Yankees’ Gerrit Cole and Zack Britton identify a top priority in MLB labor talks

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Andy Martino
·4 min read
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313454154 MLB Treated 1
313454154 MLB Treated 1

Sure, Gerrit Cole can corral his anxiety before a postseason start. That’s his comfort zone. But a Zoom election for leadership in the Major League Baseball Players Association? There, he gets nervous like the rest of us might before a big meeting.

Last December, players nominated Cole to serve on the eight-member Executive Subcommittee, the most powerful post in the union.

This came at a crucial time for the sport, with the Collective Bargaining Agreement set to expire after the season and fears of a work stoppage stronger than at any time since the strike of 1994.

“It was a pretty humbling experience,” Cole said on Thursday. “Usually those votes are in person, so having it be on Zoom ... I clicked on ‘Stop video.’ I was sweating nervously waiting for it to unfold. When I got it, I clicked it back on and was [acting] unfazed.”

Cole’s election meant that the Yankees will have two labor leaders on their roster this year. Zack Britton was also elected to serve alongside the Mets’ Francisco Lindor, the Blue Jays’ Marcus Semien, Jason Castro of the Astros, Andrew Miller of the Cardinals, Max Scherzer of the Nationals and James Paxton of the Mariners.

Asked in separate Zoom news conferences on Thursday to name the most important issues to players during this bargaining year, both Cole and Britton mentioned the same concept: Competition. This provided an early window into the union’s mindset and messaging ahead of the negotiation.

Said Cole:

“For me, it just goes back to competitiveness. We have a lot of great veterans who offer great entertainment -- a quality style of baseball -- that continuously are getting pushed out because the surplus value on younger players is too high. The analytics are driving the game in that direction. We want to have an open field for clubs to be able to find talent.”

Reading between the lines of that comment, Cole is clearly referring to how teams rely on paying lower salaries to players in their arbitration years. This can prevent veteran free agents from finding jobs, a problem that has become more pronounced over the past few offseasons.

Cole also alluded to the lack of a salary floor, and the problem of clubs tanking for draft picks rather than spending to win while rebuilding. The current draft system incentivizes this approach.

“We have clubs that aren't competing, that aren’t doing right by their fan bases,” he said. “Clubs that win multiple World Series and then tear it all down. I worry that we’re losing generational fans. I worry that we’re doing fans in those cities a disservice.

“Competitiveness is important. I would like to see the middle of divisions, middle of the league [be] incentivized to compete. And I would like to stop seeing teams who are competing penalized for competing.”

Britton echoed those priorities.

“As for the issues going forward,” he said, “there’s a bunch. We could sit here for hours and talk about it, but I think the biggest thing for players is creating more competition. We want to see more times out there creating good teams, and not concerned about draft picks. There’s a handful of organizations that aren’t putting a great product on the field. We would like to see all teams putting a good team out on the field and creating a more competitive league. That’s what fans want to see.”

Britton is a natural consensus-builder. Last year, as the Yankees’ union representative during thorny issues related to the pandemic, he earned public praise from management in the form of GM Brian Cashman for his ability to communicate with both sides.

“Sometimes the issues that we have, it’s because of a lack of communication,” Britton said of players and management. “We may not always agree, but communicating is the best way to meet a neutral point. It has been a good relationship [with the Yankees]. Cash has been great, and that makes it a lot easier.”

In a more global sense, Britton might be able to take that agreeable style into the labor talks. He alluded to a desire to avoid a work stoppage, saying, “We want to continue playing. Baseball has been doing very well.”

But like Cole, he was resolute and focused in his view of what needs to change.

“More competition throughout the league is one of the top priorities for us,” he said.