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Royals Rumblings - News for January 5, 2024

Wait? Who wants 11 Pipers Piping? And do I get 11 more tomorrow? I’ve always been a little unclear on that.

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Atlanta Braves v Philadelphia Phillies
I’m running out of Royals Christmas images but there are some other fun MLB ones
Photo by Rich Schultz/Getty Images

Just like the last couple of days, today we’re featuring a “bold predictions” article in Rumblings. ‘Tis the season, I suppose. This one belongs to Jaylon Thompson at The Star. As always, some are more bold than others:

Cole Ragans leads American League in strikeouts

The Royals found a gem in Cole Ragans last season.

Ragans, who was acquired from the Texas Rangers for Aroldis Chapman, shined as the Royals’ best starting pitcher. He posted a 2.64 ERA in 12 starts following the trade. He also was named the AL Pitcher of the Month for August...

Ragans limited opponents to a .195 batting average with the Royals. He also produced a 28.8 strikeout percentage and led the AL with 86 strikeouts from Aug. 1 to the end of the season.

Speaking of Ragans, want to watch 9 minutes of him throwing at TreadHQ?

More reasons to go out to the ballpark?

Tony Blengino at Forbes suggests the Royals “have A solid chance to be a .500 Club in 2024”. I don’t think it’s true and it’s coming from Forbes, not exactly a baseball authority, but I’ll listen:

The Royals won all of 56 games last season, and their pitching was primarily at fault. My team true-talent rankings ranked it very near the bottom of the majors. The offense, however, ranked in the middle of the pack. Bobby Witt Jr. is a burgeoning superstar, and clearly would have been somewhere in the top half of my 2023 AL MVP ballot if I had one. Vinny Pasquantino will be healthy and somewhere in the middle of the club’s lineup this season. MJ Melendez and Maikel Garcia are two other upwardly mobile youngsters who are on the upswing of their respective careers. We could certainly argue about whether the club should entertain trading incumbent catcher Salvador Perez, but he is likely to remain a Royal and does make them better in the short term.

Bottom line, my methods saw them as a 68-win team last season, and they have certainly raised that bar with the moves they’ve made in the last few weeks. Add the natural improvement of their youngsters, and a .500 record is certainly a reasonable prospect this season. Who knows, in the AL Central, with the Twins and Guardians simultaneously unproven and the class of the division, a run at a playoff spot can’t be ruled out for the Royals (and the Tigers, who I like even more).

Random thought experiment: Let’s say a genie offers you one very specific baseball related wish. This genie is a good one, not one of those monkey paw ones. But because of that, he has limited power. He can make the Royals go 80-82 next year: no more, no less. And this wouldn’t be through weirdly deviant ways: Jordan Lyles isn’t suddenly going to be a 40-game winner just in time for him to depart KC. It would happen “baseball naturally” - you would read about it after the season and go “yeah, that makes sense”. You start dreaming about how Witt takes another step, Vinnie comes out of the gate crushing the baseball, Cole Ragans is for real and stays healthy all season, etc and how this sets the team in a perfect position going forward. However, the genie reminds you that it would be perfectly reasonable for this to happen by having Lugo and Wacha look healthy and revitalized, Hunter Renfroe has another BABIP fueled season, Michael Massey has a career year he can’t duplicate going forward, and the collection of fungible bullpen arms gels. It’s not that he’s trying to throw cold water on your dreams and reassures you that it would probably take a combination of both continued growth and random baseball happenings to get this team to almost .500. Would you take it?

