PHILADELPHIA -- Do not panic, but Bryce Harper will have surgery next Wednesday to repair the torn UCL in his right elbow.
Phillies president of baseball operations Dave Dombrowski offered no timetable for Harper’s 2023 return, but he will be expected to play at some point. Dombrowski said Wednesday that the Phillies will know more once they learn what type of surgery Harper needs, which will not happen until he is on orthopedic surgeon Dr. Neal ElAttrache’s operating table in Los Angeles.
“I think it will slow him down for the season, but we’ll know more next week,” Dombrowski said.
Harper might need Tommy John surgery, which is a complete ligament reconstruction. But even then, it should not sideline Harper too deep into the season. Shohei Ohtani had Tommy John surgery on Oct. 1, 2018, and he returned to be the Angels’ designated hitter on May 7, 2019.
“Everybody’s ligament is different on where it could be torn and how much of a tear it is,” Dombrowski said. “Until we get in there, we’re really not sure.”
But if Harper needs Tommy John and his recovery is similar to Ohtani’s, he could DH for the Phillies around late June or early July.
The possibility exists that Harper will need a less intense surgery. Rhys Hoskins had surgery to repair the UCL in his non-throwing elbow following the 2020 season. He was ready to play by Spring Training 2021. Hoskins’ surgery was called an internal brace repair, which has a shorter recovery time.
Dombrowski said Harper’s surgery and recovery could impact the way the Phillies attack the offseason, although it seems unlikely they change course significantly after they played well without Harper for a couple of months this season while he recovered from a broken left thumb.
The Phillies are expected to pursue and sign one of four free agent shortstops (Trea Turner, Carlos Correa, Xander Bogaerts and Dansby Swanson), fortify the bullpen and acquire at least one veteran starter to slot behind Zack Wheeler, Aaron Nola and Ranger Suárez.
“We’re having meetings now,” Dombrowski said. “We hopefully cover every single topic that we can think of -- possible clubs, free agent signings, trades, all of that stuff. In the back of our mind, there will be discussions of, 'What do we do if … ?' Which may be nothing because we’re in a situation that right now we’re looking at [Harper] coming back and DH-ing for some portion for [the 2023 season].
“We have other players that can DH between [Kyle] Schwarber and [Nick] Castellanos and [Rhys] Hoskins and [Alec] Bohm, [J.T.] Realmuto, if we want to give [Harper] some time off. So we need to fit that into the total picture of what we’ll be doing.”
Darick Hall could be another DH candidate, just like he was when Harper was recovering from his thumb injury. Phillies manager Rob Thomson said if Hoskins DHs, he likely would have Bohm play first base and Edmundo Sosa play third.
Despite playing with the torn right UCL since April and missing significant time with a broken left thumb, Harper slashed .286/.364/.514 (145 OPS+) with 18 home runs and 65 RBIs in 99 games. He hit .349 with six homers and 13 RBIs in the postseason, winning the National League Championship Series MVP Award. Harper’s 1.160 OPS in the 2022 playoffs ranks 44th for any qualified player in a single postseason.