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The noticeable omission among qualifying offers (Burnett, A.J.) and what it means


MT. LEBO – Free agency opened for business at 12:01 a.m. this morning and unlike in the NFL, there’s typically not much immediate action as players and teams methodically work the market. While the Pirated did sign Russell Martin early in the signing period last offseason, GM Neal Huntington has indicated he will let the market play out this offseason. (Prediction: James Loney signs on Christmas).


The most interesting development so far is which free agents were – and which were not – extended one-year, $14.1 million qualifying offers by their respective 2013 teams by Monday’s 5 p.m. deadline.


There are 13 players who were given qualifying offers:


OF Shin-Soo Choo

OF Carlos Beltran 

OF Curtis Granderson

OF Jacoby Elsbury

SS Stephen Drew

2B Robinson Cano

1B Kendrys Morales

1B Mike Napoli

C Brian McCann

SP Ubaldo Jimenez

SP Ervin Santana

SP Hiroki Kuroda

(Note: If a team loses a free agent that was extended a QO, that team receives a compensation-round pick, which falls between rounds 1 and 2, and the team signing the player loses a first-round pick if they are picking between 11-30 in the first round or a second-round pick if drafting 1-10).


You can probably cross all of those above players off the Pirates’ free agent shopping list.  And on a side note, what a weak free agent class, which as I wrote on Sunday, the new reality of the free agent labor pool is that it has contracted.


Not only are they all going to be expensive but they would all require the Pirates to give up their 2014 first-round pick. That’s too much treasure for a player 30 or older. (I thought Drew might be an interesting fit .. otherwise all those names were long shots).


What’s interesting is who was not on that list:  AJ Burnett.
That’s interesting because he led NL starters in strikeout rate AND groundball rate (56.5). That’s a rare combination for a pitcher. According to’s WAR he had a better 2013 than the three starting pitchers on the list. (Baseball Reference only has Burnett with 1.7 WAR in 2013, which seems low).


That’s interesting because the $14.1 million one-year offer is below market value for a pitcher of Burnett’s ilk in 2014. See: Tim Lincecum’s two-year $37.5 million deal.


Now the Pirates have more information than we do because Burnett and his agent are not speaking to the media. Maybe Burnett is leaning toward retirement, or maybe they have already outlined the framework of an acceptable deal and maybe the Pirates don’t want to negotiate against themselves by setting an opening line at $14.1 million. Maybe Burnett really is either going to retire or pitch for the Pirates.


Still,  the qualifying offer made sense for a couple of reasons:


A.) Can any team really trust a player not to test the free agent market? A two-year, $40 million offer might change loyalties.


A couple years ago in the NBA, the Cavaliers had a handshake agreement with Carlos Boozer. He  said would not test the free agent market and would sign an extension. Boozer left for a near max deal with Utah. By making the qualifying offer, the Pirates would at least get back compensation if Burnett left. And honestly, a sandwich pick for a 37-year-old pitcher isn’t a bad deal. Perhaps that is an ideal outcome.


B.) The qualifying offer would also cut down on the possible outside market for Burnett. Teams would be much more hesitant to pursue Burnett if the cost included giving up a first-round pick.


The qualifying offer reduces demand and ensures compensation should the player leave. And even if the team has a fear the player might accept the QO, it typically doesn’t happen. I don’t believe a single player accepted a QO last offseason.


But at the end of the day it doesn’t sound like the Pirates extended a QO because they are not willing to pay Burnett $14.1 million, which could make up nearly 20 percent of their allotted 2014 payroll.


“Nothing has changed in terms of our situation with A.J.,”  Huntington said Monday. “This decision is not a reflection of our valuation of A.J. It’s more a reflection of our desire to build a championship roster. A $14.1 million (offer) is a significant chunk of our estimated budget for next year.


“The challenge is, the valuation of a player and our ability to field a championship roster don’t always align.”


There is risk in giving a 37-year-old a significant percentage of team payroll.


Perhaps the Pirates believe they have enough pitching depth and want to spend their free agent resources at 1B, RF and SS.


But what Monday signals is that the the Pirates are not ready to significantly increase payroll to a level of what many fans desire, they are not ready to  leave the neighborhood of small-market-level payrolls. While there are record revenues pouring into the game, there are still budgetary constraints in Pittsburgh.


