Cubs Notes: Theo on rebuilding process, more on Tanaka, Prospects, MLB Draft

It's Monday morning here in Chicago and Tuesday just after midnight in Japan.  The clock ticks...

Mashahiro  Tanaka had a workout with his soon to be former Ratuken Eagles team and reader TokyoCraig was kind enough to send us some photos.  Check them out in the photo gallery below.

Lots of good stuff to read over the past few days, so let's catch up a little bit...

Patrick Mooney touches on a number of topics in this piece...

Theo Epstein on the rebuilding process and a rapidly growing impatient fan base

"“You can tell your nieces and nephews that they’re fans of an organization with the second-best farm system in baseball,” Epstein said, “with a developing young core that’s going to be here for a long time. It’s going to be the heart of teams that are contending, year-in, year-out for the postseason and therefore the World Series. In a few years, they’re going to be playing in a renovated Wrigley Field."

“Sometimes when you take on a challenge,” Epstein said, “you know you’re going to be unpopular for a few years. You know you’re going to wear it for a few years, individually and as an organization. But if you’re tough and you have discipline, you know there’s going to be pay-off for everyone.

“That’s what makes it worthwhile. No one would want to come into a situation where it’s all on a silver platter for you, and you just show up and get the accolades that you don’t even deserve. We’re trying to build this thing the right way, from the ground up.

“We want to deliver (as) soon as we can, but we’re not going to stray from our vision.”

Jason McLeod on Masahiro Tanaka

“I think any team in baseball would love a 25-year-old starting pitcher,” said Jason McLeod, the vice president of scouting and player development. “We’ve scouted him extensively over the years (through) our pro scouting staff and a lot of video work that we’ve done on him. So the evaluation process is complete.

“He’s obviously talented. We understand — I think everyone understands — that’s not the same level of competition (in) Japan. But he’s a talented pitcher, and I’m sure the team that gets him is going to be happy.”

On scouting Tanaka

Mooney also wrote on the Cubs long term scouting pursuit of Tanaka and why the Cubs think he's a good gamble.  We know that the Cubs are far more likely to take risks on players on which they have the most information, which is one reason why they felt more comfortable taking Kris Bryant over Jonathan Gray in last year's draft.  The Cubs have plenty of info on Tanaka.  Here is what Cubs pro scouting director Joe Boehringer, who has been scouting Tanaka since 2008, had to say,

"Any time we had a chance to see him get in an arena like that,” Bohringer said, “where we knew he was facing major league caliber players and watching his success or failure, that gives us a better idea of how he would actually be if we translate it to the major leagues.

“Tanaka is still a prospect. But because he's played at such a higher level of competition, it makes us feel a little more comfortable with our overall evaluation for how it's going to translate."

"In Tanaka's case, although Japan is not the major leagues, it is an established pro league," Bohringer said. "We have a track record of players like Hideo Nomo and Hiroki Kuroda and Yu Darvish that had dominated in Japan and come over and established themselves in the major leagues.

"The advantage we have with Tanaka — and why Tanaka will probably get a bigger contract — (is) he has less risk because we've had a chance to see him against higher competition."

Meanwhile, McLeod adds,

"On the Tanaka front, you really have to trust your scouts, first and foremost. We have a lot of history with this player in terms of seeing him and getting looks at him. We understand the competition levels and what he's going to face here.

"If there is a team that is fortunate enough to get him, then you have to start the build-up to that, what led to the decision and what you think he's going to be.

"Everything we do is all about projection. Whether it's a 16-year-old like Eloy Jimenez, whether it's 21-year-old Kris Bryant or whether it's 25-year-old Tanaka."

Cubs Prospects

Tony Andracki covered some prospect-related topics,

On Javier Baez's ultimate position,

"That's something we have to sit down and discuss if we want to see what he looks like at second base or another position," McLeod said. "Our hope is that he plays shortstop as long as he possibly can. We think he can for a while. He certainly has some things to clean up with the errors that were made last year."

"It's a good problem to have, if it comes to that," McLeod said. "If he goes out and is having a very good year and the defense is tightened up and he gets better on his approach every day, then that will be a decision to make down the road.

"And I'm sure once we get to spring training, we'll sit down with [president Theo Epstein], [general manager Jed Hoyer] and the rest of the staff and see what the best way is to go about it."

On helping Jorge Soler and other Latin American players adapt,

"We have what we like to call a Latin American cultural assimilation program that's overseen by a coordinator," McLeod said. "That touches on different aspects from mental skills on field, but primarily off-field and assimilating to the United States and how to make different types of decisions and choices.

