacion continues to struggle, Frazier, Stanton or resting infielders can siphon his at-bats away. However, considering he was the AL’s top slugger just a month ago, Encarnacion likely has plenty of life left in his bat.

Mailbag: Frazier, Florial, Morales, Umps, and Prospect Assignments

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Happy Friday all! This is our first mailbag here at Views from 314 Ft. We received a handful of questions and I’ll tackle them today. Though this is ostensibly a Yankees mailbag, we’re happy to address any other baseball-related questions too.

Have any questions for our next mailbag? Please email viewsfrom314 [at] gmail [dot] com or click the contact button at the top of the page.

George asks: Is Clint Frazier likely to be a Yankee in 2020? And if not, where could he be traded?

Bobby made a pretty convincing case to hold on to Frazier yesterday, and I agree. Of course, what we think doesn’t necessarily align with the likelihood that he’s around next year (or even by July 31!).

Aside from untouchable young talent like Gleyber Torres, Frazier is probably going to be one of the most asked about players this trade season. The Yankees need starting pitching, badly I might add, and Frazier’s name is going to come up in rumors over the next month and change.

Any of the other 29 teams would certainly be glad to have a 24 year-old outfielder with a 120 wRC+. At this point though, if he is dealt, the most likely teams seem like those with starting pitchers on the trade block. Think the Giants (Madison Bumgarner), Blue Jays (Marcus Stroman), or Tigers (Matthew Boyd). More clubs could emerge as possibilities come late July.

All that said, my hunch is that Frazier isn’t going anywhere. Time and time again, the Yankees have proven to be internally quite confident in their starting rotation. They didn’t sign Patrick Corbin or Dallas Keuchel over the last half-year. Like it or not, I could easily see the team referring to Luis Severino as it’s big trade deadline acquisition.

Aside from seemingly endless confidence in the team’s internal pitching options, there’s also plenty of room for Frazier this year and next. Once the entire outfield is healthy, he could split time between left field and designated hitter, essentially replacing Brett Gardner.

George also asks: When will Estevan Florial be a regular in the outfield?

First and foremost, Florial isn’t particularly close to the majors. He just got back to playing again at High-A Tampa after missing a couple of months due to wrist surgery. He had a fractured hamate bone in his right hand repaired. After missing a good chunk of time last year with the same injury, he’s missed quite a bit of development time. Even if all goes well this year and next, it’s hard to imagine him getting a cup of tea with the Yankees (or another team) before September of next year or early 2021.

Whether or not Florial becomes a regular is a much more debatable question. There’s no question he has the tools to be a star center fielder: he’s got a great arm, plenty of raw power, and can run like the wind. The big problem, aside from staying healthy, is his propensity to strike out.

At every level he’s spent significant time at, Florial has never posted a strike out rate below 27 percent. It’s not going to get any easier as he moves up, and it’s a big reason why he’s a boom or bust prospect. Via Fangraphs:

Florial’s issues — his strikeout rate has fallen between 27% and 32% each of the last three years — appear to stem from his bat path and limited bat control. Stiff wrists cause his bat head to drag into the zone, which can cause him to be tardy on fastballs at the letters and, more frequently, flail at soft stuff dipping down and away from him

He’s still just 21 years-old, so he has time to work out the kinks. Nonetheless, I wouldn’t expect him to become a starting outfielder on a major league team until 2022 or 2023, at the earliest. And that’s if he doesn’t flame out. If it all comes together though, oh boy.

Many ask a variation of: Kendrys Morales – why is he still here?

This question came in before Morales hit the injured list. Although he’s now off the active roster, he’s still around and theoretically could be back later in the year. Obviously, there seems to be no reason to bring him back whenever he is healthy again. Not only did he struggle, but there simply won’t be room for him assuming the roster remains relatively healthy. Still, I totally understand why the Yankees decided to give Morales a shot a few weeks ago:

They took a chance hoping that his results would catch up to his expected output, but no dice thus far. The big problem is that Morales simply hits the ball straight into the ground far too often. More than two-thirds of his batted balls are grounders since he’s joined the Yankees. That’s terrible.

A few things kept Morales around up until yesterday. Although it was a possibility that Didi Gregorius’s return could have sent Morales packing, it made more sense to demote Thairo Estrada so he could play everyday in the minors. Further, what were the other internal options? Mike Ford and Mike Tauchman? There’s no certainty they’d be better. It was clear the Yankees were planning to ride it out with Morales until the return of Giancarlo Stanton.

Bardo asks: I think I remember the rule that a player (or manager of bench jockey) arguing balls and strikes was an automatic heave-ho. I’ve watched a lot of games this year and there is an incredible amount of batters talking to umpires (I have no idea of what is said) about called strikes. You can see it as they turn around and say things to the umpire. What gives with this? Lots of leeway unless they throw an F-Bomb?