The MLB Trade Rumors podcast talked about the Royals offseason for a few minutes:

This week, host Darragh McDonald is joined by Anthony Franco of MLB Trade Rumors to discuss…

The Royals spreading money around to various players (16:10)

This segues nicely into one of our listicles. At CBS Sports, R.J. Anderson grades each team’s offseason (so far):

Kansas City Royals

We wrote in greater detail about the Royals’ offseason elsewhere. The short version goes like this: they’re much improved after a busy start to the winter, but we think they still fall short of being serious threats in the American League Central. We’re giving them a good grade anyway because we like it when cellar-dwelling teams act aggressively rather than waiting around for draft picks to hit — just not enough for an “A” because there’s a tangible amount of potential downside that comes with giving multi-year deals to players like Seth Lugo, Michael Wacha, and Hunter Renfroe. Grade: B

Jim Callis and Sam Dykstra at MLB Pipeline give us a prospect breakout for each team:

Royals: Ramon Ramirez, C (Not ranked among Top 30) Kansas City signed the then-17-year-old Venezuela native for just $57,500 last January but quickly saw him become one of the DSL’s most productive hitters. Ramirez hit .344/.440/.615 with eight homers while posting an 18/21 K/BB ratio over 150 plate appearances. His combination of plate protection and early power would be exciting at any position, but Royals officials have also expressed their pleasure with how Ramirez works defensively behind the dish. A stateside introduction will put Ramirez’s early production to the test, and he could make for a great KC catching depth chart alongside Blake Mitchell and Carter Jensen.

At The Royals Reporter, Kevin O’Brien gives us his “Top 30 Prospects to Watch”:

With it now being 2024, it seems like a good time to release my “Top 30 Prospects to Watch” in the Royals system for the upcoming 2024 season. To be frank, I am not a Minor League or prospect expert by any means. There are a lot of other Royals content creators on the web who are more versed and knowledgeable about the Royals’ farm system and prospects, including those at “Farm to Fountains“.

Blake Mitchell Sits At Number One for Now: There’s no doubt that the Royals don’t have a clear-cut No. 1 prospect right now. However, I think Mitchell deserves it for now, as he possesses the most upside of any position player in the Royals system. He didn’t hit for high average in the Complex League (.147 average) but it was only a 13-game sample, and the jump from high school to professional ball right away can be tough. For context, Bobby Witt, Jr. actually posted a lower wRC+ (85) in the Complex League in 2019 than Mitchell (93) last year.

Wait... wait... apparently, I totally missed that Preston Farr has his own substack. I mean, it’s not like it was announced here on this very blo... oops, it was. Or mentioned that he was looking for additional contributors.

Over at the aforementioned Farm to Fountains, Matthew Robison takes a look at the Royals offseason and where they could continue to add:

The Royals finished second to last in the MLB in bullpen ERA in 2023, and J.J. Picollo set out to make that right. But even with the additions of Smith, Stratton, and Anderson, they still need to add one more piece. Luckily for the Royals, there are quite a few veteran arms still available on the market that could make their way into powder blue...

Let’s first talk Robert Stephenson. He had solid seasons in 2019 and 2021, putting up an ERA of lower than 3.80 and pitching more than 45 innings in both seasons. But 2023 was a completely different level for him. Stephenson got traded to the Tampa Bay Rays in June, and from there he skyrocketed. He put up incredible numbers, having a 2.35 ERA in 38.1 innings. He even added a pitch to his repertoire, a cutter, (sound familiar?) and “tinkered” with his slider usage.

These changes caused him to have career highs in spin rate, and although he didn’t qualify, baseball savant has him as one of the more elite relief pitchers in the game. It is the first time he will hit the market as a quality reliever, so he could chase a contract, but the Royals have been devoted to upgrading the pitching staff. He fits exactly what the Royals are doing from an analytics standpoint, and I’m sure manager, Matt Quatraro, could call and get good insight from his former employer.

It sounds crazy to put Aroldis Chapman on this list, but here’s why it’s not. He knows the system. You can say that he’s old, he won’t be the same, or he’s washed, but you don’t need him to be superman out there. They understand what he is, and properly adjusted him, which honestly should be the reason to prioritize the Royals.

As I’m looking at my other links, I see... wait, what?!? “‘U.L.’s Toothpick’ is not available at the domain right now. There’s a problem with this domain. If you are the site owner, please log into your account for more information.” No, no, no - I know Darin hasn’t written anything this offseason, but usually he doesn’t write a lot in the offseason anyway. Maybe he’s moved over to Substack instead? I see this exists and it looks like it has all the same stories this past year as his WordPress site. Then again, after reading Craig Brown’s post that Greg linked to yesterday (and the Joe Posnanski one Craig linked to and the Craig Calcaterra one that Craig Brown linked to - that’s too many Craigs), maybe Substack might not be a good fallback plan right now, what with their Nazi problem.