– TS



  1. NMR says:

    Excellent, Travis. The lesson here is payroll expectation, not Burnett’s value.
    With that being said, I’m taking a dissenting POV as a Pirate fan on the quality of the free agent market. When you hear about a “good” free agent market, what you really hear is “a bunch of players the Pirates won’t be able to afford”. Just reality. This year, I think there are a bunch of guys who fall into that 1-3 year contract window at rates the Pirates CAN afford, and are higher quality than the Overbay’s, Barajas’s, and Correia’s of old.
    Johnson, Haren, Hughes, Hammel, Colon, Feldman, Maholm, all have been or have the potential to be at least mid-rotation starters and are presumed to cost less than AJ.
    Johnny Peralta is as good as a free agent shortstop – in the Pirates price range – is gonna get.
    Byrd, David Murphy, Mike Morse, Chris Young, Corey Hart, James Loney have all recently been everyday players with the potential to upgrade the outfield and/or 1B.
    It will be difficult, no doubt, for Huntington to put all the right peices together. But I do believe there are mores options, and resources, available.

  2. Travis Sawchik says:

    That’s a good take, NMR.

    The Pirates will never build through FA, meaning they won’t acquire core pieces. But they do have to supplement their core and this might be pretty good class of supplemental-type players. Lot of risk-reward SPs available. Some interesting OF names, and I’d give Peralta’s agent a call.

  3. Travis Sawchik says:

    One name that hasn’t been mentioned is Juan Uribe. Great glove at 3B, but just a so-so bat.

    Pirates could dramatically improve 3B defense and move Alvarez to 1B, where he might end up eventually anyways. There’s little 1B help in the market or in the system. The move might also tick down his arbitration value going forward.

  4. Citiman76 says:


    Even a better followup at third base. If the Redsox resign Drew to play ss, they will then play Bogaerts at 3b and trade Middlebrooks. If Drew is signed, i then ask the Redsox what they want for Middlebrooks and bring him to the Pirates and move Pedro to first base. I would trade a Glasnow to get Middlebrooks. Of course Boston might want more.

  5. NMR says:

    Great name, Travis.
    Not sure if there is enough left in that 34 yo bat to justify a full-time move, but I love the idea of using him as a super utility guy spelling Pedro and Walker against lefties. If he hits, then all the more justification to test Pedro at 1B for a couple dozen starts. You could pretty easily get Uribe 300 AB’s if he deserved them.
    Considering they spent over $3m last year on McDonald, Inge, and Harrison, another million or so for a guy who can actually play might not be a terrible idea. :)

  6. BostonsCommon says:

    I don’t think that would fly with Pedro (or Boras). His max value as a FA is as an everyday 3B with 30+ HR and 100+RBI. His power plays at any position, but its extremely rare to find it in a 3B.
    Frankly, I’m not even ready to move him off 3B. I think he’s still improving defensively, and he’s probably got the biggest arm on the team. Obviously he has the talent and ability to make the spectacular defensive plays, he just needs to be more consistent with the routine throws…Don’t always need to use the Howitzer if a pistol will get the job done.

  7. Travis Sawchik says:

    Interesting thought. I’m not sure who would say ‘ No’ first …. Middlebrooks could be available, though

  8. NMR says:

    Middlebrooks got exposed big time at the plate last year. Not sure I’d be comfortable giving up a top prospect. Also debatable whether he is a better or worse defender than Pedro.
    But I do love the idea.

  9. NMR says:

    Gavid Floyd interests me coming off TJ as well. Good ground ball rate, three straight seasons with an xFIP under 3.75 prior to injury. Could be a Charlie Morton situation.

  10. TCB says:

    IMHO, Glasnow for Middlebrooks would be a major overpay by the Bucs.

  11. Travis Sawchik says:

    Ideally, I don’t think Alvarez needs to be moved off 3B.

    But if you’re looking to improve as a team, and there’s not a great 1B option out there, it might make some sense to explore Uribe. Defense was a competitive advantage for the Pirates in 2013 and it probably needs to be again in 2014.

    I’m sure Alvarez and Boras would oppose this — and that matters — but at the end of the day they don’t have control over lineup card.

