His former club has been embroiled in controversy in the time since, as MLB revealed in January that an investigation found the Astros to have illegally and elaborately stolen signs with in-game technology throughout their 2017 World Series championship season.
Cole opened up to USA Today's Bob Nightengale about the controversy and emphasized that Houston "played fair and square" in 2019:
"I'm going to miss those guys. They're under scrutiny right now. So many people are coming after them. I anticipate them bunkering down. I think they are going to play really hard and really well this year. Hopefully if they do that, maybe they can quiet it down a little bit, proving this will be a fresh slate for them.
"But I'm telling you, we played fair and square last year. I didn't see anything in 2018 either. I really didn't. But no one wants to hear it now."
MLB disclosed that there was evidence of the Astros' sign-stealing scheme remaining active "at least for part of the 2018 season" but did not find any violations by Houston last season.
Cole's new teammates disagree.
All-Star second baseman/shortstop Gleyber Torres told reporters on Monday that he believes the Astros continued to cheat beyond 2017:
"If you cheated in 2017 and you won, why don't [you] do [it] the next year, and the next year, too! I'll use an example: If I play video games with you and we face the TV and I see your controller and I know what is coming and I hit really well and I win, if you tell me we play again, I'll do the same thing because I win. So [the Astros] did in '17 for sure, they did in '18 and they do '19. It's really easy."
SNY's Andy Martino reported after the Yankees' 2019 campaign ended in a 4-2 loss to the Astros in the American League Championship Series that the organization had "complained to the league about blinking lights early on in Game 6 at Minute Maid Park" as well as "whistling and hand signs."
Houston eventually lost the '19 World Series to the Washington Nationals in seven games.
Giancarlo Stanton and Aaron Judge have also publicly condemned the Astros—going so far as to say their 2017 title should be vacated. The league did not punish Astros players nor strip Houston of its championship.
Commissioner Rob Manfred punished the Astros with a $5 million fine, the loss of first- and second-round draft picks in 2020 and '21 along with one-year suspensions for then-manager AJ Hinch and then-general manager Jeffrey Luhnow.
"Everybody is entitled to their opinion," Cole added. "It's their own opinion. People handle this the way they want to handle it. We're all grown guys around here. I'm certainly not going to tell somebody how to think. I'm personally not offended about it."
Cole wasn't an Astro until after their 2017 World Series victory over the Los Angeles Dodgers. The Pittsburgh Pirates traded the 29-year-old ace to Houston in January 2018. He dominated from then on—especially last season with an American League-best 2.50 ERA and MLB-most 326 strikeouts, among other records, across 33 regular-season starts.
Moving forward, Cole is focused on helping the Yankees win their first World Series since 2009.