has been the team's repeated expenditure of significant funds on the type of talent they already have at their disposal. They signed Mark DeRosa to a $4M/season deal when he is not likely to significantly outperform Ryan Theriot. They agreed to pay Henry Blanco ~$3M/season, even though Geovanny Soto can probably give the team similar production. Wade Miller is coming back for one year at the price of $1.5M. More recently, the team signed Ted Lilly and Jason Marquis to contracts totaling $17M/season. Those two are less likely to be disasters than Prior, Marshall, Guzman, et al. are, but they're also less likely to have breakout seasons.
In total, the team will spend around $26M per season on those four players, none of which should be expected to provide much more than league average production at their positions, and most of which i would expect to provide below league average production at their respective positions.
Now, i know the first counter-argument to this is that my criticism comes from a misunderstanding of the current market. This may be so - i am far from fully comprehending baseball economics (i seriously doubt anyone else around here does, either). Thus, instead of criticising these contracts in isolation i'll use some examples of how this money could have been better spent on other players signed in this market. This should take the market context into account quite well, since anyone signed this offseason was signed under the exact same market conditions.
Consider: $26M/season and around $78M in total, all of the deals paid out over the next 4 years.
Clearly, starting pitching was a concern going into this offseason. I would have preferred the Cubs have signed Jason Schmidt as opposed to Lilly and Marquis. Together, those two will make ~$50M over the next 3 years. Schmidt signed a 3 year, $47M contract with the Los Angeles Dodgers. They should have applied this money towards signing Jason Schmidt, offering him the same $50M over 3 years. This would have bested the Dodgers offer by $1M per season, giving him an extra incentive to move away from the West Coast for a few years.
The rotation wouldn't be as deep, but i think would certainly be better: Z, Schmidt, Hill, and 2 of Prior/Dempster/Guzman/Marshall/Mateo/Marmol is a far cry better than Z, Lilly, Hill, Marquis, and one from that group.
That leaves around ~$9M/season. That's the same amount of money Julio Lugo will be making per season. Ideally, the Cubs would trade Ceasar Izturis to allow Lugo to play SS (and Soriano 2nd). If they couldn't trade Izturis, one of them would move to 2nd base (with Soriano moving to LF). Alternatively, the Cubs could have signed Luis Gonzalez to a 1-year, $9M contract, put him in RF, and then re-allocated those funds next offseason.
Now i do understand that there have been reports that Schmidt and Zito want to stay on the West Coast, and reports that Lugo would only sign with a team that had a vacancy at SS. However, we can still use the contracts these players sign to estimate what it would take to obtain a player of their caliber, in the current market.
I also expect many of you to have problems with one or two of the players i'd prefer to the ones the Cubs signed, and i also expect many of you to be in favor of some of the acquisitions the team made. However, i don't think many of you would prefer the whole suite of acquisitions made by the team when one considers alternative expenditures of the same payroll amount.
Thus, i'll put it to a poll and discussion below. I won't participate in the discussion much, as
1.) I've said my piece here and want to let everyone else discuss these ideas on their own, and
2.) I've got to leave for San Francisco tomorrow morning to deliver a 20 minute talk (which i haven't finished preparing)... and i have yet to pack.
I'm going to limit the question to only covering the pitchers signed at the winter meetings, to reduce the variables one has to consider when answering.