  12. Travis Sawchik says:

    Ceiling wise, I agree. But pitching prospects have a very high attrition rate and Middlebrooks has at least arrived at the MLB level and shown some promise

  13. BostonsCommon says:

    I understand the argument, and the fact the the 1B landscape is almost as barren on the FA market as it is the in the Pirate organization.
    My main argument to Uribe and Pedro on the corners full time, is that I don’t know that it makes the Pirates any better. Is 34 year old Uribe really that much better defensively than Pedro? Enough to justify moving him to a new position, and wasting his arm at 1B? I don’t know, maybe I’m higher on el Toro’s D than most people.
    And I’ve never really liked the idea of messing with 2 positions, in order to upgrade 1 (1B in this case), especially if its a marginal upgrade.
    My preference is one for one of these guys to platoon with Gaby:
    James Loney
    Billy Butler
    Justin Morneau

  14. BostonsCommon says:

    Uribe in the super utility role, yes. Everyday starter, no. I think that you sign up.

  15. NMR says:

    I won’t pretend like I’ve spent a ton of time watching Jaun Uribe play 3B, but he seems to have the skills made for the position. Quick first step, soft hands, accurate arm. Metrics love him.
    I’m a fan of Pedro, as you are, but still would take Uribe. That being said, I just think the situation is too messy to deal with given the added benefit. I was tempted to make this play for Chase Headley around this time last season, fwiw.
    I was against making any FA move at 1B since I believed the money almost certainly could’ve been better spent on starting pitching, SS, and outfield. But I like everything James Loney does as a baseball player. If the team has money left in the tank, I think he improves this team.

  16. BostonsCommon says:

    Your point is one of the best that anyone, media or elsewhere, has made since the season ended:
    The 2013 Pirates proved you can win while producing a giant squadoosh in RF and 1B.
    While I wouldn’t try to prove it annually , I’ll understand if the big money is spent on AJ and J. Johnson (or some combination of pitching), and the little money (Lambo, Tabata, and Gaby) try to hold down the fort.

  17. NMR says:

    Ha, thanks Boston.
    If you look around baseball, there are two kinds of good First Basemen: guys that are home-grown, and guys that are really, really expensive.
    NONE of the teams that are limited by payroll got good everyday 1B through free agency. Not one. There’s a reason the Rays are known for their 1B reclamation projects and the A’s are known for their platoons and walk machines. Cheap value from a position that is terribly bloated.

  18. Nate83 says:

    Great discussion by all involved above. Very informative. All interesting thoughts that make me anxious for April to arrive.

  19. Thundercrack says:

    If the Pirates sign Uribe and move Pedro to first base I will buy both of you (NMR & Travis) a steak dinner.

    Not going to happen.

    Is Uribe’s glove that much more better than Pedro’s that you would put up with his so-so bat? And then you have Pedro at a new position.

  20. NMR says:

    How goes it, Nate? Was waiting for you to jump in. Any thoughts?

  21. Foo says:

    Thunder….I would like to sign Uribe as a RH platoon bat for Pedro and Walker.

  22. Foo says:

    First off, the time stamps are off. i,m typing this at 8:25 am in Wed.

    Secondly, one of the biggest Pirate problems in their IF, is that everyone needs a RH/LH platoon partner. Whether it ia Pedro, Mercer, Walker or Gaby (and whoever else we get to play there) all need platooned against either lefties or righties.

    That puts quite a burden on your bench and gives opposing managers some easy platoon pitching options.

  23. Nate83 says:

    Completely swamped at work but my personal order of importance for the off season has always been 1B and starting pitching. If they spend much time or money on a right fielder I will be dissappointed. I would not be a big fan of moving getting a third baseman/super utility guy and moving Pedor accross the diamond for a few dozen games.
    I agree completely with your assesment of the Burnett decision having a lot more to do with a percentage of payroll then it does with if they want him back or not. I do not think they will go above 11 million for him. Any more then that would diminish the amount available to spend elsewhere. There are plenty of quality starting pitchers that either just had good reclamation years or seem to be good bets to bounce back next year to spend more then that on AJ. I would much rather them get something like Johnson (medium risk, high reward) and Maholm (safe pick up that you know what your getting) then just get AJ and nobody else. I believe strongly in having 7 or 8 legitimate starting options.

  24. Leo Walter says:

    Foo : Tell that to the Oakland A’s please.