Blog Roundup:

Being only the 5th, we have one more day of Christmas left and I’m using every last inch of the holiday season to churn out 3000 words on a seasonal topic.

(Spoiler: Whenever we get around to the next set of movie reviews, there will be Christmas movies in it, too. And there’s nothing you can do about it)

In case you had forgotten, I’ve done tiers of Christmas specials in the past. First, I did one in 2018. And then revised it in 2020. Now we’ll look at each of them, one-by-one, and loosely revisit their tiers.

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I’m still solidly of the opinion that Tiers 1 and 2 are set: it’s Grinch/Charlie Brown and then Rudolph/Frosty. If you haven’t seen these, well, c’mon. I know the whole “what are we even doing here” bit is overdone, but it fits. These are the biggest names of the Christmas special season.

How the Grinch Stole Christmas! (1966) - There’s not much contest for the top spot. There are two fighting for it and nothing else is close. Chronologically, it’s the third major Christmas Special (1966) after the successes of Rudolph (1964) and Charlie Brown (1965). I think it’s safe to say this is the most popular, considering its been spun off into multiple movies over the years. The talent to create this was impressive: legendary children’s author Dr. Seuss (Ted Geisel), major Looney Tunes alum Chuck Jones, and Frankenstein’s monster Boris Karloff (roll the “more notes” sections into the numeric section). It’s odd to say that the story is simple but, beneath all the Seussian trappings, this classic is a straightforward redemption tale.

A Charlie Brown Christmas (1965) - If the Grinch is #1, then this is a really solid #2. There’s quite a bit of lore behind it, from the really low budget that it shines in spite of, actual child actors for voices, Vince Guaraldi’s jazzy score, and how it was expected to bomb but instead is one of the most beloved of all time and also an Emmy winner. Some people now will hate on its sappy sentimentality but that’s selling short some of its brilliant timelessness: complaining about Christmas being commercial, lightly lampooning Christmas pageants, Charlie Brown’s search for the perfect Christmas tree, and Linus’s King James reading of Luke. Charles M. Schulz and Bill Melendez’s timeless classic endures.

Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer (1964) - This is credited as the first big Christmas special and its success leads to all the others around it on the list. It has some fun trivia about it, being the longest continuously aired, at over 50 years, and falls into some odd copyright limbo because they put the wrong year on the copyright print. However, the YouTube Honest Trailer guy has this pegged: “Man this movie is so much weirder than I remember it”. Sure, there’s the simple discrimination story that ends with Rudolph saving the day. However, there’s Herbie the elf who wants to be a dentist, Yukon Cornelius and the Bumble, and King Moonracer and the Island of Misfit Toys: (again, Honest Trailers) “This is nuts. None of this is from the Christmas carol. It’s just insane filler. Y’all have turned a simple story into Lord of the Rings for kids on acid”.

Frosty the Snowman (1969) - In a lot of people’s minds, there’s a big four of Christmas specials with Frosty squarely in fourth. I’ve been tempted to put this 1969 outing ahead of Rudolph but history caused me to keep it below. Being only a half hour long, it’s a bit tighter and more coherent, without too much singing. I could make the argument that the original song has less material to work with but you’ve comparing a red nosed reindeer to a snowman that comes to life- both seem fertile grounds for imaginative minds. The magician antagonist, Professor Hinkle, rabbit, and hat are memorable, as is the “Happy Birthday” exclamation from Frosty.

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Here’s some of the others I’ve mentioned. These can be sorted into Tiers 3 and 4 as you see fit. If you want to put Santa Claus and Coming to Town and The Year Without a Santa Claus on their own Tier 3 and then sort everything else out, I’d understand that.

