Up until 2022, Bryce Harper was an outfielder, and a decent one at that. Right field was his primary position, although he also played left and center as needed, along with the occasional game at first base and DH.
Harper hasn’t spent an inning in the outfield this season, however, after undergoing Tommy John surgery last offseason. While Harper may still return to his original position eventually, Dave Dombrowski recently suggested otherwise.
Bryce Harper Outfield Return?
In a video interview with Jayson Stark of The Athletic, Dombrowski acknowledged that Harper may remain at first base full-time going forward.
Harper manning first base and DH’ing makes a ton of sense for a few reasons.
For starters, Harper was never a great outfielder to begin with. While he certainly wasn’t a liability like some sluggers, he was an average defender at best. Baseball-Reference is a bit more kind when grading his fielding, but FanGraphs says he’s only had one season — his rookie year in 2012 — where he had positive defensive value.
Second, keeping Harper at 1B/DH limits his risk of injury. Outfielders have to cover a lot of ground, make long throws and are in danger of crashing into walls or others in the field. First basemen, on the other hand, are mostly stationary and don’t have to run or throw nearly as often.
Philly’s ultimate goal should be keeping Harper on the field and his bat in the lineup. Partly because he’s one of their best hitters, but also because they’re paying him a ton of money. Harper is currently in the fifth year of his 13-year, $330 million contract, so the Phillies need to protect their investment and preserve Harper as much as possible.
As a two-time MVP, Harper is too important and valuable to the organization. Sending him back to the outfield, especially now that he’s in his 30s, would only be inviting additional injury risk and potentially wear him down sooner.
The Phillies may not have envisioned Harper transitioning to first base less than halfway through his contract when they initially signed him, but that was likely going to happen eventually. It would have been unreasonable to expect that Harper would stay in the outfield until his deal is over after his age-38 season.
The move might have happened a bit earlier than expected, but Tommy John is no joke. It’s already significantly diminished Harper’s power this season, so Philly can’t afford to take a chance with him.
Harper may never become a Gold Glove winner at first base, but that’s okay. As long as he stays healthy and remains productive at the plate, that’s all that matters. And if he eventually helps the Phillies win a World Series? That’ll be even better.