All-Time Baseball Franchise Ranking Project: #30-#20

By: James Esatto

Ed.: This is Part I of a three-part project ranking all of the 30 MLB franchises by their “all-time” best possible rosters.  We’d like to thank Jimmy for putting all of the thought and effort into this and for allowing us to publish it here at The Read Zone.

Part I is being published today, Monday the 8th.  Part II will be published Wednesday the 10th and Part III, the top ten franchises of all time, on Friday the 12th.  Make sure to check back for all of the rankings!

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            I love baseball.  I spend far too much time thinking about the game, in particular its history. I recently found myself wondering what “all-time” franchise teams would look like, and how they would rank, if we were able to construct a single roster from the best players in franchise history. This is actually a fairly easy question to answer, so I decided to figure it out by setting up a very simple set of rules to determine what roster would be entered for each franchise.

1. Each player may only be considered for the contributions they made for that franchise – nothing before or after.

2. The roster must be made up like a real roster, meaning players must play specific positions.

3. In addition to the standard positions — C, 1B, 2B, 3B, SS, OF, OF, OF, SP, SP, SP, SP, SP, RP — I added two more, an extra OF and a Utility spot.  I decided on the Util spot because it is not fair to franchises who had two of their best players at the same position (Gehringer and Whitaker on Detroit for example) and who could not feasibly play another position. I also decided the 4th outfield spot was fair to include, because even after adding the Util spot the best player left off was most often an outfielder.

4. Players could play any position they could have reasonably been asked to play in real life. (Example: Craig Biggio represents the Astros at catcher rather than second base or outfield because that is the best way to construct the roster, even though it wasn’t his primary position. Sort of the way the All-Star Game is typically handled.)

5. A player’s contribution would be measured by their career WAR while with the franchise.  This is very simple but it gives you a general overview of the player’s contribution to the franchise.  With these rules in place I broke out my spreadsheets and set off to rank each team’s all time roster, here are the results:

30. Tampa Bay Rays / Tampa Bay Devil Rays

1998-2013, 45.6 W%, 0 World Championships, 1 Pennant, 3 Playoff Appearances; 247.3 WAR

C – Toby Hall                               5.5

1B – Carlos Pena                         13

2B – Ben Zobrist                       25.4

3B – Evan Longoria                 33.5

SS – Julio Lugo                          13.4

OF – Carl Crawford                  35.7

OF – B.J. Upton                         21.9

OF – Aubrey Huff                      10.1

OF – Matt Joyce                         7.7

Util – Jason Bartlett                  8.1

SP – James Shields                   23.5

SP – Scott Kazmir                      16.2

SP – David Price                        15.1

SP – Matt Garza                           7.8

SP – Jeff Niemann                      6.2

RP – Grant Balfour                    4.2

            Well, they haven’t been around very long, and were pretty terrible for the vast majority of that time.  They are yet to have a great player spend their entire career with the team; Evan Longoria can change that but given their philosophy of not spending money, there probably are not going to be too many more.  Obviously this team will continue to creep up the list every day with a few of them still active.

            Crawford gets to have the distinction of the best player for the worst franchise, probably until around the end of this season.  It was impressive to me how far up the list Ben Zobrist has already come.  They do really need to do something about that catcher situation, Toby Hall should not really be a part of this article.

            Pitching wise we see the Rays have actually had some solid talent, but only Price and technically Niemann are still active.  With all the talent just arriving in the majors and more on the way, expect that part of the list to change drastically soon.

Brian: Exactly right – the Rays are exactly the type of team that you would expect to be at the bottom of this list, given their newness and their pattern of letting players go when they become expensive.  I was interested to learn, in looking at this, that the Rays had a much worse winning percentage than the Marlins – you would think that given their recent reversal of fortune that it would be the opposite.  That view really understates how bad the Rays were in the 90’s and early 2000’s.

