Soto's suddenly winding path now arrives in the Bronx

Juan Soto Home Run Derby smile

From almost the moment he first set foot in the Nationals clubhouse in May 2018, Juan Soto was asked from time to time whether he liked playing in Washington, whether he could see himself staying in Washington for many years, whether he ever thought about playing somewhere else like … oh, New York.

And Soto’s answer was always consistent.

“For me, this is the team I’ve been with since, what, 2015?” he said one morning standing in front of his locker, referencing the year he first signed with the organization as a teenager from Santo Domingo. “I’ve been with this team, and I feel good with it. When I get to know the city more, it feels great. Why should I need to change?”

Soto provided that particular answer on July 16, 2022. Two weeks later, he was traded to the Padres.

And now, remarkably, he has been traded again, this time to the Yankees.

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Source: Nats sign Senzel after Candelario goes to Reds (updated)

Nick Senzel Reds jersey

The Winter Meetings officially ended Wednesday. The Nationals stuck around Nashville a bit longer and went home with their first major-league free agent signing of the offseason.

The Nats signed former Reds utilityman Nick Senzel for $2 million (plus $1 million in incentives) overnight, a source familiar with the deal confirmed. This came shortly after Cincinnati signed former Nats third baseman Jeimer Candelario for a reported three years and $45 million.

Senzel, 28, was non-tendered by the Reds last month after a second straight disappointing season, during which he batted .236/.297/.399 with 13 homers and 42 RBIs in 104 games. His defensive versatility, though, remains a strength.

Senzel has played center field, third base, second base, left field and right field during his five-year career. The Nationals could use help at several of those positions in the short-term, so it’s possible they’ll have him move around the field depending on their needs on any given day, though a club source said the initial intention is to play him primarily at third base as the organization waits for top prospect Brady House to reach the majors.

The second-overall pick in the 2016 Draft out of Tennessee, Senzel came to the Reds with high hopes of becoming a star. It didn’t happen. After a solid rookie season in 2019, he missed significant time in 2020 and 2021 with injuries, then struggled in both 2022 and 2023 after returning healthy.

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Nats select speedy Nuñez in Rule 5 Draft, sign Yepez to minors deal


NASHVILLE – After making it through the entire 2023 season with a Rule 5-drafted pitcher on their major league roster, the Nationals will attempt to do the same with a position player in 2024.

The Nats selected Marlins shortstop Nasim Nuñez with the fifth-overall pick in this afternoon’s Rule 5 Draft, hoping the speedy, defensively gifted, 23-year-old can contribute enough next season to stick and perhaps someday develop into a permanent big leaguer.

Nuñez, who was set to be rated Miami’s No. 6 prospect by Baseball America, is an “elite” defensive shortstop and baserunner who draws walks at a high rate but has yet to hit consistently in the minors. The Nationals understand he’s not ready to play regularly in the majors, but they believe he provides enough skills in specific areas to give him a shot to stay on the roster the entire 2024 season.

“It’s going to be a challenge, because obviously he’s not going to get a lot of at-bats at the big-league level,” general manager Mike Rizzo said. “But I think with the coaching staff we have right now, and with the reps he will get other than gametime reps, I think we can really iron out some mechanical issues. … And I think he gives (manager Davey Martinez) an option off the bench: a defensive replacement, elite defensive skills and a baserunner. A guy that can help us win games at the big-league level.”

A second-round pick of the Marlins in 2019 out of Collins Hill High School in Suwanee, Ga., Nuñez progressed his way up the minor-league ladder and the organizational prospects list thanks to his legs, his glove and his eyes. He has stolen 183 bases in 351 professional games, including 52 this season at Double-A Pensacola. He is a strong-armed shortstop who was rated Miami’s best defensive infielder by Baseball America. He also has shown an unusual patience at the plate for a player of his age, ranking fourth among all Double-A players this year with 87 walks.

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Nats ponder Rule 5 possibilities; Fedde signs with White Sox

Thaddeus Ward blue jersey

NASHVILLE – For more than a decade, the Nationals essentially sat out the Rule 5 Draft.