"A lot of it has to do with communication and English language classes. An incident like that -- that's an isolated incident -- certainly, we took a lot of time with him and tried to communicate as much as possible because obviously he knew right away that wasn't the right thing to do. At the same time, we have to understand where he comes from and a lot of the way they play in Cuba with fire and passion and intensity, that's a different style.

"We're trying to share information and say 'this culture, the way the game is played and the way you conduct yourself, this is how you act as professionals here. It's a constant education and not just for him."

On Arodys Vizcaino's recovery process,

"We're taking it conservative with the rehab and he's still only 23," McLeod said. "When he's right and healthy, he has electric stuff and hopefully that stuff will return."

2014 MLB Draft

Andracki also had some bits on the 2014 MLB Draft,

Jason McLeod already has a good idea of who their top 5 players are, though he does acknowledge that sometimes players do explode on the scene.  Given what I said earlier about the Cubs pattern of collecting massive amounts of information on players they like, my guess is that they'll stick with the players they know best rather than one that emerges out of nowhere.  Said McLeod,

“We feel we know who the top five are today. We’ll spend a lot of time with them. As things change, we’ll just scout the guy we think has the most impact for us.”

As to whom those 5 players are, we can only make an educated guess.  I believe that college pitchers Carlos Rodon (L), Jeff Hoffman, and Tyler Beede are on that list.  Rodon and Hoffman would probably go 1-2 if the draft were held today, so Beede is the most likely.   I think NC State SS Trea Turner is also in that group.  He fits the mold of an up the middle athlete with excellent athleticism and mental makeup that the Cubs like.

I'm not sure who the 5th player would be here.  It could be Texas high schooler  Tyler Kolek, who has hit 99 mph on the gun already and sits in the mid 90s.  There are also some good prep hitters including Jacob Gatewood (SS) and Alex Jackson (C-OF).

Players who could breakthrough and enter the conversation with big seasons include prep RHP Touki Touissant, Hartford lefty Sean Newcomb, and athletic OF'er Michael Gettys.

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  • Thanks for compiling all of this John! Awesome nuggets on Tanaka and the depth of information our scouting dept accumulates on players....

    Absolutely love the confidence in Theo's quote: "a developing young core that’s going to be here for a long time. It’s going to be the heart of teams that are contending, year-in, year-out for the postseason and therefore the World Series.

  • In reply to HoosierDaddy:

    You're welcome! I figured maybe you guys might like to hear somebody else say these things for a change!

  • In reply to John Arguello:

    John from what I read about Tanaka's agent he's most likely going to want a 4 year opt out clause, can't see how that would work for Cubs, seeing as they are probably 2-3 years from being ready to compete. Your thoughts along these lines?

  • In reply to peoria cubfan:

    I think they may have to do that if they really want him and hope they can re-sign him. It'd be nice if that opt out was mutual in case he doesn't live up to expectatons :) but I'm not holding my breath for that.

  • In reply to John Arguello:

    That would be a huge risk, to commit that kind of money at this point in rebuild, only to have him walk for free agency in 4 years. I would hope they wouldn't take that kind of chance, but?

  • Meticulous bunch.

  • In reply to 44slug:

    They are indeed and I think that attention to detail is one of those things that separates them from the last front office.

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    Thanks for posting the Theo quote John.....I think he's been extremely direct and consistent with what the plan is.

    Whether you agree with it or not, there is a clear plan that the brass has been as open about as you can be without giving away too many secrets

  • In reply to Zonk:

    He's been 100% transparent about what he was going to do here. What I've heard around the league about him is that he's an honest guy and everything he's said and done since coming here solidifies that for me. Of course, as you say, there are some things he can't talk about --but I think he's been honest with fans the entire way. As long as fans have been listening, none of this should be a surprise.

  • In reply to John Arguello:

    That is the problem for some, they do not listen very well.

  • In reply to John Arguello:

    When he came in at first, he was a lot more vague and there was some intentional doublespeak.

    Now he's a lot more committed to course and is more direct.

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    In reply to John Arguello:

    I trust Theo, but I think they get a little too much credit for being transparent, because it's in their best interest to do so in terms of explaining to fans why they aren't spending, etc. If they were cryptic about what they are doing, fans as a whole would be far angrier.

    That said, it was smart of Theo to plant that seed at the beginning that they were going to be transparent. And I do think he has been empathetic to the fans instead of just saying "we know what we're doing, we've done this before, so just blindly trust us."

  • Is the camouflage look part of the Ratuken uniform or a personal fashion choice? If the later is true, perhaps Tanaka is an outdoorsman. The hunting and fishing options in the Midwest would have to beat out New York or LA. (grasping at straws...)