29. Miami Marlins / Florida Marlins

1993-2013, 47.1 W%, 2 World Championships, 2 Pennants, 2 Playoff Appearances; 267.3 WAR

C – Charles Johnson                   14.2

1B – Miguel Cabrera                   20.3

2B – Luis Castillo                       21.2

3B – Mike Lowell                        17.6

SS – Hanley Ramirez                  30.6

OF – Jeff Conine             16.9

OF – Cliff Floyd                          16.1

OF – Gary Sheffield                    14.4

OF – Giancarlo Stanton               11.4

Util – Dan Uggla                         17.8

SP – Josh Johnson                     21.2

SP – Ricky Nolasco                    18.4

SP – Dontrelle Willis                   15.2

SP – A.J. Burnett                       14.1

SP – Anibal Sanchez                  12.8

RP – Robb Nen                          5.1

            Our first upset, I had expected the Diamondbacks, who entered the league five years after the Marlins, to rank second from the bottom, but due to their penchant for constantly turning over their roster it is Miami that comes in at 29.  It really is not surprising either if you look at their franchise roster, which is almost completely players that spent only a brief period with the team.

            The list of players who played for the Marlins but did not make this list, is actually more impressive than the players that did make it, particularly the pitching.  Kevin Brown, Josh Beckett, Al Leiter, Javier Vazquez, and Mark Buehrle all were not around long enough to make the list.  Ditto for Jose Reyes, Pudge Rodriguez, Derrek Lee, Devon White, Carlos Delgado, Moises Alou, and Bobby Bonilla.  Perhaps most surprising is that the only two players that made their franchise team that are still accumulating value for them are Stanton and Nolasco, so do not expect them to be creeping up the list too quickly.

Brian: Given that the Marlins are only 20 WAR ahead of the Rays – do you expect the Marlins to be last soon?  I do, although Stanton might do some damage if he sticks around.

Brian:  As of publication, Nolasco is also gone.

28. Arizona Diamondbacks 1998 – 2013

49.9 W%, 1 World Championship, 1 Pennant, 5 Playoff Appearances; 281.2 WAR

C – Miguel Montero                     12.5

1B – Craig Counsell                    9.5

2B – Jay Bell                              10.2

3B – Matt Williams                     8.9

SS – Stephen Drew                    10

OF – Luis Gonzalez                    33.7

OF – Steve Finley                       18.3

OF – Justin Upton                       15.3

OF – Chris Young                       14.4

OF – Gerardo Parra                    8

SP – Randy Johnson                  54.9

SP – Brandon Webb                   29.4

SP – Curt Schilling                     25

SP – Dan Haren                         14.1

SP – Miguel Batista                    11.5

RP – Byung-Hyun Kim                5.5

            Craig Counsell?  The Diamondbacks amazingly have never had a very good first baseman so the super utility infielder steps in at first base for a team that traditionally gets all its offense from the outfield.  A lot of criticism was given to the team for trading away Upton this off-season; considering he is 25-years-old and already the team’s third highest contributing offensive player ever, I would say the criticism was warranted.

            The Diamondbacks have a legitimate star who spent a good portion of his career with them in Johnson and that is the biggest reason they propelled ahead of the Rays and Marlins.  Seeing Webb on this list is depressing for me, he was my favorite pitcher in the late 2000s and even though he never got to throw a pitch after turning 30 he is the franchise’s third best player.  With all of the young pitchers on the roster and coming through the system, expect Haren and Batista to be displaced soon.

Brian:  This list is amazing for a few reasons.  How is Gerardo Parra on it already?  He’s a great player but he hasn’t even had a full season as a starter.  It’s also amazing to see that Luis Gonzalez, who it is very easy to forget was a star for that brief period, was able to compile 33.7 WAR.  That trails only Crawford for a position player so far.

27. Colorado Rockies 1993-2013

47.3 W%, 0 World Championships, 1 Pennant, 3 Playoff Appearances; 316.6 WAR

C – Chris Iannetta                       7.9

1B – Todd Helton                        55.9

2B – Eric Young                         9.6

3B – Vinny Castilla                     16

SS – Troy Tulowitzki                   27.7

OF – Larry Walker                      44.3

OF – Matt Holliday                      20.8

OF – Carlos Gonzalez                 17.8

OF – Ellis Burks                         11

OF – Andres Galarraga               13.5

SP – Ubaldo Jimenez                  19.4

SP – Aaron Cook                        18.9

SP – Pedro Astacio                    16

SP – Jeff Francis                        15.4

SP – Jason Jennings                  14.3

RP – Brian Fuentes                    8

            Colorado can make a lot of mediocre hitters look very good (I am looking at you Dante Bichette) but Helton and Walker were clearly exceptional players in any environment.  The duo of Tulowitzki and Gonzalez has also made a significant mark on the franchise already, and if they can stay healthy, should push them higher.  Of the four teams listed so far three have had very unspectacular catchers, Iannetta here never had more than 345 at-bats over six seasons of sporadic playing time in Colorado.

