Oakland A’s first baseman Matt Olson underwent surgery on his right hand on Friday, the team announced. The procedure was a right hamate excision.
The injury occurred in Thursday’s game against the Mariners in Japan, when Olson fouled off a pitch in what turned out to be his final at-bat in the 5th inning. He was replaced on defense to begin the top of the 6th. The A’s have not announced a timetable for Olson’s return, but clearly he will land on the injured list before the team’s home opener next Thursday.
The loss of Olson is tough on both sides of the ball. He’s one of the team’s better hitters, and also one of their few bats who swings from the left side — with him and lefty catcher Chris Herrmann on the shelf, the only lefties remaining on the active roster are switch-hitters Jurickson Profar and Robbie Grossman. Perhaps more importantly, though, Olson’s Gold Glove defense at first base helps elevate the entire rest of the infield with his ability to corral virtually any throw, and that absence will be especially apparent.
There are multiple other options for 1B on the A’s roster. Chief among them is Mark Canha, a solid hitter who has extensive experience at the position and doesn’t really have a place to play at the moment; we discussed his presence in-depth yesterday. Super-sub Chad Pinder, second baseman Profar, and right fielder Stephen Piscotty have also dabbled there during their careers.
Looking off-roster, Triple-A lineup has top prospects at just about every position except first base, where their best bet is probably veteran minor league free agent signing Eric Campbell (righty with career 80 wRC+). Meanwhile, the open market recently included lefty slugger Lucas Duda, but he was signed by the Royals today.
Update: It’ll be Profar playing first base against RHP, and Canha playing there against LHP, reports John Shea of the S.F. Chronicle. Pinder and Franklin Barreto are available to replace Profar at second base.
While the A’s didn’t specify the nature of the injury (just the procedure), presumably Olson suffered a broken hamate bone. This is a somewhat common injury in baseball, as well as other sports like hockey and golf that involve gripping an object like a bat, stick, or club. In fact, at least five notable A’s prospects dealt with this injury last year in the minors, including catchers Sean Murphy and Santis Sanchez and outfielder Dairon Blanco.
There is good news and bad news from here. The good news is that this is a one-time injury, because treatment involves simply removing the bone. Since it’s gone you can’t break it again, so absent any unusual complications (always possible with any medical issue) this should just be a short-term setback and not something that will linger or recur. (Unless you then break the bone on the other hand, like Murphy did last year. But the point is you can only do it once to each hand.)
The bad news is that it’s still surgery, so it takes some time to recover. The safe expectation is two months, though players often make it back faster. Murphy missed just seven weeks last summer, and, pulling one random example, then-Mariners catcher Mike Zunino missed only five weeks in 2013. Last year, Delino DeShields of the Rangers was back in the lineup in just three weeks. However, to be clear once again, there is no official timetable for Olson and we don’t even know his precise diagnosis for certain.
Furthermore, although a full recovery is normal and there is no chance of recurrence, it’s possible that Olson’s performance could take some time to return to 100 percent. Power is the skill most likely to be affected by this injury, and unfortunately that’s his calling card at the plate. Melissa Lockard of The Athletic notes that it can take six months to get full power back, which would mean it could hamper him all season, though a recent study has suggested this is actually a myth and that players generally return to full strength right away. Long-term, though, elite sluggers like David Ortiz, Giancarlo Stanton, J.D. Martinez, and our own Jose Canseco all broke a hamate early in their careers, so one way or other the power clearly does return eventually.
Stay tuned for more updates on Olson, including an official timetable, a corresponding roster move to replace him on the roster, and a plan for replacing him in the lineup and at first base. On the bright side, at least the next real game isn’t for a week, so the first week of recovery won’t cost anything.