Can we please get this out of the way right now? I sincerely doubt that there are many people that are regular readers here that really expect the Pirates to be this year's version of the Rays, so maybe I'm barking up the wrong tree here, but I've already seen a lot of, "The Rays did it last year, why can't we this year?" sort of talk in a lot of places and frigging Frank Coonelly apparently brought it up today when talking to the media after he talked to the team this morning.
With the way the Pirates have locked some of their key young players into contracts this year and the large amount of talent that they brought into the organization last year, it's certainly fair to say that the Pirates are trying to follow the same road map that got the Rays to the World Series last year. The problem is that the Pirates are still hundreds of miles away from that point. Last year, before the season even started, PECOTA was forecasting the Rays to win somewhere between 80 and 90 games while most people that had a real clue about baseball knew that they'd be much improved. Certainly, a large part of the media was writing the Rays off, but only because knowing that the Rays were primed for a breakout year would've required research beyond writing about the Yankees, Red Sox, and steroids for the better part of the winter.
This year's Pirates have been picked by PECOTA as the worst team in baseball, record-wise, and as the team with the worst chance of making the playoffs. The ZiPS projections for them are similarly bad. This doesn't mean that the Pirates are locks for the worst record in baseball or even for last place in the Central, but it does mean that the Pirates are a long way from shocking the world this year.
To be honest, I don't know why Coonelly and the ownership are putting such an emphasis on "improving the on-field product in 2009." I know we go through this again and again and I know that Frank Coonelly can't walk up to the reporters in Pirate City and say, "Look, we're going to suck in 2009 and the fans are going to have to deal with it." I understand that that's unfeasible, even though the roster they'll be fielding this year will scream it from the top of the USX Building. But what kills me is the way that these statements from Coonelly (like the ones from Nutting earlier this winter) raise the expectations of the casual fans. By saying right now that the Pirates will be improved in 2009 and the goal is to win and accountability and blah blah blah, they open themselves up to a ton of criticism from those same casual fans that they're catering to when none of that happens in 2009, even though they know right now that it's unlikely. So why bother?