ESPN has ranked the Pirates baseball's best franchise and the eighth-best franchise in the four major North American pro sports leagues. (They're behind the San Antonio Spurs, Memphis Grizzlies, Tampa Bay Lightning, Anaheim Ducks, Seattle Seahawks, Green Bay Packers and Oklahoma City Thunder, in case you were wondering.) The rankings are based on fan surveys and on a metric based on how efficiently teams turn money into wins.
In the accompanying article, Jayson Stark notes that the Pirates still have low payrolls, but are very clever about the players they pursue. "In the end, while many teams might outspend the Pirates, no one outthinks them," Stark writes. He also notes that tickets are cheap, that PNC Park is beautiful and that the Bucs' roster is popular.
Straight off, let's note that the results here are a little weird -- the Diamondbacks somehow rank as MLB's second-best franchise. We shouldn't take this too seriously. But let's also note that it is plausible that the Pirates are the best franchise in baseball right now, at least based on the criteria ESPN is using. PNC Park has been a boon to the Pirates and their fans since it opened, of course. Even given that head start, though, the idea that anyone could call the Bucs MLB's best franchise without erupting in laughter would have been unthinkable as recently as three years ago. They've come a long, long way.