From 2011-21, they didn’t select a single player in the major league portion of the event that annually closes the Winter Meetings. The thinking: A team that expected to contend each season probably couldn’t afford to use a big league roster spot on a player who wasn’t actually big-league-ready.

That all changed last winter, when a Nats club that lost 107 games now owned the No. 1 pick in the Rule 5 Draft and felt it could afford to take a flier on somebody. The team selected right-hander Thaddeus Ward away from the Red Sox and then hoped for the best from a guy who had pitched some at Double-A the previous season after returning from Tommy John surgery.

It’s hard at this point to call Ward a success story. He pitched in 26 games for the Nationals, all in relief, sported an inflated 6.37 ERA and 1.613 WHIP, all while issuing more than seven walks per nine innings.

But Ward did stick on the major league roster the entire season, even if that included 2 1/2 months on the injured list with shoulder inflammation. And so, the Nats having fulfilled Rule 5 requirements, retain his rights and now have the ability to option him to the minors in 2024 to get him more seasoning.

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Nats, as expected, get No. 10 pick in 2024 Draft (updated)

MLB Draft 2023 generic

NASHVILLE – One year ago, Mike Rizzo sat on a makeshift TV set in San Diego and legitimately sweated out the final moments of the brand-new MLB Draft Lottery, in the end accepting the No. 2 pick after the Pirates won the No. 1 choice.

The tension wasn’t nearly as thick tonight for this year’s lottery. Rizzo wasn’t even in the room when the Nationals, who went into the event knowing they couldn’t pick any better than 10th, found out that’s exactly where they’ll pick next summer.

Despite finishing with the league’s fifth-worst record at 71-91, the Nats were ineligible for the lottery thanks to its convoluted rules.

The lottery fine print states that any team that pays (as opposed to receives) revenue sharing dollars cannot be selected in consecutive draft lotteries. So that knocked the Nationals out of the mix for a top-nine pick this year, and all but guaranteed they’d land the No. 10 pick. Their only other potential outcome would’ve been a drop to No. 11, something that only could’ve happened if all four teams that had a worse record in 2023 (the Athletics, Royals, Rockies and White Sox) lost the lottery.

That didn’t happen. Even though the Guardians and Reds surprisingly snagged the top two picks despite low odds, the Rockies, A’s, White Sox and Royals checked in with the third through sixth picks, locking the Nats in at No. 10.

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Robles cleared to play winter ball, still in Nats' 2024 plans

Victor Robles run white

NASHVILLE – In rattling off the positions they need to fill this winter, the Nationals will say first base, third base and left field. They’ll acknowledge Luis García isn’t guaranteed to retain his starting job at second base. But what about center field?

When the 2023 season ended, the Nats were playing Jacob Young every day. And though the rookie (who opened the year in Single-A) acquitted himself well, he hardly has the track record or pedigree to suggest he deserves to be handed the job.

Which brings us to Victor Robles. The guy who has started in center field on Opening Day each of the last five seasons.

Robles started Opening Day this year, but he went on the injured list in May with a back ailment, and after a brief return in June he went right back on the IL and remained there the rest of the year. He was very much out-of-sight, out-of-mind as the season concluded, leaving his future in doubt.

The Nationals, though, have retained the 26-year-old. They initially declined a $3.3 million club option for him but soon after agreed to terms on a lesser deal to avoid arbitration. He is, by all accounts, expected to remain a prominent player on the team in 2024.

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Nats in market for starter, but focus remains on young arms

MacKenzie Gore blue jersey

NASHVILLE – The Nationals don’t have to add a starting pitcher this winter. They could easily enter the 2024 season with Josiah Gray, MacKenzie Gore, Jake Irvin, Patrick Corbin and Trevor Williams in their rotation, with Cade Cavalli set to return from Tommy John surgery in June and several other prospects at Triple-A Rochester ready to be called upon if needed.