Santa Claus Is Comin’ to Town (1970) - After the definitive top two tiers of 1960s Christmas, things get a bit more muddled. Rankin-Bass’s 1970 special occupies a place not quite good enough to be in the top couple but still good enough to be considered a classic. It’s a decent Kris Kringle origin story. However, it’s bloated both with extra musical numbers and its format. It sets out to answer every question about Santa Claus lore and strings these all together into a less than coherent plot. For those who can’t keep them straight, this is the story about Burgermeister Meisterburger and the Winter Warlock. If you take a step back, it feels very dark with a now-oft-deleted scene where Burgermeister burns toys in front of the children of Sombertown.

The Year Without a Santa Claus (1974) - This special is still one of the more famous ones but its part of the lower 1970s tier. It starts out quite promising: Santa is sick so Mrs. Claus is going to go all Rosie the Riveter and save Christmas, right? Nope. Santa’s doc says no one cares about Christmas anymore so Mrs. Claus sends out some elves to do… something. There’s Snow Miser and Heat Miser and she sits down with their Mother Nature and causes more trouble than she solves and, really, it’s more a missed opportunity than anything. I could even see some modern sequel called “Another Year Without a Santa Claus” with the same-ish intro, poking fun with cute references to the 1970s version, but the plot diverging with Mrs. Claus actually saving the day. It’s most notable now for the musical number showing up in the awful 90s Batman & Robin.

Twas the Night Before Christmas (1974) – My personal favorite of the “rest” of the Christmas specials. It has 3 musical numbers that I like better than most: “Give Your Heart a Try” is ok while “Even a Miracle Needs a Hand” and “Christmas Chimes are Calling” are good. The story is more coherent and has less padding. The title poem has almost nothing to do with the main plot - it’s just wedged into the end. However, the main plot concerns a book smart mouse causing a science vs belief culture war and ticking off Santa to the point where he won’t deliver presents to a fictional New York town. Aside: 60s and 70s Santa isn’t the jolly fun guy we’ve seen of late - he’s a jerk in a lot of these. The animation is also a little below par for an R-B Christmas special.

Mickey’s Christmas Carol (1983) – On my personal list, this might get as high as 3. It features great “casting” with Mickey, Scrooge, Donald, Pete, and more, all put into good roles. Scrooge, in particular, is perfect, and probably leads to Duck Tales a few years later (1987). This entry was made after the Christmas special “golden era” of the 60s and 70s so I think that diminishes some of its popularity. Media had begun to fragment and Disney was going to control it tightly. It was an Academy Award nominee but apparently two thumbs down from Siskel and Ebert. It hits all the high notes of Dickens’s story without lingering too long.

Emmet Otter’s Jug-Band Christmas (1977) - Jim Henson’s take on “The Gift of the Magi” is as close to a cult classic as you get for Christmas specials. It’s not mainstream enough that you can throw it out there in casual conversation and everyone knows what it is, but it’s critically acclaimed with four Emmy nominations and overwhelmingly positive reviews. The songs are catchy, the characters fun, and the plot has heart. It can be 70s ponderous at times and the Kermit cameo doesn’t serve a purpose, but it should definitely be more popular than it is. Also, for some reason, it seems like one of those specials you can claim as your favorite if you’re a “guy movie” person.

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This year, as we didn’t travel, I watched some of the bad lesser known ones so you don’t have to. These aren’t in quality order. They’re thematically arranged, I guess.

I had already posted this back in 2020:

Rudolph’s Shiny New Year (1976) - There’s an evil vulture whose eon will be up at new year (and I quote wikipedia): “after which he will turn into ice and snow and disintegrate”. So he kidnaps Baby New Year. If Rudolph doesn’t find by the end of the current year, it will be December 31 for all eternity. So Rudolph teams up with an anthropomorphized military clock, a camel with a clock as part of its body, and Red Skelton as Father Time to go traverse (checks notes) - the archipelago of old years, where each island is a different time period (it’s crappy Chrono Trigger!). There’s a giant whale with a clock doing a bad Elvis impersonation, a fairy tale island because apparently all fairy tales took place in 1023 AD, and, of course, dinosaurs. The day was saved, thanks to… the Powerpuf— um, Rudolph, a knight, and Benjamin Franklin. If there’s anything I learned from the 70s, it’s “kids, don’t do drugs”.

