Aaron Judge, DJ LeMahieu
ESNY Graphic, Getty Images

Now that the Houston Astros’ punishment has been handed down, the New York Yankees can move on and focus on 2020.

At long last, the New York Yankees have an answer.

Yes, the Houston Astros cheated en route to a World Series win in 2017. Yes, the Boston Red Sox are also under investigation for doing the same thing the following year. No, CC Sabathia is still not happy about it.

But for all intents and purposes, justice was served. The Astros were fined millions and lost draft picks. AJ Hinch and Jeff Luhnow drew one-year suspensions, lost their respective jobs, and may never work in the sport again. Alex Cora, who was Houston’s bench coach before the Red Sox hired him in 2018, might well be banned for life.

And as much as it hurts to watch all this go down, the Yankees need to move on from it. The team has done too much to improve this offseason and on several levels. Conspiracy theories aside, the 2017 World Series title won’t be vacated.

No, it’s time to focus on baseball, first and foremost. Because the sooner the Yankees move past being victims of cheating, the sooner they can get back on top of the baseball world.

Let the anger be fuel

One way the New York Yankees can definitely get the Astros monkey off their backs is to enter 2020 with a chip on their collective shoulder. In a way, GM Brian Cashman entered the offseason with this kind of attitude.

First, Larry Rothschild was fired as pitching coach after nine years on the job and replaced with 33-year-old Matt Blake. Then, as Lindsey Adler detailed in The Athletic, Cashman practically replaced the entire training staff after a season overwhelmed with key injuries.

But Cashman wasn’t done there. No, he took two separate meetings with top-of-the-line free agent Gerrit Cole, who spent the last two years with Houston. The Los Angeles Angels and Los Angeles Dodgers tried but to no avail. Cole ultimately signed a nine-year, $324 million deal to become a Yankee.

Think about that for a second. The New York Yankees, rather than blame injuries for 2019’s failures, did the exact opposite. They hired a pitching coach well-versed in analytics so the absolute best can be gotten out of everyone. The training staff was completely revamped after injuries decimated the roster for two years in a row.

Most important of all, they put the Houston Astros on notice by signing away one of their own.

Gerrit Cole, Cole Train T-Shirt

What’s next

And once the season starts, folks, hold onto your hats. This Yankees team has come within fingertips of making the World Series twice in the last three years. Now, there’s confirmation that at least one of those times was because the Astros were playing dirty pool.

This means once spring training kicks off next month, manager Aaron Boone has to rally his troops accordingly. The mantra should be quite simple: stay focused, but storm forward.

The first half of this statement is easy enough to understand. Baseball is a meticulous and scientific game where one pitch, one swing, or one mistake alone can change the game. Now, combine that with the plethora of questions the press will have about the Astros scandal. Quite a distraction if you think about it, so best for the Yankees to not get caught up in the noise.

As for storming forward, it’s simpler than it seems. The Yankees may have won 103 games in 2019, but the number of injuries made it so that the team never quite felt whole. “Next Man Up” aside, watching a team sans Giancarlo Stanton and Luis Severino for most of the year wasn’t the same.

This means when the season starts, the New York Yankees need to get angry at the plate and just look to tear the cover off of the baseball. Stanton and Aaron Judge can finally be the terrifying 1-2 punch in the lineup. Cole can lead a revamped pitching staff with Blake showing them proper techniques.

Cashman calls his team a fully operational Death Star, and it’s time to set course for the next poor planet on the list.

Final thoughts

Angry as the New York Yankees may be about potentially losing out on a World Series due to cheating, let’s not stray far from what really matters. It’s terrible that this happened at all. Period.

And, actually, let’s step away from the Yankees for a second to explain why. Baseball was just starting to heal and recover from the stain of the Steroid Era, and now sign-stealing via electronics is a hot topic. Attendance is already down, so why should fans trust MLB if teams are cheating on this level?

Well, folks, that’s the magic of baseball. No matter how bad things are in the sport for whatever reason, nobody abandons it entirely.

It kind of reminds me of a scene from my favorite baseball movie, Field of Dreams. Iowa farmer Ray Kinsella has turned his cornfield into a baseball field and must decide: does he keep it and watch the ghosts of old-time ballplayers play, or sell and save his family’s financial future?

The answer is simple, if I may quote the movie: people will come. Despite all the negativity currently surrounding this great game, people will come to watch players they worship and pay good money to do so. Baseball has been a constant for years and not even the stink of this scandal can change that.

Which brings us back to this revamped New York Yankees team. Love or hate them, they’ll be exciting to watch all year long for a number of reasons. When the Yankees do well, baseball as a whole does too.

The team has already started moving on from the Houston Astros scandal without even playing the game.

Speaking as both a columnist and a fan, is it really too much for us to start healing ourselves too?

Josh Benjamin has been a staff writer at ESNY since 2018. He has had opinions about everything, especially the Yankees and Knicks. He co-hosts the “Bleacher Creatures” podcast and is always looking for new pieces of sports history to uncover, usually with a Yankee Tavern chicken parm sub in hand.