‘Nothing Normal’ About Bryce Harper’s Absence From Phillies: Insider

Bryce Harper

Getty Philadelphia Phillies slugger Bryce Harper has missed time in Spring Training ahead of the 2024 season.

The Philadelphia Phillies have made deep playoff runs in each of the last two seasons without bringing home a World Series title, despite maintaining one of the biggest payrolls in MLB.

As pressure mounts amid a closing championship window, the players will be highly scrutinized, none more so than $330 million franchise superstar Bryce Harper. That’s why The Athletic’s Jayson Stark raised a red flag as Harper missed a third straight Grapefruit League game with back stiffness.

“Here’s a ‘story’ that caught the attention of those of us who were paying attention to the Phillies’ lineup card,” Stark wrote. “When the lineup was posted … for the Phillies’ game against the Toronto Blue Jays, there was nothing normal about Harper’s absence from the No. 3 hole.”

Bryce Harper’s History of Injury Could Be Flaring Up Again

Stark added that other players who had been given time off were back in the lineup for that game and that it was televised and well-attended. And, while he noted that Phillies manager Rob Thomson said he had “zero” concern about the injury, Stark also pointed out that Harper has a notable history of back problems.

“Harper has grappled with some form of back stiffness/soreness/discomfort for four years,” Stark reported. “He missed games in September 2020, April 2021 and last August because of back issues. He also missed time last July because of general ‘body soreness.’ And that’s merely the stuff the Phillies have revealed publicly.”

Harper missed the beginning of the 2023 season after 160 days of recovery from Tommy John surgery on his right elbow. He went on to win a Silver Slugger Award and MVP votes with a .293/.401/.499 slash line, 21 homers and 72 RBI in 546 at bats.

At the risk of reading too much into preseason performance, it could be worth noting that Harper has an uncharacteristic .227 batting average and .346 on-base percentage in 22 at bats so far this spring. In 2022, Harper had a .400 batting average and 1.575 on-base percentage in 35 at-bats.

Bryce Harper Is Transitioning to a New Position for the Philadelphia Phillies

Adding a level of concern around everything Harper does or does not do, even in the preseason, is the fact that he is making a major change in an effort to improve the Phillies’ chances of winning it all.

“Harper has made the transition to become a full-time first baseman,” Joey Mistretta wrote for ClutchPoints. “It may not seem like a big change, but there is a different kind of rhythm players need to adjust to when switching positions. That is especially true when an outfielder moves to the infield or vice-versa.”

The team has pushed Harper to take on the new role as it adds critical flexibility to the lineup. Most notably, it allows Kyle Schwarber to take on a full-time designated hitter role.

“What happens if Harper’s back trouble is persistent enough that he can’t be a full-time first baseman?” Stark asked. “The answer: There’s a ripple effect on multiple positions that could throw off the whole blueprint.”

Any developments around Harper’s longevity, even in the preseason, will be the subject of significant scrutiny. He signed a 13-year deal with the team in 2019 and has signaled a hope to play for the team into his 40s, which would require an extension.

“My goal is that he retires as a Phillie,” a href=”https://www.mlb.com/news/what-zack-wheeler-extension-means-for-bryce-harper-phillies-payroll” target=”_blank” rel=”noopener”> team managing partner John Middleton said of Harper, per MLB.com. “We need to get something done, but when we get it done and how it gets done, it’s not clear to me.”

Read More