Andy Martino, SNY.tv | Twitter |
Brian Cashman spent several years constructing what he hoped would be the next great Yankees team. He took a step back in the standings, traded away stars and focused on his farm system.
Those efforts created a championship window, which opened in 2017 -- also now known as the year that the Houston Astros initiated one of the most significant cheating scandals in the history of the game.
Over the next three Octobers, the Yankees lost to Houston, then to Alex Cora's Boston Red Sox, and then to Houston again. They saw a significant chunk of their window wasted by unethical opponents.
The Yankees can't get those years back, of course. Aaron Judge, Luis Severino, Aroldis Chapman and their teammates are getting older. But now that Major League Baseball's investigation has leveled the Astros' organization -- and is likely about to shorten or end Cora's tenure as Boston manager -- a path has cleared for the Yanks to take advantage and finally capture a pennant this season.
Even before the sign-stealing scandal, New York had begun to wrestle back control of the American League. The Astros lost their best pitcher, Gerrit Cole, to the Yankees. That swap alone would have changed the result of last year's ALCS.
The Red Sox have spent the winter deciding whether to trade Mookie Betts, and adding little of value to their major league roster.
New head of baseball operations Chaim Bloom is an impressive mind, capable of bringing another championship to Boston before long. But the team appears to be in transition for 2020, as it waves a gradual goodbye to the era or Betts, J.D. Martinez, David Price, and others who delivered a title in 2018.
Cora is a natural manager, savvy between the lines and skilled at relating to players. He excelled as a rookie skipper in the 2018 postseason, displaying an instant feel for how to deploy his limited pitching staff and emphasize his club's strengths.
Cora is still under investigation for helping the Red Sox use their replay review room to cheat in 2018. His name and deeds are all over the commissioner's report on the Astros that was issued on Monday.
According to a person with direct knowledge of the investigation, MLB hopes to wrap up its inquiry into the 2018 Red Sox before spring training. At that time, it will probably announce a heavy suspension for Cora, taking into account his actions across three years and two organizations.
Red Sox sources say that it is too soon to say if the team will fire Cora, as the Astros did Monday with A.J. Hinch and Jeff Luhnow. But at the very least, it appears that this year's team will be without the excellent manager who oversaw their most recent World Series run.
The Astros are losing even more. Ethics aside, Luhnow and Hinch were highly successful in creating a dominant team. With a combination of cutting-edge information and in-game feel, the pair won two of the past three pennants.
Even without Cole, the Astros will return with most of their championship core. Justin Verlander, Alex Bregman, George Springer, Carlos Correa -- they're all still there.
But they will move forward without the leadership team that turned those talented individuals into a cohesive, winning group. They will be without the GM who pulled off trades for Verlander at one trade deadline, Zack Greinke at another.
In short, two of the Yankees' top rivals are losing a tremendous amount of brainpower and leadership.
The Yanks can't have back what they have already lost to the teams who engaged in electronic sign-stealing. But now the path has cleared for them, and they are positioned to represent their league in the 2020 World Series.