            The pitching is not as bad as I was expecting.  Just putting up bulk innings with a respectable ERA goes a long way in Coors Field.  There is not a lot of help on the way either as Jorge De La Rosa and Jhoulys Chacin are creeping up the list but hardly taking it by storm.  Rafael Betancourt should take over the reliever spot sometime next year if he continues to pitch at his current level.

Brian: This is the Helton and Walker show!  Look at that – 100.2 WAR between them, and only 216.3 among every other player combined. 

26. San Diego Padres 1969 – 2013

46.4 W%, 0 World Championships, 2 Pennants, 5 Playoff Appearances; 342.9 WAR

C – Gene Tenace                        18.8

1B – Adrian Gonzalez                 20

2B – Bip Roberts                        11.1

3B – Ken Caminiti                       17.5

SS – Khalil Greene                     8.8

OF – Tony Gwynn                       65

OF – Dave Winfield                     29.1

OF – Brian Giles                         18.7

OF – Gene Richards                   17.7

UTIL – Chase Headley                 17.4

SP – Jake Peavy                        24.5

SP – Randy Jones                      21.3

SP – Andy Benes                       20.9

SP – Andy Ashby                       15.2

SP – Bruce Hurst                       14.8

RP – Trevor Hoffman                   22.1

            I think it is actually kind of embarassing that a team that has been around since the 60’s only just beat out the Rockies, and, basically the only reason they did beat Colorado was Trevor Hoffman and Gene Tenace.  This lineup is, well, terrible frankly.  Unlike most of the other teams at the bottom, this is not a list of very good players who had big numbers elsewhere, (Brian Giles and Dave Winfield being the obvious exceptions) it is just a list of good but not great players… and Tony Gwynn.

            Jake Peavy had a chance to be this team’s Randy Johnson until injuries knocked his career off the tracks for awhile.  Kevin Brown and Gaylord Perry played a combined three seasons for this franchise and had 18.3 WAR, which shows just how badly this team has struggled to find an ace, and get them to stick around, in their history.

            This team also is lacking in young established major leaguers that could help jump them up a few spots.  Headley is helping; Everth Cabrera, Yonder Alonso, Jedd Gyorko and Yasmani Grandal may help eventually, but none of those guys project as stars either.  Given the dearth of talent that has passed through San Diego, it is not a surprise they have only managed two pennants in their history.

Brian:  You’re exactly right – how is it possible that this team is so bad?  You’re telling me that over forty years, the Padres have never had a shortstop contribute more than Khalil Greene’s 8.8 WAR?  That’s downright remarkable, and is the lowest for any non-catcher infield position thus far.  Hopefully Everth Cabrera (should he avoid steroid trouble) may fix this soon.

25. Milwaukee Brewers / Seattle Pilots 1969 – 2013

47.8 W%, 0 World Championships, 1 Pennant, 4 Playoff Appearances; 442.3 WAR

C – B.J. Surhoff                          14.3

1B – Cecil Cooper                       29.8

2B – Don Money             26.2

3B – Jeff Cirillo                           26.1

SS – Robin Yount                       66.8

OF – Ryan Braun                        32.6

OF – Geoff Jenkins                     24.3

OF – Ben Ogilvie                        21

OF – Gorman Thomas                 19.7

Util – Paul Molitor                       56.4

SP – Ben Sheets                        29.7

SP – Teddy Higuera                    28.1

SP – Chris Bosio                        20.9

SP – Moose Haas                      20.9

SP – Yovani Gallardo                  15.9

RP – Dan Plesac                        9.6

            The Brewers had one of the more famous teams that failed to win a World Series in the 1982 team, (as expected they are all over this list) and maybe as a result of that we often forget how much they’ve struggled to find success as a franchise.  Other than the few years surrounding that team and their recent success, it has been a rough go for the Brew Crew.  Looking at the team, it is not hard to see why.