Mike Rizzo isn’t hiding the fact, though, that he’d like to acquire another starter. It may not be priority No. 1 on his offseason shopping list, but it’s definitely on the list.

“Everyone needs starting pitching in the whole sport,” the general manager said Monday. “We’re no different. You can never have enough of it, and we’re in search of it.”

Free agent starters, of course, don’t come cheap. The best ones cost more than $100 million. The average ones can cost in excess of $50 million. Even the worst of them can still come with a price tag of $10 million per year, based on what struggling veterans Lance Lynn and Kyle Gibson recently received from the Cardinals.

So if the Nationals do delve into the market this winter, they likely won’t be acquiring anything more than a back-of-the-rotation arm, someone who will be asked to eat innings and take some pressure and workload off the organization’s younger pitchers.

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Rizzo on offseason approach and using roster spot on Strasburg

Stephen Strasburg last start

NASHVILLE – The Nationals’ winter wish list – first base, third base, left field, starting pitcher – reads a whole lot like it did one year ago, when Mike Rizzo filled those needs with one-year deals for Dominic Smith, Jeimer Candelario and Corey Dickerson, plus a two-year deal for Trevor Williams.

So, is it fair to assume the same type of approach this winter, or might the Nats take a different tack this time around?

“We’ve got several holes to fill,” the general manager said tonight in his first media session of the Winter Meetings. “We’ve got our work cut out for us this year, and I think we’re going to take our aggressive approach when it suits us and wait for the market when it suits us. I think we’re going to be busy here.”

“Busy,” of course, doesn’t necessarily mean the Nationals will leave town with any new players signed. It may refer only to meetings they take with agents, which could eventually lead to the signing of new players.

Rizzo doesn’t deny, though, what he’s looking for.

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Martinez saw chance to "bring some fresh guys in" with coaching changes

Davey Martinez dugout red

NASHVILLE – When it came time to evaluate his coaching staff at the end of the season, Davey Martinez knew it was time to make some changes. Even if it meant parting ways with some longtime confidants.

Tim Bogar was one of Martinez’s first hires after he was named Nationals manager in 2018, initially serving as first base coach before moving to bench coach. Pat Roessler joined the staff in 2020 as assistant hitting coach. Gary DiSarcina and Eric Young Jr. were added in 2022.

All are now gone, replaced by two in-house promotions and two outside additions in the biggest coaching staff shakeup Martinez has made in six years on the job.

“Obviously, it was a tough decision,” Martinez said today, his first public remarks since the moves were made in October. “Very close to all those guys. I’m going to miss them. But I thought it was an opportunity, being where we’re headed, to bring some fresh guys in, and some guys that are very well capable of coaching young players.”

The two in-house promotions: Ricky Gutierrez (who spent this season in the newly created position of run prevention coordinator) is now third base coach, while Gerardo Parra (who won the 2019 World Series as a player and then took on a front-office role in 2022) was named first base coach.

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Nats expect another Winter Meetings of reluctant patience


NASHVILLE – Members of the Nationals organization arrived at the Gaylord Opryland Resort throughout the course of Sunday afternoon and evening, every one of them eager to see what transpires during this version of the Winter Meetings while simultaneously acknowledging the most frustrating part of the situation: It’s not quite time yet for the Nats to go all-in.

More than four years removed now from their World Series title, the Nationals are itching to return to their prior status as an annual contender. But while they’ve made significant progress since embarking on their franchise rebuild midway through the 2021 season, they’re not done yet. And that probably means another frustrating winter of patching a few roster holes without making any real long-term commitments to free agents.

The Nats, to be sure, have talked to a number of free agent targets. And they will sign a few of them sometime this winter. But they are not expecting to be major players at these meetings, which will see other clubs go for broke in pursuit of Shohei Ohtani, Juan Soto and others.

After improving from 55 wins in 2022 to 71 wins this season, the Nationals know they must take one more critical step before jumping back into the deep end of the free agent pool. Sure, they could make a big move now, like they did back in December 2010 when they signed Jayson Werth for $126 million despite losing 93 games that season. But they appear to be more inclined to wait one more year before going that route this time around.