Frosty’s Winter Wonderland (1976) - There are a lot of mediocre sequels in Christmas Special land and this is one of them. The kids build a wife for the lonely Frosty, Crystal. She saves him after Jack Frost knocks his hat off and they get married by snow Parson Brown. There are some nice bits like a predictable joke from the traffic cop from the first movie and, after Jack Frost reconciles with Frosty, we get a meatier message about how everything has a season and they can’t just have winter all year long. It’s not bad and it’s also helped by the half hour run time so it doesn’t drag like some of the others, but it’s just doesn’t reach the heights of the original.

It’s Christmastime Again, Charlie Brown (1992) - (sneaking a non R-B one in here) This sequel suffers different sins than the previous two. It feels a bit too... modern. The jokes feel a bit too self-aware and it pokes fun at the sincerity that makes the original so beloved. The structure feels very 80s (or even 70s): it’s a bunch of small vignettes. I appreciate that they’re each based on a Peanuts comic strip run, but they’re only loosely tied together by a larger plot so they feel inconsequential. Again, not long and draggy and not outright bad, but not a classic like its predecessor.

Cricket on the Hearth (1967) – This seems like a good formula: Charles Dickens’s “other” Christmas story, done by Rankin-Bass in 1967, right in the middle of their heyday. Unfortunately, it doesn’t feel like there’s enough plot and its stretched out with too many musical numbers. The animation and voice acting aren’t all that good either. It’s also really dated. I want to like it more than I do, but there’s a reason it doesn’t even have its own Wikipedia entry.

The Little Drummer Boy (1968) – This is another R-B stop motion special based on the song that’s now most internet famous for the “Little Drummer Boy” challenge. There’s a child, Aaron, filled with rage because his parents were killed by bandits. He ends up with a caravan of performers who end up following the Three Wise Men. Jesus saves his lamb and he no longer is filled with hate. Even after restoration, it still boasts poor video quality. Not a bad story but not one of their best.

Nestor the Long-Eared Christmas Donkey (1977) – This was done after Rudolph in 1964 and the Rudolph sequel in 1976(!). That means we’ve already had a couple of specials about character(s) who have some sort of “defect” and save the day (and, it’s the 70s, so it’s not handled all that well). This time, it’s a long eared donkey whose mom dies because of his defect and he ends up being Mary and Joseph’s donkey. It’s a bit more overtly religious than some of the other specials.

Pinocchio’s Christmas (1980) - This shares a lot of similarities with R-B’s lesser Christmas specials: literary idea stretched too long with forgettable musical numbers. It comes 40 years after Disney’s interpretation and feels like it borrows as much from that as from the original book. Aesthetically, it looks a lot like Santa Claus Is Comin’ to Town, despite being made a decade later. It’s got some weird tonal shifts, is boring, and isn’t really that much about Christmas.

Ed Note: I did not make it to Rudolph and Frosty’s Christmas in July (1979). It’s a full movie at 97 minutes long and my wife refused to watch. So my son and I just ran out of time. Maybe next year. Maybe July. Who knows.

Mister Magoo’s Christmas Carol (1962) - This was on one of my Christmas special compilation DVDs and I resisted watching it as I never liked the Mr. Magoo cartoons when I was a kid. However, this special is not... awful. The setup has his dumb trademark “I can’t see and stubbornly refuse I have a problem but luck my way out of it” that drove me batty. However, once he gets to the theater, he plays a fine Ebenezer Scrooge in a mostly faithful adaptation of A Christmas Carol. While Rudolph was the first smash hit Christmas special, this one predates it by a couple of years and is credited as the first Christmas special.