            The Brewers have historically struggled to find outfielders and pitching, although Braun has done a nice job to fill the void as much as one person can.  Prince Fielder headed out of town just before he could start to creep onto the team.  Rickie Weeks and Corey Hart have struggled recently and it is looking less likely they will have an impact, although Hart has a relatively easy route as an outfielder.

            The biggest problem however, is the pitching.  Ben Sheets ranks the highest despite only starting 221 games for the franchise and posting a 3.72 ERA, hardly earth-shattering performance.  The pitching has been so bad historically that C.C. Sabathia who spent less than half of a single season on the team is 30th all time in pitcher WAR.  This for a team currently in its 44th year of existence.

Brian:    Again, a two-player combo does most of the damage for a team.  Two of the all-time underrated greats, Paul Molitor and Robin Yount combine for 113.2.  In other news, this team has a number of players that I know little to nothing about – like who on earth is Teddy Higuera?  Turns out he is a pitcher with a career 94-64 record and 117 ERA+ who played his entire career for Milwaukee, from 1985-1994.  His last good season was in 1988, and he once won 20 games (in 1986, with a 2.79 ERA).  Who is Moose Haas?

24. Texas Rangers / Washington Senators 1961-2013

47.6 W%, 0 World Championships, 2 Pennants, 6 Playoff Appearances; 451.6 WAR

C – Ivan Rodriguez                      49.5

1B – Rafael Palmeiro                  41.9

2B – Ian Kinsler                          37.6

3B – Buddy Bell                         34.4

SS – Toby Harrah                       29.6

OF – Juan Gonzalez                   30.1

OF – Frank Howard                     27.9

OF – Josh Hamilton                    21.6

OF – Ruben Sierra                      18.8

Util – Jim Sundberg                     31.3

SP – Kenny Rogers                    29.5

SP – Charlie Hough                    24.4

SP – Kevin Brown                       22.6

SP – Nolan Ryan                        21.7

SP – Bobby Witt                                    21.7

RP – Francisco Cordero              9

            In many ways this is a repeat of the Milwaukee franchise, a lot of solid infielders, minimal outfielding, and poor pitching.  Michael Young and Alex Rodriguez both checked in at 26 WAR but could not make the team since they were infield only.  Interestingly, this is one of very few teams to actually use the Util spot on a catcher.  Ian Kinsler jumped out at me a bit, he actually has a decent chance of being the franchise’s all time leader in WAR if he stays on the team long term.

            It is interesting how many pitchers stopped by the Rangers briefly during a long career.  Brown, Ryan, Fergie Jenkins, Gaylord Perry, Kevin Millwood, Juan Guzman and Frank Tanana to name a few.  There is not a whole lot of help on the way either with Darvish a few years from cracking the team plus Derek Holland and Matt Harrison more treading water than anything.

            The Rangers have seriously turned things around as a franchise.  They spent the entire decade of the 60s in the cellar, the next 25 years as a forgettable middle-of-the-pack team, but have since become perennial contenders (albeit with a lull during the Alex Rodriguez years).  With one of the best farm systems in baseball and a talented major league roster they have a chance to move up this list down the road.

Brian:  I have never heard of Jim Sundberg before today.  Am I a bad fan?  Probably.  Also very cool observation there on Kinsler: with 37.6 WAR at age 31, he could tack on another 15-20 WAR before all is said and done so long as he doesn’t fall off a cliff suddenly (as many other great second basemen have done, e.g. (Alomar, Utley, etc.).  At 37.6 WAR he is only behind four position players we have seen so far in this project – Todd Helton, Larry Walker, Robin Yount, and Paul Molitor (while coming in ahead of luminaries such as Carl Crawford, Luis Gonzalez, Ryan Braun and Troy Tulowitzki)

23. Toronto Blue Jays 1977-2013

49.6 W%, 2 World Championships, 2 Pennants, 5 Playoff Appearances; 451.6 WAR

C – Ernie Whitt                           21.9

1B – Carlos Delgado                   34.3

2B – Roberto Alomar                   20.3

3B – Jose Bautista                     22

SS – Tony Fernandez                 35.2

OF – Jesse Barfield                    29.7

OF – Lloyd Moseby                    24.7

OF – Vernon Wells                     24.7

OF – Devon White                      20.9

Util – John Olerud                       23

SP – Roy Halladay                     51.9

SP – Dave Stieb                         46

SP – Jim Clancy                         30.3

SP – Jimmy Key                                    28.8

SP – Juan Guzman                     23

RP – Tom Henke                        16.4

            This is quite a boon for the Blue Jays actually, who have leapfrogged two other franchise that came into existence well before them.  Even so, all I can think about looking at this roster is how amazing it would have been if so many people did not leave for greener pastures mid-career.  Delgado, Alomar, Barfield, White, Olerud, Key, even Roy Halladay put up big numbers after leaving Toronto.  Even so, the lineup has no obvious black hole.