  • In reply to Ratmoss:

    Assuming it's a personal fashion choice. If he is an outdoorsman, I have to think this front office knows. As mentioned, they are meticulous and every little bit helps.

  • Great stuff, the June draft and prospects we get from July trades
    will give us the 2nd or 3rd top farm system for sure

  • In reply to emartinezjr:

    Epstein was quoted above in the article saying we are already the 2nd top farm system.

  • In reply to emartinezjr:

    Thanks E.

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    In reply to emartinezjr:

    Theo thinks we are already at #2 (behind Twins, presumably). You can make a good argument for the Pirates at #2 IMO. Red Sox also if you count Boegarts. But we're right there already.

    For what it counts, we'll be #1 or 2 for awhile. Pirates figure to graduate some guys. Twins, like us, are not in any hurry.

  • In reply to Zonk:

    I would guess Houston is #1, but it could be the Twins.

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    Sounds to me like McLeod would like Javy to have the chance to be the every day shortstop. On the other hand, Theo has made it clear he thinks Castro is the everyday shortstop. Interesting dynamics at play here.

  • In reply to Mike Moody:

    McLeod has been on record in the past saying that he believes Baez is an MLB SS. We'll see what goes down this year. If Olt, Baez, and Alcantara look like big league regulars for 2015, that could set up an interesting scenario for the Cubs -- especially if Castro also has a good year. Something has to give.

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    In reply to John Arguello:

    If they all hit, somebody is going to get traded. If Villanueva hits as well, that makes it even more crowded.

    Let's hope we have that problem....we have organizational holes to fill (catcher, pitching), and having tradeable depth is a problem we haven't had in as long as I can remember.......in fact, have we EVER had that problem? Anyone?

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    Side note: MLB (Mayo and Callis) continues to post top 10 prospect rankings at every position. They pegged Alcantara as #4 at 2B, and Vogelbach as #4 at 1B. We didn't have any pitchers, or anyone at catcher. 3B is out tomorrow, and there is little doubt that Bryant will be #2 (behind Sano).

    With OF, it will be interesting to see if BOTH Soler and Almora make top 10....that would be impressive. I think they will.

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    In reply to Zonk:

    I saw a video where Mayo and Callis debated which is the better third base prospect. Callis went with Sano and Mayo went with Bryant and since Mayo does the rankings I wouldn't be surprised if he has Bryant ahead. Here's the link

    http://m.mlb.com/video/topic/26271672/v31190425/comparing-bryant-sano-as-thirdbase-prospects

    Hope it works

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    In reply to gas34:

    Good point, it's a bit of pick your flavor for Bryant/Sano. I would probably go Sano, as Bryant has less of a track record so far.

    Also, I would like Bryant to end-up in RF, because that would mean that Olt hits at the ML level, which would be a good thing for us....

  • In reply to Zonk:

    I think Bryant passed up Sano. I am wondering if Olt is on the list. He was number 3 on the list last year but had a poor year until they fixed his eye issue.

    I would also expect Almora and Soler to be in the top 10 OFs. I agree with you, that is impressive.

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    In reply to John57:

    A little research shows that Soler and Almora are almost certain to be in top 10

    Both are behind Buxton and Taveras. After that, Springer and Polanco are in the mix somewhere, but Soler has to be 6th or 7th at worst, with Almora in the top 3 or 4

  • John, what do you make of Wittenmeyer's continued "expose" pieces on Cubs' finances/leverage restrictions?

    It'd be easy for me to dismiss him, entirely, as a crank but , over the years, I've come to respect his work, certainly relative to some of the other bear writers. He does cite the ubiquitous "MLB sources". Is he doubling down on a narrative that he started a couple years back or is he legitimately trying to keep ownership somewhat transparent? Somewhere in between?

    If you'd like to discuss off-line ,let me know, as I understand if you wouldn't want to impugn or comment on a fellow media member in this forum. Btw, the coverage here keeps knocking it out of the park!

  • In reply to Carl9730:

    How does this affect the money the draft and farm system?

  • In reply to emartinezjr:

    If say it's extremely relevant to both money & rebuild.....

  • In reply to Carl9730:

    I thought about adding that to the group but I think if i were to write about it, it would have to be a separate piece because it wouldn't fit with this one.

    Wittenmeyer is a smart guy but I think he has dug his heels a bit on this. Maybe he also sees a niche here. Guys like Mooney and Miles cover the rebuilding extremely well so he's the other side of the coin. There's an audience for that too. But from a baseball standpoint, I disagree with Wittenmeyer's stance.

  • In reply to John Arguello:

    Thanks, John.

