Bryce Harper‘s season could be in jeopardy, after the reigning NL MVP fractured his thumb in Saturday’s game against the Padres. Focused towards Blake Snell in the fourth inning, Harper had to duck to avoid a 97 mph fastball that sailed up and down, but the pitch still hit Harper in his left hand, leaving the Phillies hitter in visible pain.
Harper immediately left the game, and the Phillies announced shortly after that initial tests revealed the fracture. More details will be known after further testing, and President of Baseball Operations Dave Dombrowski told reporters (including Athletic’s Matt Gelb) that it’s too soon to tell if Harper will need surgery. As such, the door is not closed on a potential Harper return, as Dombrowski is”i hope he comes back at some point.”
If surgery is required, Harper risks missing the remainder of the 2022 campaign. While each specific injury is different, for comparison, Jean Segura received a 10-12 week recovery period after the Philadelphia second baseman fractured his finger in late May and required surgery.
Losing Segura was a pretty brutal result for the Phils, but the team bounced back to post their best month of the season. The Phillies were 22-29 under the former coach Joe Girardibut after Girardi was fired and Rob Thomson moved from bench coach to interim manager, Philadelphia quickly went 15-6 in Thomson’s first 21 games as skipper.
That run took the Phillies back over the .500 mark (37-35) heading into tonight’s action, and three games into an NL wildcard spot. However, it’s hard to imagine Philadelphia staying in the race without Harper’s contributions to an overall disappointing roster. With Harper and Segura out, Kyle Schwarber and Rhys Hoskins are the only ones accustomed to hitting well above average.
Harper has already played through pain, as a minor tear from UCL restricted him to DH duty for more than two months. Overall, Harper hogging the DH spot didn’t help Philadelphia, as did Schwarber and Nick Castellanos were forced into daily outside corner roles, to the detriment of the Phillies defense. (And maybe Castellanos’ offense, as he’s had a disappointing year at the plate.) On the plus side, Harper’s own bat is still on fire, as he’s hit 15 home runs and a .320/ .385/.602. line in tonight’s game against the Padres.
The tearing of Harper’s UCL further complicates matters. If the Phils fall behind in the playoff race, Harper could decide to stop delaying the inevitable and get elbow surgery, thus shutting it down for 2022 but likely ensuring he would miss little to no the 2023 season.
Injuries have long been a subplot of Harper’s career, but he’s been relatively durable in recent years, playing in 515 of a possible 546 games in 2018-21. Through it all, Harper has continued to produce at the Cooperstown level, including his MVP campaign last year. After earning NL MVP honors with the Nationals in 2015, Harper became the fifth player in baseball history to win an MVP on multiple teams, as he hit .309/.429/.615 with 35 homers and 42 doubles, the best in the league. with the Phillies last season.
Unfortunately, that production could only help the Phils to an 82-80 record — enough to snap a nine-game winless streak, but not enough to get the club back into the playoffs. Harper’s 13-year, $330 million contract makes him an easy target for critics, but the Phillies’ lack of success on the field isn’t Harper’s fault, given his huge numbers over three years in Philadelphia.
In the short term, Harper’s absence frees up the DH spot for a Schwarber/Castellanos timeshare, which can create an opportunity for a big defensive upgrade. Dombrowski said that Mickey Moniac is set to take Harper’s place on the active roster, though Moniak isn’t an ideal day-to-day fit. For now, the Phillies’ plan would seem to be to have one of Castellanos or Schwarber at DH in a regular formation, the other in an outfield corner, and a rotation of Moniak, Odubel Herreraand Matt Vierling covering the other two outfield positions. Down in the farm, Scott Kingery, justin williams, Jorge Bonifacioand Dustin Peterson are all options, though none are on the 40-man roster.
A trade would be one way for the Phillies to settle the situation, because even if Harper is out for the season, the Phils aren’t immediately going to wave the white flag on their chances of finally ending their playoff drought. That said, Dombrowski could wait for Harper’s status before determining the extent of a future move — if Harper can avoid surgery, it could increase the Phillies’ chances of acquiring a more proven everyday outfielder, rather than an add-on.
For Phillies fans looking for a silver lining, the obvious roster is the 2021 Braves, who were just 44-44 when Ronald Acuna Jr. tore her ACL on July 10. With Atlanta looking doomed, the Braves instead revamped their outfield mix by trading for Eddie Rosario, Joc Pederson, Adam Duvaland Jorge Soler before the trade deadline and ended up rolling all the way to a World Series championship.
While it might be a stretch to think such a scenario could play out for another NL East team in a second straight season, Dombrowski is no stranger to aggressive roster shuffling. The way the Phillies rebounded in June breathed new life into the team’s season, and it would take an immediate and sudden downturn for Philadelphia to go into seller mode before the deadline.