            The pitching, of course, is the biggest reason they passed Texas and Milwaukee.  Halladay was obviously amazing and combined with the always underrated Dave Stieb in contributing the most to Toronto’s total.  Combine that with one of the better relievers thus far and you have a solid staff.

            Unfortunately for Toronto, their total looks like it is going to stagnate for awhile as only Jose Bautista is still producing for them.  No one on the current roster is particularly close to breaking through with Edwin Encarnacion (9.5 WAR) the nearest contender.

Brian:  Fascinating how balanced this all-time roster is – every position player contributing at least 20 WAR and none more than 30 except Delgado and Fernandez.  Also, talk about some underrated greats – Fernandez was a gold glove shortstop with an above-average bat who only made five all star teams and only placed better than 14th in the MVP voting once. 

Carlos Delgado, one of my all-time favorites, posted a lifetime OPS+ of 138, played two seasons of 162 games, once drove in 145 runs in a year, and was a major league OPS leader, but only made the all star game twice.  He’s 50th all time in RBI, 31st all time in home runs, and probably deserved to win several gold gloves.  I think he should get serious consideration for the Hall of Fame but I doubt he will.

22. Washington Nationals / Montreal Expos 1969-2013

47.9 W%, 0 World Championships, 0 Pennants, 2 Playoff Appearances; 463.7

C – Gary Carter                          53.9

1B – Tim Wallach                       36.1

2B – Jose Vidro                          17.1

3B – Ryan Zimmerman                32.4

SS – Orlando Cabrera                 10.3

OF – Tim Raines                        49.6

OF – Andre Dawson                    44.2

OF – Vladimir Guerrero               34.2

OF – Larry Walker                      21.9

OF – Bob Bailey                         20.4

SP – Steve Rogers                     51.3

SP – Javier Vazquez                   24.1

SP – Dennis Martinez                 22

SP – Pedro Martinez                   20.1

SP – Bryn Smith                                    19.5

RP – Ugueth Urbina                    6.6

            Coming off of only their second playoff appearance ever it is kind of surprising to find them this high but they have had a lot of talent pass through the team.  In Carter, Raines, Dawson, and Guerrero they have four Hall of Fame calibre players who played a significant portion of the time with their franchise.  However, this team desperately needs some middle infielders.  Ian Desmond should pass Cabrera by the end of this season and Anthony Rendon, if he is really a second baseman, should catch Vidro eventually.

            Rogers, much like Dave Stieb, seems to get forgotten but he had a very nice career, completely with the Expos.  The rest of the pitching is unimpressive but also likely to change as Jordan Zimmerman and Stephen Strasburg already sit 14th and 15h in franchise history.

            I would be remiss without at least mentioning Bryce Harper.  He is currently 40th all time and obviously going to climb quickly.  With Zimmerman already contributing, Desmond about to, and all of the other young talent on hand, the Nationals should get over 500 WAR in the next five years.

Brian:  I guess the secret to remaining an unknown is to play in Milwaukee or Canada.  Steve Rogers won only 158 games but threw 2,837 innings at a 3.17 ERA (good for a 116 ERA+).  That level of long-term consistency won’t win you much acclaim, but apparently it can net you 50 wins above replacement.

Also, our first two legitimate multi-team studs appear on this list in Vladimir Guerrero and Larry Walker.  Oh Expos – what might have been.

21. Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim / Anaheim Angels/ California Angels / Los Angeles Angels 1961-2013

49.9 W%, 1 World Championship, 1 Pennant, 9 Playoff Appearances; 477.1 WAR

C – Brian Downing                      36.6

1B – Darin Erstad                       27.2

2B – Bobby Grich                       35.6

3B – Chone Figgins                    21.9

SS – Jim Fregosi                        42.5

OF – Tim Salmon                       34.5

OF – Garret Anderson                 25.5

OF – Vladimir Guerrero               21.4

OF – Jim Edmonds                     19.1

Util – Troy Glaus             20.8

SP – Chuck Finley                      45.6

SP – Nolan Ryan                        43.8

SP – Mike Witt                           31.5

SP – Frank Tanana                     29.2

SP – John Lackey                      29.1

RP – Troy Percival                      12.8

            That is a lot of team names for a franchise that has not really moved anywhere.  And a lot of fine players but no exceptional one.  It is interesting that the Angels have never had a player top 45.6 WAR for their franchise.  I was really surprised that Guerrero did not rank higher but he spent most of his time with the Angels as a poor defensive outfielder with back problems that cost him his speed, he was clearly better with Montreal.

            Ryan made the Rangers list, Angels list, and we will see him later in Houston too; the man threw a lot of baseballs in his career.  Finley was never a star but started 91 more games than Ryan, 106 more than Witt and given his longevity was good enough to top the list.  One of the more intersting battles was the claim for top reliever.  Percival just edged Francisco Rodriguez and Scot Shields to take the spot.

            Although the Angels do not have a particularly young roster, we will see some change on this list soon.  Jered Weaver is only a few good starts away from displacing Lackey and Tanana.  Similarly Mike Trout might actually catch Jim Edmonds before this season even ends.  Both of them should push the team’s total up fairly quickly.

Brian: I’d just like to point out Jimmy’s attention to detail in listing all of those absurd franchise names. 

One observation that I have for the Angels franchise is that most of their players are recent – aside from Bobby Grich and a few others, the vast majority of these players made their mark in the late 90’s and 2000’s (Salmon, Glaus, Percival, Lackey, Edmonds, Anderson).  This team should have won more.

And hey look, Vlad Guerrero again! 

20. Seattle Mariners 1977-2013

46.6 W%, 0 World Championships, 0 Pennants, 4 Playoff Appearances; 501.1 WAR

C – Dan Wilson                          15.3

1B – Alvin Davis                          20.9

2B – Bret Boone                         19.9

3B – Adrian Beltre                      16.3

SS – Alex Rodriguez                   35.6

OF – Ken Griffey Jr.                    68.7

OF – Ichiro Suzuki                      53.1

OF – Jay Buhner                        23.5

OF – Mike Cameron                    19.3

Util – Edgar Martinez                  66.6

SP – Randy Johnson                  43.7

SP – Felix Hernandez                 38.3

SP – Jamie Moyer                      29.3

SP – Mike Moore                        23.5

SP – Erik Hanson                       21.3

RP – J.J. Putz                            5.8

            I find this team fascinating.  They have jumped over numerous franchises that have been around longer than them, despite a terrible all-time winning percentage, and almost zero post season success.  How is that possible?  Star power.  Griffey and Martinez both had 20+ more WAR than anyone on the Angels roster, allowing them to overcome a pretty poor infield.

            The second thing that jumps out at me with this team is how incredible their defense is.  Those are some of the greatest defensive players of the last 25 years, plus Edgar Martinez who can be forgiven since he more than made up for it with his bat.  They are not exactly lacking in the power department either, or speed.  That would be a fun lineup to watch and the majority of them actually had some cross-over in their careers, making it almost possible.

            Although he went on to his greatest successes elsewhere, Randy Johnson still tops Seattle’s pitchers, but look at how far King Felix has come already.  Only 27-years-old and in the middle of another phenomenal season, it seems Hernandez is destined to carry the pitching torch for the franchise and should help push them further up the list.  Unfortunately, he is the only player that will be contributing any time soon as Seattle has really struggled to develop prospects in the last few years.

Brian:  I have a theory that the Mariners franchise made a deal with the baseball gods to have two amazing seasons – 1995 and 2001.  Despite failing to win the World Series in either, 1995 and 2001 are two of the best seasons of all time by any franchise (1995 for its incredible level of fun and 2001 for its dominance).  I mean, there has to be some explanation for why every single Mariners prospect turns out terribly today right?

Who could forget that 1995 team?  Griffey, A-Rod, Johnson… an entire generation of baseball fans grew up adoring “the Kid”.

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