Anecdotally, I agree that there appears to be an increasing tension over ball/strike calls over the past few years. My general assumption about the letter of the rule was similar too, but let’s check with the MLB rulebook. Here’s what rule 8.02 says:

8.02 Appeal of Umpire Decisions

(a) Any umpire’s decision which involves judgment, such as, but not limited to, whether a batted ball is fair or foul, whether a pitch is a strike or a ball, or whether a runner is safe or out, is final. No player, manager, coach or substitute shall object to any such judgment decisions.

Rule 8.02(a) Comment: Players leaving their position in the field or on base, or managers or coaches leaving the bench or coaches box, to argue on BALLS AND STRIKES will not be permitted. They should be warned if they start for the plate to protest the call. If they continue, they will be ejected from the game.

So, it does seem like there is some leeway before ejection even though it’s not supposed to be permitted. Leaving one’s position on the field is a no-no, but even that is supposed to merit a warning first. For instance: a hitter can gripe as long as he remains in the batter’s box and doesn’t persist or insult the ump. At least that’s how I’m reading it.

Further, even leaving one’s position doesn’t constitute an automatic ejection. A manager emerging from the dugout is supposed to be warned before getting tossed.

Ultimately, the discretion of the umpire is what makes the difference here. I’m sure teams know which umpires have little patience for disagreement with the strike zone.

Brian asks: Much has been made if Frazier’s defense. Obviously Judge will be back but how does Frazier compare to Nick Swisher’s profile? Not a great defender (had some serviceable years) and for a while had a hell of a bat.

Indeed, Frazier’s defense has been a hot topic. It’s still really early in his career, so it’s hard to compare Swisher’s full career to Frazier early on. He still could find ways to improve out there, you know.

I do know that Swisher had a poor reputation as a fielder, but the defensive metrics really aren’t bad. It makes him look a lot better than Frazier, though again, Clint’s sample size is still quite small. Here are their career numbers:

PositionInningsDRSUZR/150
Frazier – LF396.1-6-8.7
Frazier – CF9.00-37.6
Frazier – RF272.2-5-26.8
Swisher – LF1130.2-67.5
Swisher – CF1020.1-9-14.7
Swisher – RF6088.2-23.7

Swisher barely played any left or center for the Yankees, of course. I gotta say, I wasn’t expecting Swisher to be slightly below average in right field per DRS and above average per UZR/150. Swisher did accumulate -5 DRS during his career in pinstripes in right field, so he was obviously better in his younger days with Oakland. Per UZR/150, Swish was only a negative in 2009 (-2.9) and 2012 (-0.6) in the Bronx.

It would be nice to have Statcast numbers for Swisher, but alas we do not. Frazier’s are pretty terrible, as you probably know by now. Only Domingo Santana has a lower Outs Above Average. The big issue for Frazier is his jump on balls, particularly his immediate reaction. He actually is only 0.3 feet below average (defined as feet covered in 3 seconds), but that’s only because he makes up for it with good routes (0.8 feet above average). His initial reaction is 1.2 feet below average, which is not surprising. It seems like he really struggles to get reads on batted balls.

Now, did Swisher make some goofy mistakes in the field? Yes, to my recollection. However, his arm was probably his worst trait – not necessarily his route running, for example. It got a little better in 2011, but regardless, Frazier definitely has a stronger arm.

I’ll also add that Clint is quite a bit more athletic than Swisher was, so there’s definitely potential for him to be a passable fielder. Perhaps he’s just uncomfortable in a new position (right field) right now, because based on the eye test he’s looked tolerable in left.

Turning to offense, I think Frazier has the potential to be what Swisher was in some regards. Swish had a lifetime 114 wRC+, and that doesn’t seem out of the realm for Frazier in the long-term. Fangraphs new Plus stats help make for a nice comparison:

NameBB%+K%+AVG+OBP+SLG+wRC+ISO+BABIP+
Swisher1561239510710711412996
Frazier7813310297111105123112

Frazier hasn’t walked much (yet), but his minor league track record does indicate some patience in there. Still, Swisher had an elite eye, even if he struck out his fair share. I don’t think Frazier will ever walk at that level. On the other hand, I think Clint has a chance to be a better hitter in terms of batting average and power.

Mark asks: Where will Everson Pereira, Antonio Cabello, and Osiel Rodriguez go once their Extended Spring Training assignment is done?

Let me start by saying asking me to predict this sort of thing is definitely not my specialty. Thankfully, I don’t have to predict anything, because the decisions have been made already.