Why? Because while their won-loss progression the last two seasons may mirror 2009-10, the organization is in a distinctly different position these days.

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Davey Johnson again falls short in Hall of Fame vote


NASHVILLE – A decade after managing his final game for the Nationals and nearly four decades after leading the Mets to their most recent World Series title, Davey Johnson once again didn’t get the congratulatory call he has long waited to receive.

Johnson was not elected to the National Baseball Hall of Fame tonight for the fifth time in the last 15 years, failing to come close to the necessary 12 votes he needed from the 16-member Contemporary Eras Committee.

That group, comprised of Hall of Famers, longtime baseball executives and veteran media members, instead elected only Jim Leyland off an eight-person ballot that included former managers, umpires and executives up for consideration.

Leyland, who won a World Series title with the Marlins and won multiple division titles with the Pirates and Tigers, was named on 15 of the 16 ballots. Longtime manager Lou Piniella received 11 votes (one shy) and former National League president Bill White received 10 votes. Johnson and the four other candidates (manager Cito Gaston, executive Hank Peters, umpires Ed Montague and Joe West) on the ballot each received fewer than five votes, according to the Hall of Fame.

For the 80-year-old Johnson, this may have been a final opportunity to have his highly successful – but often underappreciated – career recognized with the ultimate honor.

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Will Nats make news at Winter Meetings?


Nashville has been part of the Winter Meetings’ regular rotation for some time now, having hosted the event seven times since 1983, not to mention three times in a nine-year span from 2007-15. So the cavernous Gaylord Opryland Resort and Convention Center will be familiar territory for just about everyone who gathers there later today for the start of this year’s Winter Meetings.

That includes Mike Rizzo, who attends his fourth Nashville Winter Meetings as a member of the Nationals front office, his third as general manager. The situation this time, though, is different from those previous ones.

In December 2012 and 2015, the Nats were full-blown contenders, desperate to find a way to get over their postseason humps. So Rizzo was front-and-center each time, signing Dan Haren in 2012 and a trio of relievers (Shawn Kelley, Oliver Pérez and Yusmeiro Petit) in 2015.

Nationals managers also were the center of attention at each of those meetings, with Davey Johnson in 2012 declaring the goal was “World Series or bust” and recently hired Dusty Baker drawing a huge crowd for his media session in 2015.

What will this week have in store? Well, probably nothing like any of that. Unless Rizzo or Davey Martinez has a surprise up his sleeve.

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Nats to close spring with "Futures Game," clear two 40-man spots

Roddery Munoz Rochester

The Nationals’ traditional end-of-spring exhibition game in D.C. is going to look different in 2024.

Instead of facing another major league club like they typically have over the years, the Nats will face a team of their own prospects, giving those players a chance to take the field at Nationals Park for the first time and fans who can’t make it to West Palm Beach a chance to see them in person for the first time.

Dubbed “On Deck: Nationals Futures Game,” the exhibition is scheduled for 12:05 p.m. on March 26, two days after the team wraps up Grapefruit League play in Florida and two days before it opens the 2024 season on the road in Cincinnati.

“We’re incredibly thankful for the continued support of our fans in D.C., and we can’t wait for them to get a look at some of the players who will make up our next championship-caliber roster,” general manager Mike Rizzo said. “Players like James Wood, Dylan Crews, Brady House and Robert Hassell have certainly received a lot of attention, and I know that once our fans have the chance to see a full lineup of the young guys in our system, there will be even more reason to be optimistic about where we’re headed.”

The team has traditionally scheduled an exhibition game at Nationals Park to bridge the gap between the end of spring training and Opening Day, knowing players need to get some at-bats and throw innings during the three-day break. Those exhibitions have almost always been scheduled against another major league club, usually an American League team that will open the season somewhere in the Northeast, like the Yankees, Red Sox or Tigers.