The Christmas Toy (1986) – It’s the less charming of the Henson Christmas stories, however, Toy Story borrows a ton from it. Instead of Woody, who knows what he’s getting himself into, the main toy (Rugby the lion) doesn’t get that there’s a new “main toy” every year. He has a sidekick friend: Mew, the cat toy that is likeable and sacrifices himself at one point. There’s a new space-age toy (Meteora) that is a threat. This blog does a decent job of hitting the high points (though it whiffs on including Apple as she’s the doll that used to be the “favorite” toy before Rugby and that’s a big emotional reveal). It’s extremely 80s - even feels a little 70s – like watching corridor scenes from Doctor Who. It’s dated and slow, in parts, but it’s also a fun Christmas story from Jim Hensen that paved the way for Toy Story.

Side note: I had been trying to figure out for years where I had seen this plot idea: a toy gets frozen if it’s seen and this is the special where that’s from.

Snowman (1982) – There are no words except for the narration at the start. It’s absolutely gorgeous and looks like a children’s book. It also has beautiful music and, well, feels like something that was created by British public television. The plot is simple, a boy builds a snowman that comes to live and they play all over including iconic scenes like riding a motorcycle and flying. It’s light, airy, and simple but beautiful and charming.

Shaun the Sheep: The Flight Before Christmas (2021) - If you like Shaun the Sheep, this plays like an extended episode of the show. There’s lots of sight gags and physical comedy, no voice acting, and more than enough charm and wit. It doesn’t really play up like a “special” episode, but it doesn’t really get weighed down with being too long of an episode either. It’s not going to be a classic to those unfamiliar with the series but it a perfectly good special added to this delightful series’s portfolio.

Click, Clack, Moo: Christmas at the Farm (2017) – It’s thoroughly mediocre and fits nicely into the dustbin of generic modern Christmas specials. Was hoping for something on par with Shaun the Sheep and instead got a bad episode of U.S. Acres with high priced voiced acting (SNL’s Pete Davidson, Patton Oswalt, and veteran voice actors from Robot Chicken and the DuckTales reboot). There were a couple of funny moments but it wasn’t witty, it wasn’t memorable, and it wasn’t emotional or sweet. In fact, the sweet moments were backtracked by less sweet stuff and the funny moments were sunk by the stuff around them. The writing just wasn’t good. My wife, after the movie: “The plot happened. The end.”

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As promised, it’s time to revisit those tiers again. If a special didn’t end up on this list, then it’s probably not even worth tiering or maybe it’s not a traditional Christmas special. And, as with every tier exercise, maybe something isn’t a great fit. For instance, I really wasn’t sure where to put The Christmas Toy, so it probably got bumped up a notch or two above where it should be.

Tier 1: The Greats

How the Grinch Stole Christmas! (1966) / A Charlie Brown Christmas (1965)

Tier 2: The Classics

Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer (1964) / Frosty the Snowman (1969)

Tier 3: The Next Rankin-Bass Next Tier

Santa Claus Is Comin’ to Town (1970) / The Year Without a Santa Claus (1974)

Tier 4: Later Classics

Emmet Otter’s Jug-Band Christmas (1977) / Mickey’s Christmas Carol (1983) / The Snowman (1982)

Tier 5: Better Than Average

Mister Magoo’s Christmas Carol (1962) / Twas the Night Before Christmas (1974) / The Christmas Toy (1986)

Tier 6: Mediocre Sequels

Frosty’s Winter Wonderland (1976) / It’s Christmastime Again, Charlie Brown (1992) / Rudolph’s Shiny New Year (1976) / Rudolph and Frosty’s Christmas in July (1979) - expected

Tier 7: Lower Tier Rankin-Bass

Cricket on the Hearth (1967) / The Little Drummer Boy (1968) / Nestor the Long-Eared Christmas Donkey (1977) / Pinocchio’s Christmas (1980)

For SotD, I linked to the Honest Trailer for Rudolph above, so why don’t I just use that? There’s occasionally some NSFW language in these - I don’t remember if this one has any but you’ve been warned just in case.

Also, if you’ve never seen Honest Trailers, another warning: don’t start clicking on other ones because that’s how you lose 2 hours of work time.