Phillies star Bryce Harper will undergo elbow surgery next Wednesday to repair his damaged ulnar collateral ligament, president of baseball surgery Dave Dombrowski announced today (Twitter link via Scott Lauber of the Philadelphia Inquirer). Imaging hasn’t definitively determined if Harper needs full Tommy John surgery (i.e., ligament replacement) or if an internal braces procedure might suffice, so the team has no timeline until the surgery is done.
Harper was diagnosed with a UCL tear in May, but was able to continue his 2022 season as the Phillies’ first designated hitter. Position players who sustain UCL tears can often continue hitting, but throwing is of course not an option with such an injury. Even in the event of a full Tommy John surgery, it should be noted that Harper will very likely be able to return to the field as a DH for a significant portion of the 2023 season.
Shohei Ohtani, for example, was on the injured list for only the first five weeks of the 2019 season before returning as a designated hitter. His surgery was performed in early October 2018 — some seven weeks earlier in the off-season than Harper will go under the knife. Each player’s rehab is different, of course, but a return in the summer seems plausible, even in the worst-case scenario for Harper. If an internal brace procedure is sufficient, Harper could potentially return in an even shorter sequence.
Even with the damaged UCL, Harper remained a force in the middle of the Phillies lineup. Harper homered in three consecutive games after being diagnosed and batted .295/.381/.510 the rest of the way after learning of the tear. A broken thumb suffered when hit by a pitch sidelined him for a considerable part of the summer, but neither injury could stop Harper from pitching if he was healthy enough to play. His postseason faltered on historic, as Harper hit .349/.414/.746 with six home runs and seven doubles in only 71 at bats. His NLCS-winning home run against the Padres will forever be etched in Phillies history.
Harper is only four years into the 13-year, $330 million contract he signed as a free agent ahead of the 2019 season, but so far it’s hard to call the contract anything but a resounding success. Since putting pen to paper and making Philadelphia his home for the long haul, Harper has hit a combined .282/.384/.546 (excluding this year’s postseason exploits), won a NL MVP Award and helped to returning the Phillies to the postseason for the first time since 2011. He still owes $222 million over the remaining nine years of the deal, but with the typical AAV for premium players now well above $30 million, that $ 24.667 million AAV a bargain for Harper.