TAMPA — Brian Cashman is calling Jim Crane’s bluff.

A day after Crane, the Astros’ owner, claimed his club’s illegal sign-stealing program “didn’t impact the game,” Cashman, whose Yankees lost to the Astros in the 2017 ALCS, clapped back.

“I definitely think it had an effect on things, without question,” Cashman said Friday at George M. Steinbrenner Field. “Certainly the Houston Astros were dealing with a distinct advantage more so than their opponents. That’s a fact. I don’t think anybody can disagree with that, even though they may try.”

Asked if sign-stealing affects competition, Cashman was just as direct.

“Yes. No question about it, or you wouldn’t be doing it,” Cashman said.

The Yankees have been knocked out of the playoffs by the Astros in two of the past three years. Major League Baseball has only found that the Astros cheated in 2017, using electronics to steal signs, though there is suspicion they were at it again in 2019. That conspiracy theory has been fueled by the video of Jose Altuve telling his teammates not to rip off his jersey — perhaps as not to reveal a buzzer or other device underneath — after he hit a walk-off home run against Aroldis Chapman to clinch the ALCS last October.

Brian Cashman and Jim Crane
Brian Cashman and Jim CraneCharles Wenzelberg; Getty Images

The Astros have denied the claim and MLB said its investigation into it did not find anything. Cashman said he had “no idea” what may have gone on, but believes the truth will come out if something was awry.

Cashman said all of the talk about the Astros’ sign-stealing has created “an unhealthy dynamic for our game to be dealing with” as spring trainings open across Florida and Arizona. But as he addressed it for the first time with reporters (he only previously spoke to YES Network about it), he admitted frustration.

“What has happened in the past, obviously we’re upset,” Cashman said. “Our ownership’s upset. Our front office is upset. Our players that were with us in ’17 especially were upset, and understandably so. There’s nothing we can do about that at this stage and going forward.”

Many Yankees from the 2017 team said they have felt cheated out of a pennant after the Astros won all four home games in that year’s ALCS. Cashman did not go that far, instead multiple times emphasizing the need to move forward and focus on the present.

“At this stage, for the best of our industry, I’ll acknowledge we had many conversations with Major League Baseball over the last number of years about suspicions, but having suspicions and being able to prove it are two different things,” Cashman said. “If it wasn’t for Mike Fiers, no one maybe ever would have known.”

It was Fiers who became the first player to speak on the record (with The Athletic) about the Astros’ illegal sign-stealing program in 2017. That prompted MLB to investigate the issue that many teams had long suspected.

Asked if he was satisfied any potential cheating by the 2019 Astros with buzzers or devices had been investigated sufficiently, Cashman stood by the commissioner.

“Rob Manfred and Major League Baseball and their security detail, their hands are full constantly with a lot of speculation and a lot of complaints,” he said. “It really wasn’t until the whistleblower came out that you could ever put any meat on the bones. Many teams in the game were pointing fingers. Pointing fingers are one thing, but having evidence and proof is another, so it’s just a very challenging circumstance. I’m satisfied that the powers that be are doing everything in their power in real time to create that environment of fair play.”