    That's kind of my opinion , as well. It's almost as if he's cast himself as the contrarian and can't really change course, at this point. On the other hand, I think he's smart and doesn't strike me as a "troublemaker".

    I'd agree Mooney & Miles appear to be more balanced. It's almost as if Wittenmeyer doesn't write anything that doesn't into his narrative. I hope, in the next couple days, that he has to try and explain a Tanaka signing , within that narrative!

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    In reply to Carl9730:

    If you think you're onto something that others are missing, then go for it.

    I think, rightly or wrongly, he sees a certain degree of fawning over the current regime that he doesn't agree with. Kind of an Emperor-has-no-clothes kind of thing.

    I like having a variety of viewpoints, though Gordo does seem to have made this a bit of a crusade.

  • In reply to Gregory Shriver:

    Greg, totally agree with you. I think a big part of it is that Gordo seems to resent the unconditional support/praise that this ownership/mgmt group is getting so far.

    However, if this were Paul Sullivan, I think we'd all chalk it up to him being jilted & kept out of the loop.

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    In reply to Carl9730:

    Sorry, I'm not John, but while you wouldn't want Gordo to be your only source of Cubs information, it's good to have a mix of viewpoints (though as a lifelong journalist, it's disconcerting how much opinion works its way into sports news copy).

    Gordo, of course, touching on a topic addressed in this thread, does not think the Cubs are being transparent when it comes to finances. But the other side of the argument is that just because they might have the money, why is it presumed that they should spend it now?

    The truth will come out in the end, I think.

  • I found a mock draft done by Through the Fence.

    http://throughthefencebaseball.com/2014-mlb-draft-2/40753

    John, it has Cubs taking Beede in the 1st round, agreeing with you, and Matt Imhof in the 2nd round. Have you heard anything about Imhof other than he is 6'5" and a lefty?

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    If Olt or Lake lack to impress me then I hope they draft Turner. I know there is a log jam in the infield right now about which shortstop prospect plays where, but I think adding Turner would clear things up a lot . Castro can stay at shortstop, tuner would be at 2nd, and Javy at 3rd.
    Future line up:
    1.) Turner
    2.) Almora
    3.) Javy
    4.) Bryant
    5.) Rizzo
    6.) Soler
    7.) Castro
    8.) Castillo
    9.) Pitcher

  • In reply to gas34:

    Again too right sided.

  • In reply to 44slug:

    I think Alcantara will be in there somewhere. That will help.

  • In reply to John57:

    I agree and I wouldn't rule out Silva yet either. He is raw but talented. If neither Arismendy or Rubi reach their ceiling, I would look for 're FO to trade one of the redundant right hand swingers for lineup balance.

  • In reply to 44slug:

    Agree! Lo

  • In reply to 44slug:

    Speaking of Rubi, he hasn't appeared on any top-20 lists that I've seen, but he could be a darkhorse for being a contributor. He is a player to watch in '14, in my opinion!

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    In reply to 44slug:

    Well if the DH gets adapted then Vogelbach will help

  • In reply to gas34:

    Absolutely! He might fit real nice in the middle of that lineup, but I prefer the NL rules. Time will tell.

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    In reply to gas34:

    Agree with 44slug. In the insane situation where all of these guys make it to the majors, at a minimum one of Bryant and Soler and one of Turner/Castro/Baez is moved for a left hander. Eyeballing it (no statistics to back this up), most winnings teams at least 3 lefties and preferably a switcher hitter or two (or a solid platoon).

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    John or TokyoCraig (if you're awake) - since Theo has been tracking Tanaka for years, can you think of any other current NPB players that they might be tracking now?

  • In reply to SKMD:

    There had been speculation that a pitcher named Maeda would be posted. He's around 26 and has another 2 or 3 years of NPB service time before free agency. I suspect the new posting system made it less attractive for his team, the Hiroshima Carp, to offer him. Low 2 ERA, consistently around 200 innings, sweeping curve and good control, but projects more as a 4 in a rotation. A bit like Iwakuma of the Mariners.

    Fujikawa was the most established late inning reliever here for quite some time.

    I'm sure they are scouting some of the 19-20 year olds establishing themselves in the NPB. Last year's 'phenom' Otani - you might recall there was talk of him skipping the NPB and going straight to the US - wasn't super impressive last year.

  • Wow - great reminder that Vizcaino is only 23, for some reason I thought he was older. I would love, love, love to see him get healthy and live up to some of that enormous potential he had pre-surgery in 2014!

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    In reply to Ryno2Grace:

    Was just thinking the same thing. For some reason I thought Arodys Vizcaino was older. It's like Christmas all over again. lol

  • In reply to Ryno2Grace:

    The downside is that he's already got two years of service time and is almost up to his arbitration years.

