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Reason for optimism or a house of cards?

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2020 Pittsburgh Pirates Photo Day Photo by Mike Carlson/MLB Photos via Getty Images

Slowly but surely, the pieces of the Pittsburgh Pirates’ 2020 season are falling into place. After being waylaid by COVID-19 and forced to shut down for more than three months, players began filtering back to Pittsburgh and reporting for duty at PNC Park last week.

There, they’ve had to follow strict guidelines on how to conduct business in the midst of a pandemic. At least two members of the organization – outfielder Socrates Brito and minor league pitcher Blake Cederlind – have tested positive for the virus, and those positive tests likely won’t be the last.

MLB-wide, reportedly 1.2% of tests have been positive, and several big-name players are on that list, including DJ LeMahieu and Freddie Freeman. In addition, David Price became the seventh player to opt out for 2020, citing his own and his family’s health concerns.

There certainly is reason for optimism. Word filtered out today that the Pirates would open their season July 24 on the road in St. Louis, and reports are that the entire MLB schedule will be released as soon as later today. Still, I can’t help but wonder if the whole thing is just a house of cards. And I don’t mean the St. Louis variety.

With the virus showing no signs of abating – and a vaccine nowhere to be seen – it’s not out of the realm to think that, despite all of the measures being taken, a number of players on the Pirates’ 60-man player pool could test positive at some point. If it turns out to be a small handful on the Pirates and on MLB’s 29 other teams, I would think that wouldn’t be a problem. But what if the virus takes a much more aggressive approach and begins sweeping through clubhouses coast to coast? How many positive tests will it take before MLB shuts the whole thing down? Is there a certain number in mind? Or is there a certain number of impact players per team that would convince the commissioner’s office to pull the plug?

As I’ve mentioned before, I’m generally an optimistic person. And I want to think there will be a “full” 60-game schedule this season, capped by a stirring postseason complete with a World Series. But my guess is that about 30 to 40 games into the season, the Pirates and other teams will have too many positive tests to field a major league-caliber team. And that point, Commissioner Rob Manfred will say enough is enough.

What if that does happen? If reasonable minds prevail, perhaps some good could come of it. That good, in my mind, would be if the players union and the owners decide to get a head start on negotiating a new collective bargaining agreement NOW rather than waiting after the 2021 season ends. Doing so – and reaching a new deal prior to the start of next season, one that would guarantee labor peace and a more even playing field for all teams – could restore a lot of the faith that fans lost during the recent pathetic negotiations that were held to salvage a 2020 season.

They certainly would have the time, if no more effort had to be put into saving the current season. They could focus solely on hammering out a new agreement, one that would remove the storm clouds that otherwise will be gathering overhead for the next two years.

If the two sides did begin meeting, I wouldn’t even want to know about it. I don’t want to hear how negotiations are going. Just call me when a new agreement has been reached.

Yes, missing out on a 2020 season would be most disappointing from a fan’s perspective, and I can’t begin to imagine how much of a blow it would be to people whose livelihoods depend on the game going on. I would feel for all those people. But if the end result were a new collective bargaining framework that brought about financial blue skies through, say, the 2028 season, then we could look back on 2020 and not only remember it for all of the heartache it caused baseball fans, but for at least one sliver of a silver lining.

NOTEBOOK – The Bucs last week wrapped up their 2020 draft signings, getting signatures from right-handed pitchers Carmen Mlodzinski, Jared Jones and Nick Garcia.

According to Adam Berry of MLB.com, Mlodzinski – the club’s Competitive Balance Round A pick — signed for $2.05 million, more than $260,000 below slot value. Jones, the team’s second-round draft choice and the only high school player selected by the Pirates in this year’s draft, signed for $2.2 million. Berry reported the slot value for that selection at about $1.7 million. Garcia reportedly received $1.2 million – about $400,000 above slot for the 79th player chosen.

The Pirates also signed their second undrafted free agent – catcher Joe Jimenez, who caught Garcia while the two played at Chapman University in California.