The most promising Phillies season in a decade suffered a serious blow Saturday night in San Diego. Reigning National League MVP Bryce Harper suffered a broken thumb after being hit by a 97 MPH fastball thrown by Padres pitcher Blake Snell in the fourth inning. The injury will most likely put Harper out of action until August at the very least. If it requires surgery, his excellent season may be over.
Losing Harper is a devastating blow to the Phillies. He was on pace to not only meet his numbers from 2021’s MVP campaign, but to surpass them and likely finish as an MVP finalist again. Harper was already playing with a partially torn UCL in his elbow that has kept him out of the field and will also likely require surgery in the offseason.
So what do the Phillies do now?
There’s no way to sufficiently replace Bryce Harper. He has been arguably the best hitter in baseball since halfway through last season. There is no one in the Phillies organization who can immediately step in to fulfill that role. Likewise, there is no realistic option that could do the same on the trade market.
But that doesn’t mean all hope is lost.
Two of the Phillies other highest paid players, Nick Castellanos and J.T. Realmuto, have both severely underperformed to this point in the season. Castellanos is hitting .242 with an OPS of .677 while Realmuto’s numbers sit at .237 and .680 respectively.
The Phillies will need them to perform at or better than preseason expectations if they are going to survive the time without Harper. Castellanos’ expected averages are more in line with his career line of .276/.327/.429 so there’s reason to believe he will turn it around. Realmuto on the other hand is more worrisome as he is a 31-year-old catcher. Regardless, the Phillies will need him to live up to his “best catcher in baseball” moniker over the coming months.
Immediate and Long-Term Roster Moves
It appears Mickey Moniak will take Harper’s spot on the active roster for at least the next few days. Moniak has looked overmatched by MLB pitching in his short time in the Majors, as he owns a .160 average and .410 OPS in 9 games with the Phillies this season. Harper’s absence means that one of Castellanos or Kyle Schwarber can slide into the designated hitter role with Moniak potentially playing in the outfield. That would improve the Phillies defense but won’t do much to make up the offense they will miss without Harper.
A potential long-term internal solution would be Triple A first baseman/DH Darick Hall. The 26-year-old is having a strong season at Lehigh Valley, with a batting line of .268/.348/.539 with 19 home runs in 70 games. Hall, a left handed hitter, hits particularly well against right handed pitching. He owns a .311/.391/.644 line against righties with 16 of his home runs. Hall has never played in the Majors and is a free agent at season’s end. He is not and will not be Bryce Harper, but Hall is the best bet for someone in the system who could immediately step in and provide some offense.
Outside the Organization
The Phillies could choose to be aggressive like their division rival Atlanta Braves at the trade deadline were last season when Atlanta acquired Adam Duvall, Joc Pederson, Jorge Soler, and Eddie Rosario to offset the loss of Ronald Acuña Jr. for the season. Those moves were key in Atlanta’s second-half surge and eventual World Series championship. However, the Phillies don’t have a player of Freddie Freeman’s caliber to fall back on like the Braves did, but they could still look to add to make up the offensive deficit.
Andrew Benintendi, LF, Age 27
Andrew Benintendi could be one possible 0ption. Benintendi is having a good year with the Kansas City Royals, hitting .299 with a 116 OPS+. He doesn’t hit for much power, as he has just 13 extra-base hits and 3 home runs after having 29 and 17 respectively last year. However, Benintendi did win his first Gold Glove award as a left fielder last season and has been worth 2 DRS in 576 innings in the outfield so far this season. He also would provide a left handed option in the middle of the order that will be absent without Harper.
Benintendi would be a defensive upgrade over Castellanos or Schwarber while providing solid offensive production. Phillies President Dave Dombrowski also has a familiarity with Benintendi. Dombrowski was president of the Red Sox when Boston promoted Benintendi straight to the Majors from Double A in 2016 a little over a year after he was drafted 7th overall. Benintendi signed a one-year contract with the Royals before this season at $8.5M and will be a free agent at season’s end.
Tommy Pham, LF, Age 34
Cincinnati Reds outfielder Tommy Pham could be another option. Pham is hitting .246/.342/.417 in 63 games with the Reds and has 19 extra base hits and 10 home runs. The right-handed hitting Pham would provide a similar boost in defense to the Phillies as Benintendi but with more pop at the dish. However, Pham strikes out at a high rate with a 24% strikeout percentage. Conversely, he is 15th in the league in walk percentage at 12.8% and has a 110 wRC+. Pham also comes with some personality concerns as he was suspended for three games this season after slapping Joc Pederson over a fantasy football dispute. He signed a one year, $7.5M contract with the Reds before this season that includes a mutual option for 2023 at $6M for his age 35 season.