Picture this: The year on the calendar is 2010. The Yankees have just taken the field for a late September game against the Red Sox. Phil Hughes, the Yankees' 24-year old ace is on the mound, as the Yankees attempt to seal up the division crown with a win over the Red Sox. The first batter up is Jacoby Ellsbury, and he hits a hot smash between second base and third, where the Yankees newly crowned shortstop, 22-year old Carmen Angelini makes a diving stop and fires to Juan Miranda, the Yankees' 27-year old first baseman to nab Ellsbury by a step. The Yankees win on the strength of homers from Robinson Cano, designated hitter Derek Jeter and Austin Jackson, the Yankees' 23-year old centerfielder. Jeff Marquez pitches two scoreless innings in relief, and Melky Cabrera robs a would be home run off the bat of Mike Lowell.
Now, picture this: The year is still 2010 and the Yankees ace is Johan Santana, now 31 years old and still a very good pitcher, but there has been somewhat of a decline in his ability since 2007. The Yankees have a considerably older team, with 34-year old Pat Burrell in left, 36-year old Derek Jeter (still a talented player, but with considerably worse defense) at shortstop and Randy Winn, 36 years old in center field. The rotation consists of Santana, Chien-Ming Wang, Matt Morris (now 35), 36-year old Mark Hendrickson, and 35-year old Tim Hudson. They have a solid team, but due to the trades made to obtain the rapidly declining and injury prone Ryan Howard to DH and Richie Sexson to play 1st base, they were strapped for useful young players, forcing them to sign quite a few free agent starting pitchers, which cost them considerable money, and forced them to have a very weak bench, leaving them largely unprepared for injuries and causing them to be 81-78 at this point in September, with just 3 games remaining.
Now I'm not saying that trading young players is a bad idea. It isn't always, but it depends on what they are being traded for, and if it is done so much that it depletes the team's resources. I'm not saying that the Yankees will be great in 3 years if they don't trade for Johan Santana and terrible if they do. I'm not saying that Hughes and Austin Jackson and Jeff Marquez and Carmen Angelini will become great or even good. My major point here is that its important to look at what George Steinbrenner (still a great man who has done a tremendous amount for this team) did in the 1980's and the kind of situation we had then. Now look at Brian Cashman's mantra with regard to young players and free range spending. It isn't just Brian Cashman, there are many other executives who agree with him, as demonstrated by the Yankees hesitance to include Phil Hughes in a trade for Johan Santana. When you look at the gradualism demonstrated in the first scenario with some veterans still around (Jeter), but a lot of kids contributing, as compared to the brashness and win right now mentality of the second, you see how much better we are with plan #1.