Phillies star Bryce Harper will undergo elbow surgery to repair his damaged ulnar collateral ligament next Wednesday, president of baseball operation Dave Dombrowski announced today (Twitter link via Scott Lauber of the Philadelphia Inquirer). Imaging hasn’t conclusively determined whether Harper will require a full Tommy John surgery (i.e. ligament replacement) or whether an internal brace procedure could suffice, so the team won’t have a timeline until the surgery is performed.
Harper was diagnosed with a UCL tear back in May but was able to continue his 2022 season as the Phillies’ primary designated hitter. Position players who sustain UCL tears are often able to continue hitting, but throwing is obviously not an option with such an injury. Even in the event of a full Tommy John surgery, it should be noted that Harper could very likely return to the field as a DH for a notable portion of the 2023 season.
Shohei Ohtani, for instance, spent only the first five weeks or so of the 2019 season on the injured list before returning as a designated hitter. His surgery was performed in early October of 2018 — some seven weeks earlier in the offseason than Harper will go under the knife. Every player’s rehab is different, of course, but a summer return would seem plausible even in the worst-case scenario for Harper. If an internal brace procedure is sufficient, Harper could conceivably return in even shorter order.
Even with the damaged UCL, Harper remained a force in the middle of the Phillies’ lineup. Harper homered in three consecutive games following the diagnosis and batted .295/.381/.510 the rest of the way after learning of the tear. A broken thumb sustained when he was hit by a pitch sidelined him for a notable portion of the summer, but neither injury could prevent Harper from mashing when healthy enough to play. His postseason teetered on historic, as Harper slashed .349/.414/.746 with six home runs and seven doubles in just 71 plate appearances. His NLCS-winning home run against the Padres will forever be etched in Phillies lore.
Harper is still only four years into the 13-year, $330MM contract he signed as a free agent prior to the 2019 season, but to this point it’s hard to call the contract anything other than a roaring success. Since putting pen to paper and making Philadelphia his long-term home, Harper has batted a combined .282/.384/.546 (not including this year’s postseason exploits), won an NL MVP Award and helped bring the Phillies back to the postseason for the first time since 2011. He’s still owed $222MM over the remaining nine years of the deal, though with the typical AAV for premium players now well north of $30MM, that $24.667MM AAV looks like a bargain for Harper.