  25. NMR says:

    I’m starting to lean your direction on RF.
    It’ll be a long winter, don’t worry. Look forward to hearing from you.

  26. NMR says:

    About those platoons…
    Go around the league and you’ll find AT LEAST one starter on each team with platoon splits. This issue gets blown out of proportion. A player like Neil Walker has a good enough all around game to more than justify a full time role.
    Jordy Mercer has only 433 big league plate appearances. Far too early to call him a platoon candidate. Just as its far too early to say he crushes lefties.
    The Pirates had these same exact “problems” last year and ended up the 3rd best team in baseball against left handed pitching.
    The A’s and Rays have both proven that platoons aren’t a burden, but an advantage for small market teams. They build lineups in such a way that every spot is utilized.

  27. Nate83 says:

    Same here. I’ve learned alot from you, Jim, Boston, AW and others while spending time on these blogs. Very knowledgable responses that in some cases have changed my opinion on some things. This blog seems much more open to discussion and less defensive then DK’s can sometimes get. Probably because of the more detailed entries above by Travis that act as a springboard for conversation about specifics. The other blog is a grab bag of topics which it should be and definately has more right/wrong type topics especially concerning the Pirates.

  28. Nate83 says:

    There are all stars that have horrible splits from one side or the other but you are not going to platoon them. Large market teams that go out and pay 20 milliion to a couple of position players and another 8-15 million to 3 or 4 other guys are not going to platoon those guys even if the numbers say they should. Your paying those guys to play 150-162 games a year. It’s must easier for a small market team to justify platooning players.
    Nobody will bat an eye if Loney/Gaby platoon next year including the players themselves. Their combined overall stats at the end of the year probably will be that of an average everyday first baseman. Unfortunately last year Jones was so bad that if just killed the platoon. If he had a year on par with his 2010-2012 stats we are not even concerned with 1B today because Gaby did what we expected and unfortunately was forced to play in games he shouldn’t have against righties because of Jones being so bad.

  29. NMR says:

    Travis does a great job of sticking to baseball. Not getting personal, especially regarding the Front Office. There’s still a lot of tension on the other blog that leads to the stuff that isn’t pretty, IMO. Not knocking Dejan or the guys on the blog, but there is clearly a difference.
    Pretty sure the only time conversation over here has ever gotten personal is when Travis dropped the “Y” bomb and on proud PITTSBURGHER. :)

  30. NMR says:

    Great point about costs, Nate.
    My one wish is that Huntington do a better job of finding platoon mates that are defensively versatile and can pick it.

  31. Goose says:

    So back to first base…In my opinion, almost all of these guys are not an upgrade to Garrett Jones of 2 yrs ago. I know it may be a stretch to say he wil repeat that, but I also don’t think he’ll be as bad as he was this past year. Good teammate & good guy all around too.

  32. Nate83 says:

    The DK blog is what it is. It needs to be anything and everything and allows for good interaction on all subjects. I still look through it daily but sometimes it becomes a huge effort to make your way through everything and find the few comments you may want to add your two cents. Much more focused on these type of blogs. I enjoy Rossi’s blog entries about the Penguins as well. The trib is very fortunate to have so many quality contributers.

  33. Nate83 says:

    Like Barmes except he was picked up to be the everyday starter. I think people will be much happier with him this year if he resigns with the Pirates as he will be used in more of a role the fits his skill set. 200 at bats playing 25-30 games at short stop and being a late inning defensive substitution makes sense to me.
    That being said you can not have McDonald and Inge as bench players as well. Only one Barmes type player on the bench. I like having T. Sanchez, Lambo/Tabata and maybe Sanchez/free agent as options of the bench.

  34. Bizrow says:

    Travis, I am very impressed with your coverage, please keep on doing what you do

  35. Ghost says:

    Said it before (and now I’m not the only one saying it), say it again: Pedro to first. Jordy to third. Jordy’s range is mediocre at SS, but it would be pretty good at third. His arm was wrongfully assailed by some fans last year — it’s a good one. Voted best arm in the Pirate’s system, two years ago. If Marlon Byrd is still available, ink him for next year and RF is fine until Polanco is ready for road-testing. Byrd may not have quite the year he just finished having in 2013, but he should still be solid at the plate, not to mention in the field and running the bases. Really a good all-round player who shouldn’t cost an arm and a leg at age 37.

