The Phillies are having a woeful winter

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The Phillies may yet be the class of the National League, but it’s no thanks to GM Ruben Amaro Jr.’s moves so far this winter.

Already Amaro has committed $50 million to a closer and now at least $7 million and three roster spots to two on-base challenged role players and a future Hall of Famer who hasn’t played an inning in the field in five years.

Now, Jonathan Papelbon should be pretty great in 2012. But Ryan Madson was pretty great in 2011, finishing with a 2.37 ERA and 32 saves in 34 chances. How much better can Papelbon really be?

The new position players are Laynce Nix, Ty Wigginton and Jim Thome. Nix and Wigginton may be just good enough to start on bad teams, but it’s questionable whether either has anything to offer a contender. The left-handed-hitting Nix is 31 with a career .288 OBP. He’s barely any better against righties at .296 lifetime. He has legitimate 25-homer power, but he’s also struck out twice for every one run he’s driven in as a major leaguer.

Wigginton has always gotten points for versatility, but he’s dreadful at second base and well below average at third base these days. At least he is consistent: he’s finished with OBPs from .312-.315 and slugging percentages from .400-.416 the last three years. Wigginton will probably end up logging the bulk of the time at first base while Ryan Howard’s torn Achilles’ mends. He won’t embarrass himself, but he won’t be a real asset either.

And then there’s Thome, who is hoping to go out a winner. Everyone is rooting for him, and it’s likely that he’ll produce when he’s able to play. Still, even if the Phillies only ask him to take the field once or twice a week, it’s far from guaranteed that he’ll stay healthy.

The Phillies’ rivals should be smiling about the way the winter has gone to date. Amaro has thrown away a great deal of his budget room without doing much to improve his team’s chances. An old team is getting older, and now it’s pretty much guaranteed that Dominic Brown will start in Triple-A. John Mayberry Jr., who looks like a potential breakthrough candidate, should still have a chance to win a starting job in left field or at first base, but a poor spring may find him buried behind one of the newcomers. These Phillies are the definite favorites to win the NL East anyway, but the team looked stronger a year ago than it does now.

Report: Steven Matz has been pitching through pain, may need elbow surgery

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Newsday’s Marc Carig reports that Mets starter Steven Matz has been pitching through pain for most of the season. He may need surgery to fix a nerve issue in his elbow. Matz was sidelined in spring training with an elbow injury and made his regular season debut on June 10.

Matz, 26, has struggled over 13 starts, posting a 6.08 ERA with a 48/19 K/BB ratio in 66 2/3 innings. Many were scrambling for explanations for his pitching woes and now they have it.

According to Carig, the Mets let Matz skip his bullpen sessions to help him pitch through the pain. Given the Mets’ shoddy history of dealing with injuries, that’s not a good look for the club.

Carig noted on Twitter that Jacob deGrom offers some optimism for Matz’s case. deGrom underwent right elbow surgery to repair ulnar nerve damage last September and bounced back to have a great season this year.

Clayton Kershaw’s simulated game went so well he threw an extra inning

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Dodgers lefty Clayton Kershaw was scheduled to throw three innings in a simulated game on Monday. That simulated game went so well, he threw an extra inning, MLB.com’s Ken Gurnick reports. Kershaw will make a minor league rehab start next and could be activated towards the end of next week.

Kershaw, 29, has been on the disabled list since July 24 with a lower back strain. That put the pause button on another outstanding season. He’s carrying a 15-2 record with a 2.04 ERA and a 168/24 K/BB ratio in 141 1/3 innings.

The 87-35 Dodgers have run away with the NL West, needing some combination of 20 wins and 20 Rockies losses (19 for the third-place Diamondbacks) to officially clinch the division. While the Dodgers are all but mathematically assured of reaching postseason baseball, the club would still like to get Kershaw as ready as possible over the next month-plus.