Pereira is joining Staten Island. Their roster was released yesterday.. He just turned 18 in April, and he struggled in rookie ball last year, so this will be a challenge for him. Last year Pereira had a 88 wRC+ and 32.8 percent strikeout rate with Pulaski.

Cabello is a few months older than Pereira and won’t turn 19 until November. I saw him listed on the GCL Yankees West roster, though these things aren’t always timely updated before the season begins. Robert Pimpsner of Pinstriped Prospects says he’s going to join Pulaski. Cabello killed it in the GCL last year (174 wRC+), and I’d selfishly love to see him in Staten Island at some point this season.

The 17 year-old Rodriguez hasn’t pitched at any level yet after just signing last season. He’s not listed the DSL roster nor either of the Yankees’ two GCL squads. But again, those might not be up to date yet. Pimpsner says he’s starting in the GCL.

The Yankees Place Kendrys Morales on the IL

Well, the Kendrys Morales experiment continues to be interesting. Let’s go with interesting. The Yankees announced today that they put Morales on the 10-day IL, retroactive to 6/12. He has a left calf strain. They’ve called up Nestor Cortes Jr. and Mike Tauchman as corresponding roster moves.

Morales is hitting .194/.313/.253 (64 wRC+) on the year. The Yanks called up two players because they sent both Chance Adams (26th man for the doubleheader) and Stephen Tarpley back to AAA two days ago.

Game 62: Takeaways from Yankees vs. Indians

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Gah. The Yanks dropped the first game of this series tonight, falling 5-2 to Cleveland. It started out well, and Didi Gregorius returned, but it did not end well. Fairly lifeless offense after the early going and Cleveland got to Domingo Germán in the 5th and 6th. Oh well. Onto the takeaways.

1. Domingo Germán is Giving Up A Lot of Home Runs: Sure does feel like some of the shine is coming off Domingo Germán, doesn’t it? Opposing batters were hitting .295/.330/.523 against him coming into tonight’s game in his last 4 starts to the tune of a .853 OPS. For some context, that means that every batter Germán has faced in those starts has been Gleyber Torres or DJ LeMahieu. That’s not good.

A large part of that is because he is surrendering a lot of home runs in that time: 6 in 20.2 innings, in fact. I was watching this game with that in mind, and, well, fair to say that trend continued tonight. Germán surrendered 2 more homers tonight, and they were not cheap. Here’s Tyler Naquin in the 5th:

And here’s Carlos Santana’s absolute blast in the 6th:

Those were serious home runs. Naquin’s traveled 434 feet and Santana’s traveled 422 feet. So, in other words, that’s now 8 home runs off Germán in his last 26.2 innings pitched. Woof. He’s going to have to get that together if he wants to regain his early-season success, and the Yanks had better hope he can. He’s very important, more so now that the Yanks have passed on Keuchel.

2. That Was Some Bad, Bad Baserunning in the 2nd: Geez did the Yankees waste an opportunity in the 2nd. After Gary drilled a single, Didi Gregorius (more on him in a moment) laced a single of his own on the first pitch he saw–except he was caught trying to extend it into a double. Bad. Later in the inning, with 1 out and runners on the corners, Gio Urshela hit a swinging bunt back to the Zack Plesac and Kendrys was…. running on contact? For some reason? He was caught in limbo and promptly tagged out.

So those were the Yankees first two outs in that inning. Completely self-inflicted and really shut the door on their own rally. I mean, the Yanks had 2 singles, a double, and a walk in the inning and only scored one run. Unfortunate. Gotta be better than that.

3. Aaron Hicks Continues to Roll: Another night, another home run for Aaron Hicks. Here’s tonight’s:

Very good, Aaron. After tonight’s 1-4 performance, his line improves to .239/.325/.433 (101 wRC+) on the year with 3 home runs in the last 4 nights. He’s slowly but surely getting back to the Aaron Hicks we all missed, and it’s great.

4. The Return of Sir Didi Gregorius: It is so good to see Didi Gregorius back on the field. He’s just so likable and fun. Seeing him out there tonight really made the Yankees feel like the Yankees, at least to me. He’s a big part of the team in a lot of different ways.

Of course, it doesn’t hurt that he has 67 home runs over the last 3 years as a shortstop with great defense, either. The dude rules. He went 2-4 in his return to the bigs tonight, and it sure would be great if he hit the ground running. He’ll probably need a little while to find his legs, tonight notwithstanding, and that’s okay. The Yanks are better now that he’s back.


The Yanks will try to even up this series and take the second of this three-game set tomorrow at 4:10 in Cleveland. CC Sabathia (3-2, 3.61 ERA), in his final appearance in Cleveland, will take on Adam Plutko (1-1, 6.35 ERA). Hopefully that’s a better one. Happy weekend, folks.

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