    But yeah, if he can even give you 70 innings, he's got a chance to make an impact.

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    In reply to Kyle:

    I'm confused, how does he have two years ofservice time? He's only appeared in 17 games during the 2011 season. His injury time counts as service time?

  • In reply to Matt McNear:

    Since he was on the MLB roster when he got hurt, yes, he's been accruing service time ever since.

    He has 2 years, 50 days of service time as of right now.

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    In reply to Ryno2Grace:

    True, but if he's relegated to reliever status, his value is greatly diminished. I guess that's probably why the Braves dealt him.

  • Really enjoyed this article. Thanks.

  • Would agree that Kolek is in their top 5. They made references to this draft class having a lot of top end high school arms at the Cubs convention.

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    Probably the best thing that could happen to the Cubs is that a Jonathan Grey like pitcher does make a charge. From last year, we know the Cubs wouldn't choose him first, anyway, and that pushes guys like Hoffman and Beede down to where they will be available for the Cubs at #4. (Seriously, why the f*** did we have to sweep the f****** White Sox?)

  • In reply to Mike Moody:

    We swept them because we are a better team.

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    In reply to John57:

    And it hurts us long term. Possibly pretty badly.

  • In reply to Mike Moody:

    Or Theo gets the player he covets either way. It may not hurt us at all. They were not expecting to draft that early (4th) when the year started.

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    In reply to John57:

    There is little doubt in my mind he expected to draft at 4 or lower when the season started.

    If Beede has as good a year as its rumored he will, it is unlikely that any of the big 3 pitchers -- Rodon, Beede, Hoffman -- make it past the first 3 picks. That leaves us to choose between another right-handed infielder (Turner) and a high school pitcher with the control problems you expect from high schoolers (Kolek).

    THAT would seriously impact a team Theo expects to be better than fourth in the draft.

  • In reply to Mike Moody:

    I think between Newcombe, Rodon, Beede, Hoffman, Kolek and Turner we will get an elite prospect. I would be happy with any of them. I guess we will just have to wait 5 months to see who our FO likes the best. It does not matter what you or I want.

  • We may have a top five minor leagues but in the present we have a bottom five mlb team.

    In Theo's quote does that mean we will not trade any of the top prospects?

    We all know Tanaka is a quality pitcher. We have read this before. At this point it is about is he gonna choose the cubs?

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    Not sure where he's hearing the rumors but Tom Loxas reporting it's down to the Cubs and Yankees for Tanaka.

  • In reply to bocabobby:

    I tweeted something similar earlier today. I take all this stuff at this level as industry speculation, so personally I don't want to make too much out of it -- but where there's industry speculation there's always some grain of truth. Hopefully it's true.

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    In reply to John Arguello:

    I hear ya John. I am a late riser so I was just posting what I just saw. I have since seen you tweet as well.

    I also have a feeling that we might find out who lands Tanaka later tonight or early tomorrow. The time difference is killing me.... lol

    Just more speculation on my part for folks to digest as they wish.

  • In reply to bocabobby:

    Ha! Me too :) It's going to be a tense couple of days this week until we find out. I think all we can do now is sit and wait!

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    In reply to John Arguello:

    Tense for the rest of you. My NSF grant is in. It's kickback time here in Nashville.

  • In reply to bocabobby:

    I like our chances... I've said all along that it will come down how we grade him internally since there is a difference in opinions between a true #1 and a #2.... Sounds like we know him better than any others, or at least as well... We should have some rapport and credibility with him too after watching him play all these years....

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    In reply to bocabobby:

    Ken Rosenthal went on the MLB Network yesterday and basically said all signs point to the Yankees. He said they know getting under the luxury tax threshold for a year is gone and that they will now go after the pitching they need.

    Unless the Cubs go above what I think is wise - 8 years, 200 million or something like that - it's the Yankees' show, I fear.

  • In reply to Gregory Shriver:

    I don't that either team will go there($200+), but if one does, I hope it's the Yankees.

  • He still has to go through a physical, iron out and sign a contract, and the flight from Japan to whatever team he chooses - how long should all of that take? Two days? So it can't be much longer.

  • In reply to pricewriter:

    I'm still thinking that the physical he took in LA is all the team who hires him is going to get before the signing. The deal has to be signed by Friday, not just agreed to. it's 6am in Toyko, another 3 hours we might hear something.

  • In reply to Oneear:

    Most team would like to use their own doctor for physicals.

  • In reply to pricewriter:

    John is going to be away tomorrow, so expect an announcement then

  • In reply to ChiRy:

    John, go away now. We'll tweet you is something happens.

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