  36. NMR says:

    Wise man.
    2014 Jones doesn’t need to be 2012 Jones. 2010 Jones (.262/.330/.444 vs RHP) and 2011 Jones (.262/.346/.462 vs RHP) would almost certainly give any of the free agent or trade candidates the Pirates can realistically afford a run for their money.
    Considering the very likely possibility that he’ll be non-tendered, similar to Jeff Karstens last winter, one would think there is a good chance he could be resigned for as much or less than he made in 2013.

  37. BostonsCommon says:

    Just want to qualify this with I’m not Garrett Jones bashing. From what I can tell he’s a good clubhouse guy and really handled the Morneau acquisition very professionally.
    But lets look at his splits vs RHP over the last 4 years.
    2013: .233/.289/.419/.708 (Age 32)
    2012: .289/.332/.556/.888 (Age 31)
    2011: .262/.346/.462/.808 (Age 30)
    2010: .262/.330/.444/.775 (Age 29)
    Even if he put up the ’10 .775 OPS you probably take that in the platoon. But if you’re asking me… it kinda looks like Garrett forgot how to do the one thing that he did well. I mean he wouldn’t be in MLB if he didn’t crush righties.
    You certainly don’t bring him back at his arbitration number (projected to be $5.3M by Is it worth a $2M gamble that he regains his form in his age 33 season? The Pirates flushed $2.875M down the toilet on old McDonald and Johnathan Sanchez last year, so maybe…
    I want more/better than Garrett, but I would understand if the Bucs took a flier on him again.

  38. NMR says:

    “But if you’re asking me… it kinda looks like Garrett forgot how to do the one thing that he did well.”
    Are you scouting the stat line or actually picking up on a flaw in his swing?
    Fangraphs and Baseball Reference both have Jones at .241/.295/.435/.730 against RHP in 2013, fwiw. His K-rate was the same as it was in ’11 and ’12. BB-rate same as ’12. HR-rate stayed exactly at career average. Only major difference I can find is a 30 point drop in BABIP likely caused by an IFFB-rate about 6% over career average.
    Did pitcher’s actively induce this? Did they find a whole that nobody else noticed?
    Or did Jones simply have a down year, not unlike those that every single other free agent has on their record?
    Honestly, I have yet to hear anybody actually try to explain what happened to Garrett Jones last year. I certainly don’t have any answers.

  39. NMR says:

    *hole. I’m an idiot.

  40. NMR says:

    Doesn’t that just shift the hole in your lineup from 1B to SS?

  41. BostonsCommon says:

    Scouting the stat line lol, I like that… I’m not qualified to identify a hole in his swing, can barely find the one in my face when it’s time for a beer… Although I think he finished too many swings with his left knee in the dirt.
    Not sure where I pulled that 2013 line from, thanks! End of a long day I guess…
    And FWIW, I did say he’s probably worth another shot and I would understand if he was resigned at a lower cost.

  42. BostonsCommon says:

    “…it’s a good one. Voted best arm in the Pirate’s system, two years ago.”.
    Not better than Pedro’s. He may not ever win a gold glove, but he’s already above average at 3B, and he’s getting better.
    To move him off 3B, you’d better be upgrading 1B AND 3B.

  43. Andrew says:

    One thing I always find missing in discussion of platoons and which player are candidates is everyone looks at players observed splits and just assumes that will continue. Splits have to be regressed against league average, and your point about Walker is correct, if you regresses his splits you get .313 wOBA vs LHP and .339 wOBA vs RHP. Yes, Walker has been declining against LHP but that regressed split is the best predictor going forward, and considering .315 wOBA was league average last season, with 2B hitting .305 wOBA, I think it is a little premature to assume a platoon mate for Walker is great improvement.

  44. Andrew says:

    My ability to read a swings is on par with Boston’s but here is what I found with a brief look at some data,

    Jones’s batted ball distance
    2009: 307.03′
    2010: 303.92′
    2011: 282.71′
    2012: 297.33′
    2013: 286.6′

    The trend is concerning, Jones’s best years were propelled by a high HR/FB ratio. All his HRs this year were pulled, and all off of fastballs except two off of curves. His whiff/swing rate on change ups jumped to almost 40% this year, was 24% last year, career average before this year 28%. His ISO against offspeed pitches fell from career average of .205 to .044 this year. To me this looks like a guy losing bat speed, starting his swinging earlier hence whiffing on change ups and bad results.

