The biggest problem I have with writers comparing the Pirates to the '08 Rays is that the comparison makes it seem as if the Rays' success was a complete accident, as if they just stunk for a long time and one year they just randomly didn't stink. That just isn't true. The formula is not
Stinking one year---> Somehow being awesome the next year
Building, over the course of many years, the best farm system since--what--the early '00s Indians? + trading from remarkable depth of young hitting to radically upgrade the pitching and defense + promoting one of the best prospects in years to be your starting third baseman + several years of intelligent trading = Being awesome
In other words, the Rays' success was a relatively long time coming. It was not primarily the result of randomness, or a sudden infusion of desire. And while they were better than expected this year, only the degree of their success was surprising. Success was a long time in coming, and could've been spotted from a mile away. So when Bob Smizik says something like this:
Sure, the Rays had a boatload of talent ready to blossom, but who exactly was picking them to have a winning season, let alone with the AL East and advance to the World Series?
I must conclude that he knows very little, and not just because he mixes his metaphors. To be fair, Smizik recognizes that it will be several more years before the Pirates might be in the Rays' position, but he still apparently did not read much of anything about baseball last offseason:
-P- PECOTA not only predicted the Rays would win 88 games, but predicted defense would be the reason why.
-P- CHONE predicted the Rays would win 89 games.
-P- Joe Posnanski predicted that the Rays would be contenders deep into the season. He also noted that it was a "pretty trendy prediction."
-P- Joe Sheehan predicted a winning season.
-P- Kevin Goldstein predicted a winning season, or at least a "non-losing season."
-P- Not to compare myself to any of the fine people mentioned above, but I predicted they'd have a winning season, too.
Of course, many mainstream writers missed the boat on the Rays, but those people have no idea what they're talking about. To people who really pay attention, Tampa looked primed for a big step forward. Maybe not an AL title, but a big improvement nonetheless.
The Pirates do not look that way, and it's because there was so little in the organization when Frank Coonelly and Neal Huntingon arrived. It took the Rays many years to build the talent pipeline necessary to fuel their AL-winning team. The Pirates are still building their pipeline. One day, it'll be built, and the Nate Silvers and Joe Posnanskis of the world will correctly predict that the Pirates will have a winning season. (Of course, Bob Smizik and Steve Phillips will probably miss the boat on that one, too.) This time around, nobody in their right mind is predicting a winning season for the Pirates.
Which is as it should be. If the Pirates don't win in 2009, it won't be because they didn't want it enough, or because they were unlucky. It'll be because they just aren't that good yet. Coonelly and Huntington need more time. Anyone in their positions would.