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Friday morning Nats Q&A

Davey Martinez

It's been a rather quiet offseason so far for the Nationals, who have yet to acquire a major league player. They did drop several players from last year's roster to clear up space for some prospects who needed to be protected. And they made some significant changes to both their coaching staff and their front office.

But there's still a lot to be done this winter. Perhaps things are about to pick up with the Winter Meetings beginning Sunday evening in Nashville. (For my sake, I sure hope things pick up there, or else it's going to be an awfully boring week at the Opryland Resort.)

In the meantime, let's discuss what the Nats have done, and what they might do. Submit your questions in the comments section below, then check back for my replies over the course of the morning. ...

How the early market for starters impacts the Nats

Mike Rizzo

A week’s vacation for your trusty beat writer usually guarantees something for the Nationals: News.

Countless times over the years have I gone off the grid only to find out the Nats made some kind of major transaction in my absence. So, count me genuinely shocked when I got back to town after an extended Thanksgiving break with nary a peep coming out of South Capitol Street. Don’t get me wrong, I was glad Bobby Blanco’s holiday weekend wasn’t ruined by breaking news. But I fully expected to come back with reason to share my thoughts on multiple items of interest.

Instead … well, there really isn’t anything new on the Nationals to discuss. The Winter Meetings begin Sunday in Nashville, so there will be actual news soon enough. But not yet.

Perhaps the most interesting development of the last week from the Nats’ perspective was the flurry of moves made by other clubs. Especially when it came to free agent starting pitchers.

There have already been a number of moves in that oh-so-important department, and you better believe the Nationals were paying attention and calculating how it might impact their own pursuit of pitching help this winter.

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Nats' Hall of Fame moment will come some day

Max Scherzer All-Star jersey

The Hall of Fame’s 2024 ballot was revealed Monday, with 12 new candidates joining 14 returning candidates up for this year’s election by members of the Baseball Writers’ Association of America.

The list includes several first-timers with compelling cases: Adrián Beltré, Chase Utley, Joe Mauer. Headlining the group of returning candidates are Todd Helton, Billy Wagner and Andruw Jones, plus some all-time greats whose chances have been marred by connections to performance enhancing drugs (Alex Rodriguez, Manny Ramirez, Gary Sheffield) or other off-the-field controversies (Carlos Beltrán, Omar Vizquel).

Here’s what the list does not include, though: Anybody with any Nationals connection.

Not that the Nats typically are well-represented in these matters. Only one person who played for them since 2005 has been elected to the Hall: Iván Rodríguez. Only a few others who made any kind of real impression in D.C. (Adam Dunn, Liván Hernández, Jayson Werth, Jonathan Papelbon, Alfonso Soriano) have appeared on a ballot, and none of those came anywhere close to getting elected.

But it’s kind of unfortunate to look at a Hall of Fame ballot some 19 years after the Nationals debuted and see nobody who wore a curly W cap included.

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How the rest of the NL East figures into Nats' rebuild

2023 NL East Champion Braves

When gauging where the Nationals stand in their rebuilding efforts, the simplest answer is to look at their won-loss record since the process began. They went 65-97 in 2021 while starting to tear down the roster. They bottomed out at 55-107 in 2022 after trading Juan Soto. Then they started the climb back up toward contention with a 71-91 record this season, positioning themselves to take another key step forward that could have them on the fringes of contention in 2024.

And there’s nothing wrong with that approach. Sometimes, it’s important to judge a team against itself, not anybody else.

But we do have to acknowledge an important caveat here: The Nats do not exist in a vacuum. They’re one of five teams in the National League East division, one of 15 teams in the NL. Their success ultimately is dependent in many ways on how those other teams do, whether they’re trying to win the division or finish with one of the three best records in the NL among non-division winners to secure a wild card berth.

The Nationals could be better next season, a lot better, and it may not matter if enough other teams in the NL remain ahead of them in the standings.

Which makes their geographic location a bit of a hindrance to the whole rebuild process. As a member of the NL East, the Nats face some additional challenges they wouldn’t face in another division.