    Granted I cannot explain is increased LD% rate, and but LDs at expense of FBs for a power hitter is not usually good. It is hard to separate bad year from aging and regressing back to career level averages is possible and likely. However, the concern is a marginal player like Jones it does not take much of a dip in performance for him to become below replacement level.

  45. Ghost says:

    As long as the Pirates are emphasizing ground ball outs and tight defense, I like Barmsie as the main SS for one more year.

  46. Ghost says:

    I’ll admit that Pedro reduced his error numbers down the stretch. But there’s no way I’d put him as “already above average at 3B,” especially the “already” part. He’s blessed with a cannon, but an erratic one. His glove itself is average; don’t forget, he lead the entire MLB in errors. Everyone can have the occasional highlight play — he has more than his share of miscues with the glove, too. I would agree that we’ve probably seen the worst of Pedro in the field and that he’ll settle down. But let him settle down at first. Less demanding in both range requirements and throwing accuracy. I think he actually could be a good 1st-bagger if he’s willing to buy in.
    As for Jordy, his best days offensively are still in front of him. His arm and range would be above average for 3b-men. Unless the Pirates steal a good FA, Jordy and Pedro at the corners are a good answer and they’re already in the house.

  47. Ghost says:

    Oh, you were talking about batting lineup. Well, yes, that would be true. But I think it’s a worthwhile trade as, defensively, it would be very sound once Pedro gets acclimated at 1st. And it’s a way to get the best out of both Jordy and Barmsie at the same time.

  48. BostonsCommon says:

    Good stuff Andrew… On Jones and Walker.

  49. leefoo says:

    Hey Biz…how’s the dachys?

  50. leefoo says:

    Why would you want to move Pedro to 1b?

    His defense, according to all metrics makes him an average to above average 3bman.

  51. leefoo says:

    Another option being bandied about is signing Peralta, making Jordy the RH part of a platoon with Pedro and Walker.

    Btw, I don’t think I am over-blowing the platoon split problems for us. I honestly could care less what other teams have problems with, platoon-wise. It has no bearing on us. If we can get better with a good RH bat so that we don’t have to see the flailings of Pedro or PRNW, I say go for it! And if other teams continue to live with their platoon problems, then we gain an advantage.

  52. cmat0829 says:

    This is pretty simple in my view… Pirates didn’t want to risk paying AJ $14.1M. They’d like him back, perhaps at around $9-10M.

    I hear Nelson Cruz is looking at a 3-year $39M contract range… to me that is much better use of $13M+ per year than AJ…at least for 2014. And again, when Polanco is ready, you can trade Cruz.

  53. NMR says:

    Haha, trust me, I’m not quitting my day job, either. Just wondering if you guys read or picked up on anything.

  54. NMR says:

    Completely missed that, Andrew. Great catch. I saw his HR/FB% was around career average and didn’t think to look into it.
    I know year-to-year batted ball data by pitch type has a tendency to jump wildly due to sample size, but I could buy the picture you paint.

  55. NMR says:

    Certainly worth adding, Andrew. High level stuff, but I think we all can appreciate it.
    Speaking specifically of Walker, though, I’m not sure how confident I am in that regression. Consider wOBA from ’11-’13 decreased from .296 to .271 to .231. 2010 looks to be a clear outlier at .351. Can’t say I put much stock in that regression when he’s only come within 20 point of hitting it in one season.
    Also supports my theory that 2010 was a fluke, and that Walker is better off hitting exclusively from the left side. He’s chasing something that never was really there.

  56. NMR says:

    If Jordy proves he can maintain his rookie year offensive numbers AND is actually an improvement over Pedro defensively, I wouldn’t mind your suggestion at all, even with Barmes at short.

  57. NMR says:

    One thing that worries me about Jordy at 3B is that to my eye, his hands were a bigger issue at short than his range. Just not very soft or smooth.

  58. NMR says:

    “…one of the biggest Pirate problems in their IF…”
    I’m guessing if you left this part out and wrote everything you said in this post in its place, we would’ve agreed.

  59. Travis Sawchik says:

    Good find Andrew, thanks for sharing

  60. Travis Sawchik says:

    Thanks for the kind words, gents

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