At First Yankees Workout, Gerrit Cole Defends His Past With the Astros

TAMPA, Fla. — If there was any concern that some residual taint from the Houston Astros’ cheating scandal would follow Gerrit Cole to the Yankees, it was quickly dispelled by his new boss on Thursday.

“None of that came up or has come up,” Yankees Manager Aaron Boone said here at spring training when asked if he had spoken with Cole about the Astros’ illegal sign stealing. “And I don’t think it’s necessary.”

Cole, one of the biggest free-agent acquisitions in team history, joined his new teammates in the first workouts with pitchers and catchers on Thursday. The Yankees gave him a nine-year, $324-million contract with the explicit goal of ending their 10-year World Series title drought, but since Cole spent the last two seasons with the Astros, his first day at the Yankees’ camp featured plenty of talk about the past.

According to M.L.B. Commissioner Rob Manfred’s report in January, the Astros perpetrated illegal sign-stealing schemes that involved using a live-video feed during games to decode opponents’ signs and immediately communicate the next pitch to their hitters, sometimes by banging on a trash can. The bulk of the cheating occurred in 2017, a year before Cole arrived in Houston, but the report said the Astros continued to illegally decode opponents’ signs from a video feed for at least part of the 2018 season.

When Cole first denied seeing anything illegal with the Astros, it was at his Yankees introductory news conference in December — a month before Manfred’s report and punishment were released. But on Thursday, as his former teammates finally apologized for their actions across the state in West Palm Beach, Cole reiterated his original stance.

“No, I wasn’t,” Cole said, when asked if he had been aware of what the Astros were doing in 2018. “I wish I could elaborate, but I wasn’t.”

Granted, the Astros’ schemes were geared toward helping hitters, not pitchers. But players on a given club basically cohabit for nine months of the year, and starting pitchers hang out in the dugout when they are not on the mound four out of every five games. The public may simply never know the full scope of what happened in 2018 with the Astros, because of the inherent confidentiality of baseball clubhouses.

Still, what is known about the Astros’ scandal has set off many emotions across the sport, from disillusionment among fans to anger among rivals. The Yankees have acutely felt frustration, as they are the only team to have lost twice to the Astros in the postseason since 2017.

Some Yankees, from closer Aroldis Chapman to catcher Gary Sanchez to Boone, recently expressed lingering suspicions about the Astros’ 2019 season — though Manfred said in his report that investigators had found no evidence of cheating that year.

The Yankees, however, haven’t expressed any doubts about Cole. Two days into his first Yankees spring training, Cole said he had not gotten any “vibes” from his new teammates that he needed to clear the air with them about his time with the Astros.

But if they ask, Cole said, “I’ll just give them an honest answer, which was that I had no idea of any of it going on and I didn’t see any of it. I certainly don’t think I have much to apologize for.”

Cole said he believed his former teammates’ denials that they had used hidden wearable devices to signal upcoming pitches, as some have speculated. (Nor did he see any, he said.)

He lamented the entire scandal.

“Nobody is getting a win out of this,” Cole said. “And it doesn’t look very good. I guess I’m fortunate to be able to be here, move past it and get to experience all the great things about coming to a new team.”

Cole said he was excited to get to know his new teammates and coaches; learn from his fellow pitchers, particularly Masahiro Tanaka (“the quintessential professional in New York”); and be reunited with those he already knew, such as J.A. Happ and James Paxton. He said he felt particularly driven to win a World Series after falling one victory short of a title last season.

“There’s this buzz permeating through my life, whether I’m looking for it or not,” he said, “and it feels really good.”