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A's relocation should bring out emotions for D.C. baseball fans


Major League Baseball, for all its warts, can stake claim to something no other major North American professional sports league can claim: Very few franchise relocations in recent times.

For five decades, in fact, there was only one MLB relocation: the Expos’ move to Washington prior to the 2005 season to become the Nationals. In spite of all of the sport’s other issues, this was a particular point of pride for baseball when comparing itself to the NFL, NBA and NHL.

And then came this week’s news of MLB owners unanimously approving the Athletics’ plan to relocate from Oakland to Las Vegas, and all of a sudden an issue that has barely been on baseball’s mind for a half-century is now the predominant story in the sport.

Baseball, of course, experienced plenty of franchise relocations prior to this long run of stability. The 1950s saw the Dodgers and Giants head west, the Braves move from Boston to Milwaukee, the St. Louis Browns become the Baltimore Orioles and the A’s transfer from Philadelphia to Kansas City. The 1960s then saw the original Senators become the Minnesota Twins, while the Braves (Milwaukee to Atlanta) and A’s (Kansas City to Oakland) relocated again. And the early 1970s saw the Seattle Pilots become the Milwaukee Brewers after only one season and the expansion Senators bolt for Texas to be rebranded as the Rangers.

But that’s ancient history at this point. Modern baseball has been defined by the stability of its franchises, and the addition of expansion teams to grow the league to an even 30 organizations. So the Oakland-to-Vegas announcement feels like a really big deal because in this sport it is a really big deal.

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Nationals face several decisions on tender deadline day (updated)

Garcia and Call white jerseys

Baseball’s second significant roster deadline of the week comes this evening, when teams are required to tender contracts to all players on the 40-man roster who aren’t already signed for the upcoming season.

Tendering a contract doesn’t mean actually agreeing to a 2024 salary. That process can still take place over the next two months, with any cases that aren’t settled ultimately heading to arbitration. This first step merely involves a team indicating its intention to sign a player for another season.

And the vast majority of these cases are cut-and-dried. Almost everyone involved in this process will have his contract tendered by the end of the day. Anyone who doesn’t get tendered … well, that’s the real newsworthy event.

Dozens of players across the sport get “non-tendered” every year on this date. Most are arbitration-eligible and due to earn more money via standard raises than the club is willing to pay after disappointing performances, making them free agents who can then sign anywhere they like.

The Nationals used this to their advantage last winter. They not only non-tendered Luke Voit, Erick Fedde and Tommy Romero, they wound up signing two players who were non-tendered by other clubs: Jemier Candelario and Dominic Smith.

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Offseason lineup needs look familiar for Nationals

Joey Meneses blue jersey

At this point 12 months ago, the Nationals had three holes to fill in their 2023 starting lineup. They needed a left fielder. They needed a third baseman. And, after choosing not to tender a contract to Luke Voit, they needed a first baseman (or designated hitter).

Mike Rizzo promptly filled all three of those holes in the form of Corey Dickerson, Jeimer Candelario and Dominic Smith, who combined made less than $10 million. One of them worked out wonderfully and was flipped at the trade deadline for a pitching prospect who could make his major league debut next season. The other two didn’t work out at all, with Dickerson injured and unproductive and out of a job by early August, and Smith offering smooth defensive work but not nearly enough offense at a traditionally offense-first position.

So as they progress into the heart of this offseason, the Nationals find themselves yet again with three lineup holes to fill. They need a left fielder. They need a third baseman. And, after choosing to designate Smith for assignment this week, they need a first baseman (or DH).

There are, to be fair, some potential in-house options at each position. Stone Garrett could be the starting left fielder, but how confident is the team in his ability to be 100 percent recovered from a gruesome broken leg by Opening Day? Carter Kieboom or Ildemaro Vargas or Jake Alu could be the third baseman, but none provides the kind of assured offense you’d think the Nats prefer at that position. And they could make Joey Meneses their regular first baseman and hope his defense is good enough, but even then, would still need to find another DH.

So, it feels like Rizzo is probably going to be looking once again to fill all three of those holes from outside the organization.

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